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Are local polls in Nepal a sham?

Judging by the recent spate of Maoist attacks, it seems that Nepal polls are a sham, says the Christian Science Monitor.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 11:33 IST

Judging by the recent spate of Maoist attacks and the decision of major political parties to boycott the polls, it seems that the local body elections in Nepal are a sham.

So deep is the disenchantment and so widespread the Maoist reach, that more than half of all the municipal seats going to the polls have no candidates, reports the Christian Science Monitor (CSM).

Out of the 4146 mayoral and local official seats in 58 municipalities across 43 of the 75 districts in the country, only 3255 candidates initially filed nominations.

These included none from the seven-party alliance, which represented 90 per cent of the seats in the last Parliament.

But, around 650 candidates subsequently withdrew their nominations after being advised by family members not to risk their lives, thereby leaving nearly 2104 seats with no candidates at all.

In many districts, such as Dailekh, candidates could not withdraw as their respective political mentors whisked them away to "security camps".

Family members have no access to them, says the report.

Surprisingly, in several municipalities people were surprised to find themselves candidates.

According to the paper, one Sunaina Devi Paswan found she was being fielded as a candidate from Jaleswore.

"They fooled me into signing the candidacy paper stating that it was a form for a women's credit group," she was quoted as saying. She has since withdrawn, said the paper.

Considering the overall insecure environment, the country's election commission has offered to insure the candidates from anywhere between 7000 and10, 000 dollars.

According to the report, the Nepal King is facing calls to restore democracy in the kingdom.

Shanker Pokharel, a leading politician in the country, said: "The election is a farce. The King is morally incapable of holding an election. It has already failed."

Pokharel is a leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist, a major party in the alliance demanding for democracy.

The pre-election troubles speak of the extent of King Gyanendra's isolation following authoritarian efforts to strengthen his hand against the Maoists.

According to observers, instead of gaining ground on the battlefield, the King has only alienated the civil society.

The US-based paper said that while the European Union called the elections a "backward step for democracy", the International Crisis Group (ICG) said that the vote would not help end the ten-year conflict that has already claimed 13,000 lives.

A recent ICG report said: "Nepal's royal government is inviting confrontation by forcing through, amidst a new crackdown on civil liberties, municipal elections ... which will not be free, fair, or credible. The confrontation between an increasingly isolated palace and increasingly militant mainstream activists has benefited the Maoists."

King Gyanendra had assumed executive powers on February 1, 2005, dismissing an elected government, arresting leaders, and curbing civil liberties and press freedom.

Citing a reason for his move, the king said that he would use his powers for finally defeating the insurgency, which, according to him, democratic leaders had failed to do.

The move sparked global condemnation even as India, Britain, and later the US - all long time supporters of the king - imposed an arms embargo on the country.

First Published: Feb 09, 2006 11:33 IST