Well, the election has come and gone, and life is slowly getting back to normal in Kathmandu. For the last few weeks, the city was gradually taken over and brought to a standstill in preparation for the election. First came the posters stuck on every solid surface, mostly showing the logo of the Maoist party (a hammer and sickle), the separatist Maoists (a red sun), or the Congress party (a green tree). Then parades with drums and loudspeakers began to crisscross the city. Armed police forces and soldiers began to appear on every street and corner, first chatting with one another as they patrolled and gradually becoming more sinister as their numbers grew and the election drew closer. Within a week of the election day, the separatist Maoists began calling for city-wide bandhas, strikes in which cars are forbidden from driving on the streets and shops and restaurants are all closed. Finally, within days of the election, several bombs were planted around Kathmandu and on microbuses. While casualties were minimal, there was a definite feeling of tension and fear in the air.
Merely understanding the election and the parties involved in it was a struggle. The English language Nepali newspapers provided very little information, and asking our Nepali staff was both relatively unproductive and also murky. We have very limited ability to search for information on the Internet, but tried to make use of our occasional visits to Internet cafes. Eventually, I was able to piece together some of the details of the election and why it was causing so much disruption and chaos in the city.
The monarchy in Nepal ended in 2008, bringing with it an end to a 10-year civil war waged between the Maoist party and the monarchy. The goal was to create a Constitutional Assembly whose 601 members would be responsible for drawing up a new system of governance for Nepal, including drafting a constitution. However, as of now, late 2013, there is still no Constitution nor any consensus about what should be included in a future document. The major hang-ups seem to be around dividing the country in to governance zones based on ethnic divides or geography, and whether the government should be based on the British, French or American styles of government. The Maoists who less than a decade ago waged a brutal civil war with the government have now split in to two main factions. One group has joined the government and is willing to cooperate in the Constitutional process, while one group refuses to join the government and was responsible for the 33-party coalition that called and enforced the bandha.
In the 2008 elections, the Maoists were the clear leading party, with 220 members elected to the Constitutional Assembly, but from what I heard from our Nepali staff and have read in the news, it seems this time around they are less likely to get as many seats. The Nepali staff of Tevel B’Tzedek working with us in Kalimati expressed disappointment and fear of the Maoists, citing both the violence during the civil war and their inability to make change.
News sources cite between 60-70% voter turnout, which is impressively high. Results of the election aren’t expected for another week or more, and who knows what the situation in Nepal will be like once the results are announced. Personally, I anticipate a few more rounds of bandha and violence from disappointed parties or even from the separatist Maoists if a Constitutional Assembly is formed.
Watching the election drama unfold and trying to wade through conflicting rumors, news reports and even contradictory answers from the Nepali staff, I suddenly felt extremely grateful for the stability of the democratic process in the United States and Israel. During the 2008 election in the United States and the 2013 election in Israel, I felt and felt close to the political issues at stake. Tensions were extremely high in both countries during the elections, yet at no point did I feel endangered because of the political process. I took it for granted that however contentious the lead-up to the election was, it would occur on time and as planned, and no one would be hurt or killed or prevented from living his or her daily life because of the election.
The transition to stable democracy is hard going. Nepal suffered through decades of repressive monarchs followed by a decade of civil war and then five year of political inertia, so it comes as no surprise that the establishment of a functioning democratically elected government has stumbled over many a glitch. The question for me is how they will move past these challenges. Violence leads to more violence, and it seems to me that if violence and strikes continue to accompany the political process, then Nepalese new to the democratic process will start to automatically associate or even assume that that is how their political