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Campaigning at harvest time

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
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YOUR VOTE PLEASE: Badri Neupane of the Chure Bhawar Party meets a voter in his constituency in Sarlahi. (PIC: SUBHAS DEVKOTA)

YOUR VOTE PLEASE: Badri Neupane (left, wearing Dhaka hat) of the Chure Bhawar Party meets a voter in his constituency in Sarlahi. (PICS: SUBHAS DEVKOTA)

The hills and plains of central Nepal people are too busy to get excited about elections

SUBHAS DEVKOTA in SINDHULI

On a trip this week from Kathmandu to Sindhuli and Makwanpur, Nepal’s countryside looks busy with two unrelated activities: the people are busy harvesting paddy and the politicians are busy campaigning.

The two couldn’t be bothered about each other. The rice harvest has been plentiful because of a healthy monsoon and there aren’t enough hours in the day for farmers to work the golden terraces of rice. Meanwhile, candidates roar past in jeep convoys festooned with party flags shouting slogans. The political cadre don’t look at the villagers, and the farmers hardly look up from their task.

Party leaders and cadre who used to have lots of free time during the festival season are all very busy this year. There is the door-to-door campaigning to organise, mass meetings to fix, and being alert for CPN-M cadre out to disrupt their activities. Aside from that, cadre have to also make sure there aren’t hostile locals who may ask their candidates nasty questions in front of tv cameras.

Even though rural Nepal is too busy to be excited about elections, and many see the same candidates making the same promises, they are hoping against hope that their vote will end the political deadlock that has bedeviled the country for six years.

Badri Neupane of the small Chure Bhabar Party is flanked by three dozen cadre campaigning in the plains of Sarlahi. His party was set up to counter the rise of the Madhesi parties south of the East-West Highway and he sees massive support. “I see a lot of enthusiasm for the party,” Neupane says.

Indeed, unlike the hinterland, in the district capitals and the bazar towns along the highways, the talk of elections and candidates dominate the public sphere in tea shops and in the shade of papal trees. Even though people may not know the names of candidates, there is brand recognition of electoral symbols of the main parties. “I think it is too early to tell which party will win, although there is a lot of speculation,” says Madan Pradhan, who runs a small shop in Bardibas.

Most voters Nepali Times spoke to said they hadn’t yet made up their minds. They return the namastes and smile at the campaigning candidates, but the people say that doesn’t mean they support them. However, the candidates have taken the greetings to mean they are more popular than rivals. Mohan Baral of the NC contesting Sindhuli 2, for example, says the UML and the UCPN(M) candidates there are way behind and he is confident of winning.

In interviews, voters says their criteria for chosing candidates is performance, personality and ethnicity. The national issues in the party manifestos seem to have little bearing in the way most will vote. Sambhu Shrestha of the UCPN(M) is competing with UML leader Jhalnath Khanal in Sarlahi 1, and appears confident he will win because he is a local whereas Khanal is a “tourist” candidate. Khanal, however, has another ‘assured’ seat in Ilam.

Despite attacks by CPN-M making headlines in the Kathmandu papers, there appeared to be little to indicate their presence in the central hill and Tarai districts this week. All indications are that the elections will go ahead relatively peacefully, albeit with lower turnout than 2008.

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