Periodic pollsElections in Nepal wear a festive look. The first phase of local elections yesterday was no exception. Other than decent turnout across the 34 districts, voters—women, men; youths, old-timers—showed great enthusiasm.
Elections in Nepal wear a festive look. The first phase of local elections yesterday was no exception. Other than decent turnout across the 34 districts, voters—women, men; youths, old-timers—showed great enthusiasm. Many were seen huddled outside the polling booths exchanging their impression about the candidates, political parties and the election atmosphere in general. Early estimates put the voter turnout at 75 percent.
Elections in Nepal arouse a great deal of excitement, not only because they offer an opportunity for people to elect their representatives, but also because they are rare. Yesterday’s local elections hold huge political significance: the last one took place 20 years ago and voters were not sure until a few weeks ago whether they would get to cast ballots at all. There was also some apprehension about whether the polls would be peaceful.
Yesterday’s elections were mostly peaceful and voting was largely orderly. A few stray IEDs exploded. Scuffles between rival political parties occurred in a number of places and led to some delays in opening polling booths. Unfortunately, at least one person was killed in police firing in Dolakha. There have been some accusations of booths being ‘captured’ by certain parties. The Election Commission needs to look into such allegations carefully. Overall, however, the level of violence was remarkably low—much lower than the 2008 and 2013 elections. We hope similar peace and order can be maintained during the second phase of elections as well.
Still, the electorate is in some confusion about the second phase of local elections. They will again be subjected to protracted political negotiations, which often lead to delays. As Nepal’s democracy matures, mechanisms should be developed to make elections regular and to grant autonomy to the Election Commission to decide on the dates for all elections. While periodic elections may make polls far more routine for voters, they will certainly be much healthier for our democracy in the long term.
The difficult part begins now that voting has been completed. The count will doubtless be far more tedious than during previous occasions as there are seven separate votes on each ballot. It will likely take longer than expected for results to come out. Political parties and the general public should both demonstrate patience.
Finally, local elections are just the beginning of a long process to revitalise democracy and devolve power to the grassroots. The enthusiasm among the voters that some newer parties were able to generate despite their lack of organisation indicated that the public is fed up of the old style of politics driven by patronage and the posturing of top political leaders. The purpose of local elections will be defeated if they do not lead to significant transformations in the way politics is conducted in this country. We hope that over the next year, elected representatives will be able to institutionalise strong and autonomous local bodies that are not beholden to political parties but are able to stand up for their own interests.