Election security: Concerns arise from parties fighting pollsNot much threat from so called armed outfits and those boycotting the vote. Observers and experts say it would be better if parties fix their rifts and conflict.
Security is at the front of mind when elections come.
As the country is heading for polls, starting with local elections on May 13 and two others—parliamentary and provincial—due later this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs and security agencies have started deliberations on possible challenges.
Elections this time are taking place in a different environment though—in terms of the political situation. In the past the country used to see some forces, from small parties to armed outfits, boycotting the polls and threatening to disrupt them.
But times have changed. Most of the armed outfits have abandoned weapons.
Officials involved in analysing the situation say there, however, are concerns regarding security in light of rifts in those parties that will be fighting elections.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs has already directed all 77 district administration offices to monitor party rifts and divisions and possible challenges to election security,” an official said. “The ministry has instructed the district administration offices to analyse if clashes are possible among parties.”
The country is holding local elections on May 13 for a second time since the adoption of the new constitution. This time, a direct contest is taking place between the ruling coalition of four parties—the Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party—and the main opposition CPN-UML. Rastriya Janamorcha, though not part of the government, has decided to stick with the four parties to form an electoral alliance.
Communist party leaders lately have been engaged in a war of words, levelling allegations against each other. The intensity of such accusations and counter-accusations and mudslinging is likely to increase as polls near, which observers fear could instigate their cadres to resort to violence.
Then there are some intra-party rifts within coalition partners.
“The intra-party rift and conflict between parties could be the biggest threats during the upcoming elections,” said Fanindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Though the ruling coalition has decided to forge an electoral alliance at the top level, there are still issues when it comes to cadres in the field. Not many are happy with the alliance decision, especially in the Nepali Congress.
According to Pokhrel, those deprived of tickets could try to create disruptions. “So we are foresseing a different kind of security challenge this time rather than conventional threats, when there used to be bombing, arsons and boycotts,” said Pokharel.
The only party that has announced to boycott the polls so far is the CPN (Revolutionary Maoist), led by Mohan Baidya.
CK Raut, who had launched a secessionist movement in Tarai, has not only abandoned violent politics but also has formed a political outfit—the Janamat Party. Raut’s Janmat Party was the first one to register with the Election Commission for the upcoming local polls.
As many as 79 parties have been registered at the Election Commission for May 13 elections.
The Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal, which was involved in bombings and arsons, has already signed a peace deal with the government. It, however, has not registered itself with the Election Commission, hence it cannot fight local polls. It, however, can field its members as independent candidates under an alliance with other parties. The Chand party has been in talks with the UML for an alliance.
“We were earlier concerned whether CK Raut’s party would participate or not,” said a senior Nepal Police official. “Since he has also decided to participate in elections, any possible threat from his party in terms of security is not much. Some districts, however, are a cause for concern.”
The police official said a boycott by the Baidya-led party won’t pose a significant threat during elections. “We are hearing the Chand-led party is in negotiations with the UML, so it is unlikely to boycott the polls and pose a major security threat.”
The Home Ministry has already approved the Local Level Integrated Security Policy.
As per the unified security policy, the Nepal Army has been assigned the responsibility of providing security for the printing of ballot papers, delivering them to the election booths and bringing them to the counting centres.
The Nepal Army will also patrol polling stations.
Similarly, temporary police personnel are being recruited for election purposes.
Nepal Police will form the first layer of security backed by the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Army.
“I have not sensed any serious security threat this time like in the past,” said former home secretary Govinda Kusum. Clashes between the candidates, cadres of different political parties will definitely pose some security challenges.”
According to Kusum, the major election security concerns this time are possible clashes between cadres of political parties that are contesting the elections.
“Tarai, which is always vulnerable and sensitive during election cycles, has an open border through which weapons could be sneaked into Nepal,” said Kusum. “If we are able to manage these issues, elections will be held in a free and fair manner without any violence. Threats from political parties who boycott the elections and armed outfits, if there are any, pose a minimum security threat this time.”
The Home Ministry has urged all 77 district administration offices to review and evaluate the international border checkpoints, criminal groups, activities of the political party’s cadres, possible encounters between the cadres and the past election security situation.
Ganesh Adhikari, former chief of the National Investigative Department, said that security challenges might come from fierce competition between political party cadres.
“The competition within and outside the ruling alliance and clashes between party cadres could be the issues to deal with,” said Adhikari. “One key challenge will be the management of security personnel. Since elections are being held in one phase, managing personnel for security would be a tough task.”
According to Pokharel, the spokesperson for the Home Ministry, if political parties manage to address the rifts and deftly deal with ticket distribution, the country would see a peaceful election.
“But if major political parties fail to manage their internal disputes, it will have a spillover effect in local security dynamics,” said Pokharel. “It is just some districts and election booths in Tarai where security forces have to pay extra attention.”