How to save the electionPremier Deuba has failed to demonstrate strong commitment to security for historic elections
Thirty-two districts went to polls on Sunday, November 26, and despite numerous incidents of attacks on candidates, the first phase of elections for federal parliament and provincial assemblies were hailed to be relatively peaceful. The Election Commission called it a success.
However, a recent resurgence of violence, including one yesterday in Udayapur that injured a candidate from the Nepali Congress, Narayan Karki, have shown that perhaps this was only a momentary lull in anti-poll activities.
Prior to polls, candidates and election rallies of both the left alliance and the Democratic alliance, including the Nepali Congress, were targeted by unidentified forces. But the 65 percent voter turnout in the first phase of elections has shown that fears stoked by more than a dozen security incidents in the run-up to the Election Day did little to deter voters. While this speaks volumes about the determination of candidates and voters to participate in the historic elections, it may also have given anti-election forces a reason to ramp up their disruptive efforts.
Reports of explosions have been streaming in. Nine people were injured in an election rally in Dang when an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Prime Minister and Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba was detonated. A temporary police personnel, Binod Chaudhary, 23, who was injured during the incident, later died in a hospital. In Morang, a bomb targeted CPN-UML’s candidate Lal Babu Pandit exploded only 10 metres away from his vehicle. Further, IEDs have been detonated in Jhapa, Udayapur, Sunsari and in the Valley, one in Balkot, Bhaktapur, close to UML Chairman Oli’s residence and another in Lalitpur near an election rally addressed by Oli.
Clearly, the government has been failing to get a handle over the security situation and Prime Minister Deuba should take lion’s share of the blame. After removing Maoist leader Janardhan Sharma from the post, Deuba has failed to appoint his replacement as Home Minister. Although he also doubles up as Home Minister, the Prime Minister has been absent to strongly take charge of the office, with campaigning taking most of his time. A senior police official told this newspaper that the country lacks steady political leadership at the helm of the Home Ministry when it is needed the most.
According to a preliminary security assessment carried out by the Home Ministry, 218,000 security personnel will be deployed for the second phase of elections. Of this, 60,000 will be in Province 2. It is hoped that the presence of Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, Nepal Army and Myadi (temporary police) in the lead-up to the second phase of polls will sufficiently deter any security threats. Still, a strong political commitment from the Centre goes a long way.
The successful completion of the final phase of polls on December 7 is all that stands between Nepal and its emergence as a full-fledged federal democratic republic. The government’s failure to demonstrate strong commitment to security, and identification of renewed threats, leaves a lot of questions unanswered. National elections deserve a lot more commitment than that.