Nepali Times

Refugee resettlement resumes

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017
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Resettlement of Bhutanese refugees that was halted by US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban has resumed.

Bhutanese refugee Kali Maya Magar’s six-member family (pic, above) was barred from flying to the United States last week. In a letter sent to the Beldangi camp where Kali Maya has been living ever since she fled Bhutan 25 years ago, the International Organisation for Migration said the multi-national resettlement program had been put on hold until further notice.

But as a US federal appeals court questions Trump’s immigration ban, Magar’s family was taken to Damak on Wednesday for a medical test, which is conducted for those refugees who are all set to fly abroad under the resettlement program.

“We have been told that we will be flying to the US in a few days,” an excited Kali Maya told Nepali Times on Wednesday.

Nearly 100,000 Nepali-speaking people were evicted from Bhutan in the early 1990s. They had been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

Despite several rounds talks at various levels, Nepal and Bhutan failed to find a solution to this issue. And in 2008, the International Community decided to resettle them mainly in the US and other European countries.

As of now, 107,949 Bhutanese refugees have already been resettled abroad, mostly in the US. Only 11,185 Bhutanese refugees now live in two camps, and 2,000 of them are waiting to be resettled abroad.


E-voting this time?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
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Photo: RSS

It is still not sure whether there will be local elections in May. But if that happens, it might not just be the first local polls in 20 years but also be the first opportunity to introduce electronic voting across the country.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited the Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday and learnt about the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in upcoming elections (pic, above).

“Local polls are possible in May,” he said, “and Nepalis have already become smart enough to vote electronically. If they can use mobile phones in rural villages, why can they not use voting machines?”

The EC has approached Smartmatic, a UK-based company, to buy EVMs. On Tuesday, a representative of Smartmatic showed PM Dahal how its voting machines can be used.

“Smartmatic is just an option,” the EC’s information officer Surya Prasad Aryal told Nepali Times. “We are also exploring other companies that can deliver affordable and reliable voting machines in time.”

Previously, the EC had bought a few hundred EVMs from India, which were used in Constituency 1 of Kathmandu in the first Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. They were also used in the by-elections of the second Constituent Assembly elections.

But the Indian EVMs can no longer be used because they cannot process more than 64 candidates. For the local polls, as many as 111 political parties have already registered themselves at the EC.

The EC is assessing if it is possible to introduce electronic voting technology in all constituencies this time. For this, the EC needs more than 50,000 EVMs, and Dahal promised the EC Rs 2 billion for the prupose.

But there are fears that the EC has very little time to train its staff for the nationwide use of electronic voting technology, if the local polls are to be held in May. Although Parliament has already passed five bills necessary to hold local polls, the government is yet to announce election dates in an effort to bring Madhesi parties on board.


Endless transition

Monday, February 6th, 2017
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The Big Three parties which fast-tracked the new Constitution in 2015 and then parted ways seem to have finally realised that they need to stand together to end the prolonged political transition.

At a meeting called by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Baluwatar on 21 January (pictured above), the leaders of the ruling NC-Maoist coalition and the main opposition UML buried their hatchets, and reached a consensus to hold local elections in May.

In the last two weeks since that landmark meeting, Parliament has passed all five bills necessary to hold elections, the Constitutional Council has recommended names for vacant posts of Election Commissioners, and the government has asked the Election Commission to begin preparations for polls and formed a three-member commission to make the report of the Local Body Restructuring Commission more acceptable.

“There is a sudden realisation that we are running out of time for local elections, and we need to be together to make it happen,” CPN (Maoist-Centre) leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha says.

As the Big Three gear up for local polls, the Madhesi parties are once again feeling left out, and PM Dahal’s attempts to get them on board have not yielded results. Dahal invited top Madhesi leaders to Baluwatar last week, and asked them a series of questions: We will put the second amendment to the constitution bill to a vote, but will you accept if it is rejected by a two-thirds majority? Will you then participate in local elections? Will you accept the report of the Local Body Restructuring Commission if it is revised?

In response, Madhesi leaders threatened to boycott local polls if the second amendment bill is not revised and passed. They also refused to participate in local polls unless local bodies are put under the jurisdiction of provinces.

After listening to the threats issued by Madhesi leaders, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba asked them point blank: “So you are determined to thwart local polls, is it?”

On Sunday, Deuba met again with Madhesi leaders and said his party agreed to amendments before elections. This appears to have more to do with his suspicions of Dahal’s dilly-dallying on elections than with a genuine effort to meet Madhesi demands.

Dahal was to announce the dates for local polls after last week’s meeting with Madhesi leaders, but he has had to tread cautiously. Three days later, a cabinet meeting decided to ask the Election Commission to begin poll preparations, without fixing election dates.

“We did not announce the exact dates because we are still waiting for Madhesi parties to come on board,” NC leader Ram Chandra Poudyal says, “but it does not mean that we will wait for them indefinitely.”

The UML is suspicious that the government still wants to postpone local polls by not announcing dates, citing the lack of consensus with Madhesi parties as an excuse. The UML’s Subhas Nembang says the government’s decision to ask the Election Commission to begin poll preparations is absurd because it has already stated that it is ‘prepared’. He says environment for elections will be ready once their dates are announced.

However, Nembang agrees that the ruling coalition has realised the need to join hands with the UML to end the political transition by electing a new Parliament, federal provinces and local bodies before January 2018.

“The parties that overcame all odds and promulgated the constitution in September 2015 need to be together unless the political transition ends,” he says. “This is our political line, and there are signs that the NC and the Maoists now also agree.”

Rameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika, 5-11 February

 


Meena hits right notes 

Sunday, February 5th, 2017
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meena_3From the Nepali Press

Himalk Khabarpatrika, 5-11 February

As Thamel Bazar captures the airwaves and goes viral on YouTube, the song’s playback singer Meena Niraula is all smiles. The song has not only established Niraula as a playback singer but has also put her on the map of Nepali music industry.

Born and brought up in Manipur of India, Niraula  trained as a classical singer. When she came to Nepal ten years ago, she had already sung for a dozen Manipur movies, but was unsure what the new country had in store for her.

Once here, she worked hard to establish herself as a singer. She participated in the reality show Nepali Tara, where she reached the top 10 with her powerful and versatile singing. But Niraula had to pull out of the show due to health reasons. She later joined the Paleti series where she sang with Ambar Gurung, Premdhwaj Pradhan, Phatteman Rajbahndari and Kiran Pradhan. She also took out an album Paila with Rojina Gurung with music from Kali Prasad Banskota. But listeners did not warm up to it.  In addition to modern songs, Niraula started playback singing.

“I feel like all my hard work has paid off. The success of the song has motivated me to work harder,” said Niraula. In Loot 2’s Thamel Bazar, the audience got a taste of her unique voice and singing style that employs her raspy voice and novel rhythms.

Now Niraula is hoping to cash in some more adulation from the audience with the song ‘Ansu pokhe, pida pokhe‘ from  the new movie based on writer Jhamak Ghimire’s life. Niraula thinks versatility is the most important quality of a singer. “I want to establish myself as one,” she says.


Local polls by 24 May

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
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Minister for Information and Communications Ram Karki talks to journalists after Thursday night’s cabinet meeting. Photo: RSS

The government has decided to ask the Election Commission (EC) to begin preparations to hold local elections, which haven’t been held for 20 years in Nepal, by May.

After a cabinet meeting late Thursday evening, Minister for Information and Communications Ram Karki told journalists the government will send a letter to the EC to begin preparations to hold local elections no later than 24 May.

Last week, Parliament had passed a bill that allows the government to announce election dates, and not the EC which had earlier sought the right to announce poll dates to ensure that there will be periodic elections. But almost all political parties argued that transition is still not over, and forging a consensus is important for polls rather than following the EC’s election timetable.

But the cabinet meeting that was expected to announce the dates for local polls did not do so because the ruling parties are still unable to forge a consensus with Madhesi parties.

Madhesi parties have pressed the government to announce election dates only after amending the constitution to address their demands for greater representation. The NC-Maoist collation wanted to announce election dates first, and then amend the charter.

Madhesi parties have warned to disrupt elections if they are held without amending the constitution. They may disrupt elections at least in Province 2, if not across the plains. So the government has set up a panel to assess difficulties that the EC might face in Province 2. The panel led by Local Development Minister Hitraj Pandey has Supply Minister Dipak Bohara and Industry Minister Nabindra Raj Joshi as its members.

 


Trump affects Bhutanese refugees

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
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Kali Maya Magar faces uncertain future in the Beldangi camp in eastern Nepal. Pic: Gopal Gartaula

Kali Maya Magar, one of the few thousand of the 120,000 Bhutanese refugees remaining in camps in Nepal, was to fly to Kathmandu on Tuesday morning to board a flight to the United States under a multinational resettlement program.

Magar’s six-member family were forced out of Bhutan in the early 1990s because they were Nepali-speakers, and spent the last 25 years in a refugee camp in Jhapa. They were to go to an International Oraganisation Migration (IOM) transit home in Kathmandu before flying out to Vermont.

Magar only found out this week that her trip has been canceled because the third-country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees has been put on hold indefinitely a few days after US President Donald Trump issued a new immigration policy.

“We are all worried now,” says Magar, whose married children have already been resettled in various cities in the US.

In a notice pasted on the office of the Beldangi-based Resettlement Help Centre, the IOM has not specified why the resettlement process has been suspended. It just says it is discontinued until further notice.

More than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have already been resettled abroad in the last 10 years. Some 92,000 have gone to the US, while others have gone to Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway and Canada.

Another 16,000 refugees are still in eastern Nepal, and international humanitarian agencies have cut down on food support for them as the number of refugee camps goes down from 7 to 2.

Gopal Gartaula

Read also:

Little Bhutan

The 100,000th refugees 


Saudi detainees meet PM

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
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Ten Nepali migrant workers who were wrongly charged with murder and jailed in Saudi Arabia for seven years meets Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Baluwatar on Tuesday. Pic: Om Astha Rai

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has promised compensation for 10 Nepali migrant workers who were wrongly charged with murdering an Indian citizen and jailed in Saudi Arabia for seven years.

After waiting for days for an appointment with the PM the innocent migrant workers, who were freed and sent home last month, finally met Dahal and sought help to start their lives anew.

Dahal assured that he will look into the matter and provide compensation for the lost years. Asked if he will talk to the Saudi government on this issue, he replied, “Yes, I will.”

Read also: Seven years in Jeddha jail

The workers had complained that the Nepal Embassy in Saudi Arabia ignored their repeated pleas for help, and reprimanded them for being a nuisance. Dahal also promised to look into this matter, and take action against the embassy staff if they were found guilty in dereliction of duty.

In February 2010, Bhim Chimariya, Krishna Pariyar, Shree Kumar Rai, Bir Bahadur Budhathoki, Kesh Bahadur Nepali, Som Tamang, Bhakta Bahadur Drajee, Ram Lama, Dipendra Sherma, Chakra Bahadur Gurung and Umesh Shrestha were arrested by Saudi police on the charge of murdering a man from India’s Uttar Pradesh.

One of them, Umesh Shrestha, died after prolonged torture. His body was never sent home. Police did not find evidence to prove their involvement in the murder, but they were still jailed for seven years.

The Nepal Embassy did not hire a lawyer to defend them in the Saudi courts, and they had to live in fear of being executed every day. They were finally released in December, and sent home. They want to stand up on their own, but say they need help to rebuild their lives.

Watch video of PM Dahal promising compensation to Saudi returnees


 

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