More info (22nd Nov): Followups to this blog post can be seen here: How was the polling day? and Citizens’ Statement about Maoists’ walkout from vote counting. I have made some revisions about my prediction made on this post on the blog post written after polling closed across Nepal, and the results that are coming out right now confirm the general mood in Nepal I had described in one another post.
This is the third post in my election-update series. The first one is here, and the second one is here. The first post contains the definition of the Nepalese “echo chamber,” a theme which will be referred to throughout this series.
We discussed in the past blogs the reasons you need Ushaft’s election updates on Nepal and how the echo chamber you may easily fall victim to loves predicting the past. We’ll try to predict the future here and not give in to the intimidation of the strong echo-chamber.
What’s going on right now?
We are only a couple of days away from the election. The breakaway faction of the Maoist party, better known as the dash-Maoist (for the hyphen in their name CPN-Maoist. The other faction is called the cash-Maoist for the enormous amount of wealth it has extorted) is actively boycotting this election. There were many rounds of negotiation with the party, but they did not become a part of the process. Initially, there were two kinds of views about them, but the second one seems to be gaining prominence now:
- it is just an underground arm of the Cash-Maoist party. This belief is emboldened by the fact that the dash-Maoists never registered as a party in the Election Commission. It has become harder for the Cash faction to directly involve in violence and deny involvement in it. Therefore, it might have faked a party-split in order to engage in violence, and also plausibly deny it.
- it is a genuine split-away faction but it was prevented from contesting the election by the Cash party. The reason being, if the Dash party participates in the elections, it takes away a large part of voters from the Cash party. Almost half of all MPs from the original party are now in the Dash party, and it is believed to have a strong organizational base, consisting of the core military units from the war.
During the last elections, the main sources of violence were: a) the Maoist party, and b) several underground armed outfits that were operating in the Southern plains of Nepal (called the Terai). Usually, the mainstream parties working in the Terai have some sort of working relationship with one or the other underground outfit (main parties like NC and UML + the Terai-based parties, but mostly the Terai-based parties). Some of these outfits are separatist, and demand the complete southern belt of Nepal to be carved out as a “separate country of Madhesis.” Madhesis are the main ethnic group of the Terai, with largest concentration in the Eastern Terai. Other parts of Terai are more densely inhabited by the Pahades (the hill dwellers), Tharus (the other plain dwellers), etc. By having such a relationship, they are able to use them for extortion, fear and violence when needed. In turn, they are provided shelter and protection from the state’s security arm. India is also said have a big role in protecting such outfits, like it did by allowing the Maoists to roam freely inside its borders when they were waging a war in Nepal (a recent book exposed how the Indian government and security-intelligence apparatus, together with a few intellectuals were in regular contact with the top Maoist leadership hiding in India. All this while both Nepal and India had labeled them “terrorist organization” and Nepal was fighting a bloody civil war).
This time around, the sources of violence have changed a bit. The breakaway Maoist faction has decided to “actively” boycott the election. Other parties like NC and UML are more active in villages than before (they were not allowed to campaign before) and have a weaker network of goons at local levels. The Terai-based outfits have remained silent so far. The only force with a nationwide network of armed and trained people capable of launching co-ordinated attacks and intimidation campaigns is the Maoist party (both the Cash and Dash faction).
Recent wave of violence
Last week has seen an increase in election related violence in Nepal. Before that, minor incidents caused by local goons of various parties were reported in the news. But our sources say that many other incidents have been unreported. For example, in Kathmandu-4, where the former Maoist army chief is contesting against a popular NC youth leader, there are news of vote-buying and voter-intimidation. As election day nears, such incidents are likely to increase. There have also been news about plans by Maoist to pose as members of other parties and involve in violence, in order to threaten voters, and discredit the other parties at the same time. Similarly, we have received reports from Siraha, where the Maoist leader Prachanda is contesting, of large-scale intimidation and voter-buying.
A series of violent explosions were reported last week. It is not clear who did them, and most blame the Dash faction. But a large number of such activities are targeted at non-Maoist candidates. This is panicking the voters who are likely to stay at home if such violence continues. The only party able to take advantage of this situation is the Cash-Maoist. The dash-faction has provided them a perfect camouflage to carry out their threats and destructive activities. As we have already mentioned, this is the only party capable of carrying out a nation-wide scale of such nature and with a cadre-base trained and used to such activities. If the election violence continues, voters of this party will line up at polling centers, while the voters of other parties will most likely stay home.
It is amazing how fast the situation changes in Nepal. Until last week, when violence was more localized, this blogger was betting for a lead in elections for non-Maoist parties. However, because of the proportional voting system and a fragmented electorate, one wouldn’t predict a clear majority for any party. With the recent series of violence, it is as difficult as last time to make an informed guess. But as explained above, situations now increasingly favor a clear majority for the Cash-Maoist party.
It is also often said that the Maoist party will never allow elections to take place if they’re unlikely to win. Baburam Bhattarai (Cash Maoist number 2 in command), who was in power for long time, announced, cancelled and postponed elections for two times, buying time for himself before making way for an election-government. Not only that, he kept the Election Commission understaffed, slowing down key works like voters’ list and voter-id card preparation. As a result, chances of irregularity have increased even more. During last election, Baburam won a landslide victory in his constituency, where he had effectively banned other parties from campaigning. There was a huge turnout in his constituency, indicating irregularity. Sources from the region have confided us that even dead people and people living overseas cast their votes (meaning the Maoist workers forged their votes) for Baburam in that election. With an improved voters’ list prepared by the Election Commission this time, possibilities of such irregularity were made apparent recently. The number of voters for this election is less than last time by tens of thousands, including in Baburam’s area. Migration to other countries started long before 2008, and population in Nepal is increasing, not decreasing. But like with their armed-force (read post number 2 for how they’d lied to artificially inflate the size of their army), they had also largely inflated their voters in several districts.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the Maoist will escalate violence in the next few days or try to disrupt elections to the point of cancelling them altogether. They have also been very ahead of others in violating the election code of conduct laid down by the Election Commission.