April 8-9, 2008
As a series of bombs rocked the countryside, many of the international and national observers left Kathmandu today, flying to remote districts from which they will monitor the elections. Just an hour ago, I learned of a murder in Surkhet district: A candidate from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) was shot down dead, apparently in the middle of a scuffle between former rebels and local police; gunmen remain unidentified.
I leave tomorrow morning for southeast Terai, landing in Biratnagar, the second largest city in Nepal not far from the Indian border. My role is as an international observer for the elections.
The historical nature of the elections may be the only thing in Nepal that is not in dispute. A great deal is at stake, not the least of which is the abolishment of the monarchy and a new constitution.
In the meantime, there are practical logistics to attend to. The roads connecting Nepal with India will be sealed off by armed guards. There will be no flights on April 10, the day of the elections. The roads will be empty save the rare vehicle that has acquired a hard-to-get permit. Special teams including bomb disposal experts have been deployed to sensitive areas where frequent bombings have taken place. Tens of thousands of police officers have been dispersed throughout the country.
Former US president Jimmy Carter and his wife arrived to head the Carter Center’s team of foreign observers. I spoke with him briefly this evening at British Ambassador Andrew Hall’s home. He seemed cautiously optimistic about the election results. Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee told me at the same gathering, “This election had to take place. It should have taken place last November and I’m not sure the country could have handled yet another postponement.”
Starting tomorrow, I'll be covering three areas in southern Nepal: Morang, Dhankuta and Sunsari. It’s one of the most contentious regions in the country. Of the numerous politicians vying for Constituent Assembly seats in these districts, I’ll be particularly interested in the home polling stations of the following four candidates:
UPENDRA YADAV from Sunsari District. Yadav is Chairman of Madheshi People Rights Forum (MPRF), and the most prominent leader of the recent Terai movement. Taking the country by surprise last year, he became a major influence in bringing the Terai people together and demanding that the central government grant them equal rights and representation. In February 2008, for instance, his movement paralyzed the entire nation by blocking off the main roads from India that serve as the lifeline of the nation’s capital.
SURYA BAHADUR THAPA from Dhankuta District. Thapa is president of the Nepal Janashakti Party. His political career spans five decades. From 1963 –2004, he was appointed Prime Minister five times. Thapa has served under three kings and is associated with pro-monarchists in a district that has increasingly experienced Maoist influence.
SUJATA KOIRALA from Sunsari District. Koirala is the current Prime Minister’s daughter and certainly one of the more controversial candidates in this election. She is minister without portfolio in the current government and advocates at least some form of monarchy.
BHARAT MOHAN ADHIKARI from Morang District. Adhikari is a standing committee member of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). He was twice Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister during his party’s nine-month control of the central government.
Polling ends at 5pm April 10 but the election results may take up to three weeks to tabulate. I’ll return to Kathmandu on April 11, after which I’ll provide an in-depth report on what happened Election Day. Until then I’ll be without readily available internet service.