Festering political feud resulted in violent election day, observers saySingle-phase vote also stressed security, making forces unable to contain the violence.
Very few incidents of violence and confrontation were reported in the run up to the local elections held on Friday. But a relatively large number of incidents happened on the polling day in different parts of the country with cadres of the political parties engaging in such acts.
In Katari, Udayapur, one died in police firing after violence erupted after the elections were over. In Gorkha, a volunteer mobilised at Tarakhase polling centre in Bhimsen Thapa Rural Municipality-2 sustained bullet injuries when the security personnel opened fire to contain a mob. Election-related violence was reported in nearly 20 places across the country on election day.
Election-related violence continued on Saturday too in different parts of the country as police were forced to fire in the air in Bajura. Police and cadres of the political parties clashed at Ghyanglekh Rural Municipality, in Sindhuli, leading to the injury of five persons, including police personnel.
The National Human Rights Commission, which had deployed seven high-level teams led by its chairman, members and former office bearers and 45 other teams including employees of the commission in all 77 districts for election observation, remarked on Friday that polls were not peaceful as expected.
It was a strong statement on the part of the rights body, which had endorsed the 2017 local elections as largely peaceful. “The first phase of the local elections were held largely peacefully across all 34 districts, but there were some untoward incidents,” the commission had said in a statement after the first phase of elections were held on May 14, 2017.
The commission and independent poll observers had also praised the second phase of local elections held on June 28, 2017 as highly encouraging and peaceful with high voter turnout despite adverse weather and political sensitivity.
Poll observers had found the third phase of elections held in Madhesh Province in September, 2017 as most peaceful among the three phases.
In contrast, the National Human Rights Commission was critical of the violence that erupted on Friday during the latest local elections.
As a result of poll-related violence and rainfall on Friday, the elections in 85 polling booths were stalled, according to the commission.
Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya said that although the situation had remained peaceful during the election campaign and silence periods to a large extent, the commission was worried about the violence that took place on election day.
“I repeat that the behaviour and conducts of political parties and certain lapses in security management are responsible for incidents of violence reported on the polling day,” Thapaliya told the Post.
Poll observers and security experts said that they had not expected so many clashes on election day considering that very few incidents of violence were reported on the run up to the polls unlike in the local elections in 2017.
Another reason behind the optimism that polls would be conducted in a peaceful manner was that there were no anti-government forces that wanted to disrupt the polls this time.
Nepal Communist Party led by Netra Bikram Chand, which had run disruptive activities in the run up to the 2017 local elections by planting bombs and attacking candidates, has already returned to peaceful politics. In fact, the party itself was split over whether to participate in the local polls along with other issues.
CK Raut, who had launched a secessionist movement in Tarai, has not only abandoned violent politics but also formed a political outfit—the Janamat Party. Raut’s party was the first to register itself with the Election Commission for the local polls.
But security experts, officials and observers said that instead of anti-state forces, major political parties are themselves responsible for violence that took place on Friday and Saturday.
They said bad blood between the rival political parties, along with political feud over the last two years, contributed to the tendency of arm twisting among the parties, which led to violence.
“Violent activities reported in the local elections occured due to the clashes between the cadres of political parties,” said Govinda Kusum, a former home secretary. “It is a natural reflection of the widening rifts among the political parties lately.”
Prolonged internal feud in the erstwhile (Nepal Communist Party) brought division in the leftist force, formed after the merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre). The merger was invalidated by the Supreme Court in March last year, leading to the reemergence of UML and the Maoist Centre. Then, the UML split further with Madhav Kumar Nepal leading the breakaway party—the CPN (Unified Socialist).
Now, the Maoist Centre and CPN (Unified Socialist) have forged an electoral alliance with the Nepali Congress, leading to bitter relations between the ruling alliance and the main opposition, UML.
Kusum said he had not seen this level of clashes among political party cadres since the 1991 general elections, when some candidates had faced accusations of firing bullets which led to human casualties.
“Political parties’ tendency of barring voters of other parties from casting votes in the areas where they are stronger reappeared in this year’s local elections,” said Kusum. “This has raised questions on the ethics of the political parties.”
He said that because of continued feud among the parties, the possibility of violence could not be ruled out even during the vote counting process.
The Home Ministry has evaluated the elections held on Friday as largely peaceful. In a statement released on Saturday, the ministry said the polls were held peacefully overall, except for some sporadic incidents.
“Despite limited [financial] resources, low number of police personnel and limited human resources, and amid high degree of alertness and patience displayed by security personnel and other manpower mobilised by the government, incidents took place in a few of the 21,955 polling centres,” the statement reads. “Elections have been held in some polling centres after reaching consensus among political parties and credible security has been arranged for re-election in certain polling centres.”
Phanindramani Pokharel, spokesperson for the Home Ministry, said they were able to avert many incidents of violence even though police forces were stretched since the polls took place in a single phase nationwide. “The incidents of violence we witnessed on election day are normal in number,” he said.
He said that owing to the limited human resource, the ministry had to deploy even cooks in the police force for election security. “Because of the overstretched deployment, we had expected that security in border and mountainous areas could be affected. Contrary to our assumption, incidents took place where peaceful elections were expected,” said Pokharel.
According to him, most of the clashes took place as there were fake voters in the name of some persons on the voter roll.
Poll observers say incidents of violence are condemnable, however few they may be. “Big political parties and their leaders should shoulder the responsibility for violence as their irresponsible remarks in the run up to the polls incited violence,” said Kapil Shrestha, chairperson the National Election Observation Committee, a licensed poll observation institution which had mobilised over 1,200 observers in different parts of the country.
He also blamed the inadequate number of police personnel mobilised to secure the elections held in a single phase for the compromise on law and order. “There was no need to hold the elections in a single phase,” he said.
Pradeep Pokharel, chairperson of the Election Observation Committee Nepal, said the number of violent activities in the 2017 polling day was higher than on Friday. “But the context this time is different because the violence in 2017 was meted out mostly by the then underground Nepal Communist Party led by Netra Bikram Chand,” he said.
According to officials and experts, violent incidents that took place during the local election should serve as a lesson for the upcoming provincial and federal elections.
Home Ministry spokesperson Pokharel suggested that holding elections in at least two phases would ease the pressure on security personnel. He appealed to the political parties to discourage their cadres from engaging in violence.
Former home secretary Kusum, however, does not see much problem in terms of security management.
“Security arrangement for the polls was satisfactory given that the polls were held in a single phase,” he said. “The political parties themselves should be more responsible to ensure that the future polls are held peacefully.”