Nepali Times

Polling in the rain

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017
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Women line up in the Asigram booth in Dadeldhura district on Wednesday, where Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba also cast his vote. Pic: RSS

Voters turned out in large numbers in the second phase of local elections on Wednesday, braving monsoon downpours and some threats of violence.

Even in the Tarai districts where the Madhes-based RJPN boycotted elections, voters lined up from early morning to cast their votes. Voters were seen crossing swollen rivers to reach polling stations.

An early estimate is that the voter turnout could be more than 70%, and two RJPN leaders admitted that their party’s call for boycott has been rejected by the people.

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RJPN leader Sarbendra Nath Shukla did not cast his vote, but visited booths in his constituency in Rupandehi district and said he found “people enthusiastic to elect local representatives”.

RJPN General Secretary Brij Kumar Gupta said he was disappointed that his party did not allow him to openly support and vote for candidates. Both leaders agreed that the RJPN has made a mistake by boycotting elections, and should not repeat it in the third phase.

After the first phase in Provinces 3, 4 and 6 on 14 May, the second phase was held on Wednesday in Provinces 1, 5 and 7. Only Province 2, which is believed to be a stronghold of the RJPN, will go to the polls on 18 September in the third phase.

The second phase was relatively peaceful with reports of minor clashes and obstruction coming in only from a few places. Improvised explosive devices were found outside a couple of booths, but were quickly disposed by army squads.

In Tulasipur of Dang, Head Constable Durga Bahadur Rana saved voters by throwing away a bomb immediately after it landed inside the polling station. Sub Inspector Gopal Sharma told Nepali Times that they could not see who hurled the bomb as the polling place was covered with mist.

In two villages in Solukhumbu and Nawalparasi district, some people abstained from voting saying they were not happy with the way the boundaries of local village and municipalities had been drawn up.

In Thabang in Rolpa district, the epicentre of the Maoist war, people voted enthusiastically for the first time since 2008. They had collectively boycotted the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013.

Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar and Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara who fought the war against the state in Rolpa district returned home to cast their ballots. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was also in his home district of Dadeldhura, and cast his vote from the Asigram polling station.

The second phase of polls was held for 334 self-governing municipal and village councils in 35 districts, including 11 in the Tarai. For six million voters, 8,364 polling stations had been set up.


Shuttered schools

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
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From the Nepali Press

Radheshyam Adhikari in Sikshak Magazine, June-July

Near Darbar Marg is the dormitory for the Tin Dhara Pathshala Sanskrit School. The institution has a glorious socio-political history because this is where students first raised slogans against the Rana regime. The tradition of government support for free food and lodging for students of Sanskrit is continuing. Yet, when you see it today from the street it looks less like a school and more like a shopping centre. Its location near the business hub of Darbar Marg has been a curse for the school.

The April 2015 earthquake badly damaged the historic Darbar School in the heart of Kathmandu next to Rani Pokhari. This was a school opened by the Ranas to educate their relatives, but eventually others also got the chance. This was the first-ever community school in Nepal, but despite its cultural importance it is still in ruins two years after the earthquake.

At a recent meeting about repairing the building, someone reportedly said: “Let’s build a shopping centre here and allow the school to run in a small corner from the income.” It may make business sense to put forth a proposal like that, but what is the view of society, community, education sector and the state about this? What should it be thinking?

Another historic institution of learning is Juddhodaya High School located in Thamel. Because the neighbourhood is now Kathmandu’s tourist centre, it has been converted into a business centre. Even if you are right outside, no one knows there is still a school there.

Tribhuvan University has had much of its property converted to commercial use, other buildings are in the process of being turned into shopping areas. This is a gross misuse of land that was given to the University by the government and other donors for higher education.

These are just a few examples of how the property owned by government schools have now become prime real estate. The schools have been reduced to a tiny portion of the property, and the rest of the land turned into malls. We have to ask ourselves: who do a school’s assets belong to? Is it for the school committee to do as it likes? Is it for the students? Is it for the teachers?  If there are no students what will the teachers do?

A school should not just be classrooms. It has extra-curricular activities in playgrounds for physical activities for students. A school should not sell off its property at the expense of the educational or physical development of its students. The school grounds in the city centre provided shelter for thousands of families. It is time for the school management committees to think about how to reconstruct schools after the earthquake while keeping the open spaces.


Poll statements

Monday, June 26th, 2017
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Temporary policemen constructing a polling booth in Dadeldhura on Monday. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is also in Dadeldhura to cast his vote in the second round of polls on Wednesday. Photo: RSS

The two countries that issued what sounded like grudging statements after the first phase of local elections last month, on Monday came out with softer-worded calls for peaceful voting in the second round of polls on 28 June.

The US and the UK embassies in Kathmandu urged ‘all parties’ to create ‘necessary conditions’ to allow the people to vote peacefully. In separate but identical statements, they urged security forces to exercise restraint and comply with international standards while carrying out their duties.

The US statement read: ‘We call on all parties to mutually respect the freedom of nonviolent expression and assembly, and individual voters’ rights as laid down in Nepal’s laws and constitution.’

The UK statement read: ‘We urge all parties to continue to work to create the conditions for peaceful, inclusive, broadly-supported and credible local elections in Province 2 to complete the local election process.’

Diplomats in Kathmandu wanted to travel outside the capital to observe the first phase of local elections on 14 May, but were only allowed to watch elections in Kathmandu Valley, and the terse statements by the US and the UK embassies were seen by the Foreign Ministry as an undiplomatic pique at their request being rejected.

In the second phase of polls that is taking place in three provinces, the Election Commission has permitted three foreign missions to watch elections in three different polling places, however the US and UK are not among the three.

More than 6,000,000 people are expected to cast their votes in 35 districts of three provinces on Wednesday. The third round of voting will take place only in Province 2 in September.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to deploy at least one bomb disposal squad of the Nepal Army in every polling station amidst reports of blasts in various places over the weekend.  President Bidya Devi Bhandari has already endorsed the government’s decision to deploy the army for the second phase.


Army for polls

Sunday, June 25th, 2017
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President Bidya Bhandari on Sunday officially permitted the government to deploy the Nepal Army for the second phase of local elections on 28 June.

After a serious of explosives were set off last week, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had sought the President’s approval to deploy the Army, and the National Security Council had also recommended the same.

But even as President Bhandari approved the government’s decision on Sunday, another explosion in Nawalparasi targeted an election rally by the CPN (Maoist-Centre). Three people were injured.

No group has claimed responsibility for the explosion, but police suspect the Nepal Communist Party (CPN), a breakaway faction of the Maoists led by Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav’ which is boycotting the elections.

Last week, an improved explosive allegedly planted by the Bipalv Maoists, exploded at the house of a CPN (Maoist-Centre) mayoral candidate in Kailali while former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was just 1 km away.

The Biplav Maoists have declared to disrupt local elections, the second phase of which is taking place in 35 districts of three provinces on Wednesday.

Apart from the Biplav Maoists, the Madhes-based RJPN has also boycotted local elections, but many RJPN cadres are contesting elections independently, putting pressure on the party to not obstruct polls.

The Biplav Maoist cadres are also independent candidates in Thabang – a village in Rolpa district where no one turned out to cast their votes in the last Constituent Assembly elections. They have also formed electoral alliances with Nepali Congress and other parties.

The first phase of local elections was held on 14 May without mobilising the army.


Sudan Scam surrenders

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017
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Ex-IGPs Om Bikram Rana (left) and Hem Bahadur Gurung

Ex-IGPs Om Bikram Rana (left) and Hem Bahadur Gurung

Two ex-Nepal Police Chiefs convicted in the so-called Rs 280 million ‘Sudan Scam’ involving the purchase of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) for United Nations Peacekeeping surrendered to the Supreme Court and were subsequently sent to jail on Wednesday.

Ex-IGPs Om Bikram Rana and Hem Bahadur Gurung as well as two ex-DIGs, Dipak Singh Thangden and Deep Shrestha surrendered to the court and were sent to Dili Bazar Prison.

In April, a joint bench of Chief Justice Sushila Karki and Justice Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha had found three ex-police chiefs guilty in the alleged embezzlement case. While Rana was slapped with a two-year jail term and a fine of Rs 50,000, Gurung was given a one-year jail term and a fine of Rs 40,000

Ramesh Chanda Thakuri, another ex-IGP to be convicted in the corruption case, was sentenced to one year in jail apart from a fine of Rs 40,000. Thakuri is still absconding. Two other senior retired officers — ex-AIG Shyam Singh Thapa and ex-SSP Ravi Pratap Rana — were
also convicted but have not yet turned themselves in.

With closure of this long-running scandal seemingly near, Nepali Times presents below a blow-by-blow account of the biggest scandal ever to hit Nepal Police.

2006: Nepal Police calls for a tender to supply Armoured Police Carrier (APC), combat fatigues, generators and other logistical equipment for its force deployed in Sudan on UN Peacekeeping. Shambhu Bharati, a representative of the London-based Assured Risks Pvt Ltd, wins the bid and supplies APC and other logistical equipment to the war-torn African country. The UN finds the APC and other equipment supplied by Bharati ‘substandard’ and ‘outdated’, and asks Nepal Police to not clear the payment. But Rana releases the first cache of payment.

2008: Hem Bahadur Gurung, who became new IGP after Rana’s retirement, releases the second installment, ignoring the report submitted by a police panel that visited Sudan and corroborated the UN’s claims. Nepal Police releases more than Rs 450 million to Bharati
from its welfare fund.

7 June 2011: The CIAA files corruption charges against 34 retired and serving police officers at the Special Court, including servicing IG Ramesh Chand Thakuri and two ex-IGs Om Bikram Rana and Hem Bahadur Gurung.

13 February 2012: The Special Court seeks bail from Bharati, who fails to deposit money and is sent to Dilli Bazar jail. The court concludes that three ex-IGPs and other officers worked hand in glove with Bharati and inflicted a loss of more than Rs 280 million on the welfare fund, where levies from police who serve in the UN mission are deposited.

30 April 2017: A joint bench of Chief Justice Sushila Karki and Justice Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha finds three ex-IGPs and four other retired officers guilty in the scam. Hardly an hour later, Karki is suspended as the ruling party MPs register an impeachment motion against her, reportedly to stop her from delivering her verdict on other high-profile corruption cases.


Ballot power

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
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From the Nepali Press

Editorial in Nagarik, 20 June

The Madhes-based RJPN and the Netra Bikram Chand-led Maoist party are boycotting local elections, but their cadres are contesting as independent candidates. This is proof that the ballot is superior to the bullet in a democracy.

Ballots have brought revolutions that even armed struggle has not achieved. In Nepal, the Maoists failed to topple the monarchy even after 10 years of bloody war, but an elected assembly abolished the 240-year-old monarchy. The RJPN and the Biplav Maoist have chosen not to study recent history, and are resorting to violence to push through their agenda. Their local cadres, however, know where real power lies and how to achieve it.

In Thabang in Rolpa district, independent candidates of the Biplav Maoist are in the electoral fray to become village chief and deputy. In this once-stronghold of the rebels in the midwestern hills, people had boycotted last local elections in 1997. None of them turned out to vote in the second Constituent Assembly elections, either. But this time, Amrit Gharti of the Biplav Maoist is contesting polls on 28 June to become Thabang village council chief. This confirms that contesting elections is the only way to gain power. The central leadership of the Biplav Maoist has failed to understand what its cadres in Thabang have already understood.

Ditto for the RJPN. Its cadres are independently contesting elections in Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Banke districts in defiance of their party’s central decision to boycott and disrupt elections. It also shows that RJPN leaders who mostly live in Kathmandu do not have the pulse of their own supporters at the grassroots and have not grasped the general public mood in the Madhes. The parties that ignore the ground reality and fail to listen to the voices of the people cannot be called a democratic force. The RJPN and the Biplav Maoist must understand this at the earliest.

 

 


Moderating the moderates

Monday, June 19th, 2017
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Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

Chandra Kishore

Kathmandu’s rulers scrambled to find Upendra Yadav’s phone number only after he had burnt a copy of the Interim Constitution and launched the agitation in the Madhes in January 2007. He had sheltered in India during the war, and was unknown to his own Maoist cadre before that.

There have been two other movements in the Tarai since then, and rumours, speculation and distrust persists in Kathmandu about what the Madhes really wants: Why did Upendra Yadav suddenly agree to local elections without an amendment to the Constitution? Why is Mahanta Thakur still in the streets despite India’s pressure on the RJPN? Why are polls in Province 2 still uncertain even though two other Madhes-based parties led by Upendra Yadav and Bijaya Gachhadar are on board? Who is actually behind the RJPN?

Yadav looked like a Madhesi hardliner until recently. He insisted that polls would not be acceptable without amendments to the constitution. Now, he seems to want elections even more than some in the Kathmandu establishment. He has slammed the RJPN for depriving Madhesis of a chance to elect their own local representatives.

To those who know Yadav, his latest U-turn was sudden but not surprising. A shrewd strategist, he believes in the principle of utility. He carefully avoided being labeled an Indian lackey. While Mahant Thakur led the negotiation panel of the Madhesi Front, Yadav focused more on agitation.

His party emerged as the biggest Madhes-based one, relegating Rajendra Mahato’s Sadbhavna to third position. It is now Mahato who wants to prove himself to be more revolutionary than Yadav. And Mahant Thakur who always showed flexibility in the past is competing with Mahato to reject compromises.

Yadav realised early on that the Kathmandu establishment would not be ready to amend the Constitution the way Madhesi leaders wanted. So he decided to be part of the state and fight from the inside. He is not simply eying the post of Chief Minister in Province 2, he wants to be Prime Minister of Nepal. This is why he is trying to be a national party, removed the word ‘Madhes’ from the Federal Social Forum Nepal (FSFN).

Upendra Yadav is convinced that the FSFN will emerge as the biggest party in Madhes. He thinks the RJPN is on the wrong side of history, and is probably happy that his Madhesi rivals are constricted to Province 2 only. He has been on a roll ever since the RJPN refused to toe the new Indian line supporting elections.

New Delhi’s new Nepal policy has shifted, and this is why the RJPN is trying to project a not-just-Madhes image. But what Kathmandu needs to understand is that it must talk to both the FSFN and RJPN. The RJPN is a moderate force, but there are more radical groups in the offing.

 


 

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