This is the sixth post in my election-update series. The first one is here, the second one is here, the third one is here, the fourth one is here, and the fifth one is here. The first post contains the definition of the Nepalese “echo chamber,” a theme which will be referred to throughout this series. The third one describes how a lot of money and violence is being used right now to manipulate results. The fourth one describes the general mood in Nepal right now, and the fifth one explains why a result contrary to the general mood is more likely.
Polling in Nepal, mountains in the background (picture: Dhruba Dangal)
Let me start this blog on a positive note. Although we have to wait until all reports are in, news so far indicate that polling day was full of better things that I first expected. Than everybody first expected. There were explosions and bombs yesterday too (the polling day), but a record-breaking turnout has been estimated. Extreme cases of violence have been reported from relatively few places and polling was peaceful at other places. Again, I’ll stress that we should wait for all reports before giving a final verdict. Several polling stations in Nepal are in very remote places and accurate reports can take time to come in also because of fear and intimidation.
Altogether, it was an encouraging scene on the polling day. Like I wrote on the fourth post, the general mood of the people was indeed to defy the threats and intimidation, and make it to the polling stations to cast vote.
Baburam and Prachanda accused of capturing booths
Let’s be clear first that Gorkha is Baburam Bhattarai’s (Maoist’s 2nd man and former Prime Minister) home turf and he’s very strong there. I think he would have won there comfortably even without capturing polling stations. But there are multiple reports of several polling centers being captured by his people. Gorkha is so favorable place for Baburam that he could have set it up all from before- the police and polling offers favorable to him are likely to have been posted there. As a result, the irregularities that he has been accused of may never be investigated. Prachanda, the Maoist Chairman has also been accused of capturing polling stations in his constituency in Eastern Terai. Similarly, two Nepali Congress candidates (one Amresh Kumar Singh, is believed by many to be Indian intelligence agency’s man inside Nepali Congress) from Eastern Terai and one UML candidate from Okhaldhunga have been accused of capturing booths (none of the UML and NC candidates are the top-rung leaders like Baburam and Prachanda- it is important to remember that at local levels, many parties use dirty tricks, but my point is that only the Maoist party has the nationwide network, resources and a willpower from the very top leadership to use such tactics as their main strategy).
Why did Baburam resort to such tactics at his home turf? In 2008 elections, Gorkha was a scene of violent activities by the Maoists. The opposition were treated very harshly and their activities were obstructed by the Maoists. This time was not very different either. Baburam is not known for believing in democratic values or for being a kind and understanding man. He is one of the strictest ideologues in his party, and he would rule the country with an iron fist, if he could (well, he tried, while he was the Prime Minister). He won the 2008 elections by securing the most number of votes by any candidate in Nepal. In fact, it is said that he got more votes than there were voters in that area. The total number of voters in a revised voters-list of in his area is less than the total votes he got last time. That was a record victory, and being the self-obsessed megalomaniac that he is, he’d not want to be seen as less popular this time around. That explains why polling centers at his constituency have been captured. Prachanda, his main competitor in the party, would not want to be left behind.
What would the results be like?
Given that the polling has been encouraging (if after all reports are in, we get a different picture, then its a separate story), my prediction of a clear majority for the Maoist party needs to be revised. Please remember that a peaceful polling day does not guarantee a free and fair election. With the amount of irregularities, reports of vote buying, explosions, intimidation, and violations of code conduct, most of the election can be decided much ahead of polling day. That’s what I discussed in my previous post. This post assumes that despite all such threats, and intimidation, the voters made it to the polling station because they are desperate to make their make choices that can reflect the mood of the nation in results.
What was observed regarding the general mood of the people remains true, and was evident in the large numbers that thronged the polling centers. There were casualties and bombs hurled at kids in the streets of Kathmandu. But people seemed to be very keen on casting their votes.
However, just before the polling day, we got reports of several irregularities. Two days before polling, the official campaigning period ended and every candidate was supposed to remain silent. However, Baburam Bhattarai was seen campaigning villages in Rupandehi (this is the second place he’s contesting from). We even got reports from Rupandehi itself that his team was offering cash (ranging from NRs 2,000 at some places to NRs 10,000 at some places, per vote) to people in some villages there. Such activities by the Maoists in some areas of Kathmandu and outside have already been mentioned in the previous post. There were also reports that the Maoists were offering cash to anyone who would produce picture-proofs from inside the polling stations. The Election Commission was quick to announce that it would not allow cell phones or similar devices inside the stations. A national television station (ABC TV) which is reportedly owned by some Maoist leaders, was ordered to shut down by the Election Commission because of its blatant and excessive violation of the election code of conduct. The TV did not oblige and kept broadcasting Maoist propaganda material.
Expecting brighter days ahead: It was a clear polling day in Kathmandu (picture: Rajesh KC @phalano
I’m not using any scientific method here, just trying to guess. It is just a gut feeling, and is very likely to fail. But just because the echo-chamber would later reprimand us for doing so, we should not feel deterred to publish our guesses.
I think that it will be difficult for any party to gain majority, especially because of the proportional voting system in Nepal. Given the general mood, I’d think the Maoists would get less seats in the FPTP (first past the post) voting system compared to their seats from 2008 elections. I’m just making a wild guess here, but I’m inclined to think they’ll have less than 100 seats, maybe even 80. Maoists may perform better in the proportional system though and make up for the lost FPTP seats. It has been assumed that the proportional voting will yield many surprises this time.
During last election, RPP-N, a pro-monarchy party that got enough proportional votes for only a couple of seats is said to have performed well in this election. The politics of ethnicity that was escalated by the coalition of Maoist and Madheshi parties is said to have angered many voters and they could register their protest votes by voting for RPP-N, a party that has been against republicanism. It’d be interesting to see whose voter base they have benefited the most from. The echo-chamber is saying that they’ll hurt the NC and UML, because, well they’re “rightist” parties. It could be possible (but not for the same reason), but Ushaft would make a proposition of the nature everyone fears making because the echo-chamber quickly gangs up and personally abuses anyone making it. I’d say that it is also likely for RPP-N to benefit from the Maoist voters in the proportional system. The Maoists, although they seem to be in the opposite end of the spectrum from RPP-N, have many times in the past tried to cozy up to the Royalists because, in their own words, “they are more nationalistic.” Given an opportunity, the Maoist party is the most likely candidate to team up with RPP-N, because their enemies have been common in the past (the democratic parties not close to the monarchy). I’d like to believe that the RPP-N, at present has more democratic credentials than the Maoists have, but they’d not mind getting a few extra votes from their secret admirers.