Growing Terai turmoil casts doubts on Nepal polls
A string of prohibitory orders in the Terai plains, fresh curfew, arrests and crackdown on ethnic protesters have raised doubts about the Nepal government's ability to hold elections in under three months.
Though Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told a European Parliament delegation last week that constituent assembly elections would be held by mid-June as promised by him while assuming office last year, there are now voices in the seven-party ruling alliance saying it would be an impossible task.
The latest dissent came from Deputy Speaker Chitralekha Yadav, who on Saturday said at Butwal town in the plains that it was impossible to hold elections by mid-June in view of the turmoil in the region.
Violent clashes broke out in Gaur town in the plains on Wednesday between Maoists and a group of plains people, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, resulting in the death of at least 29 people.
On Friday, the violence spread to Siraha district, with firing and bombing reported at night on the eve of a mass meet scheduled by the Forum. The Maoists demolished a podium built by Forum supporters and damaged microphones.
The Maoists, who have stepped up attacks on opposition parties since entering parliament this year, are now locked in a deadly battle with the Forum, after the latter began growing powerful in the plains.
Stung by international criticism that the administration had not taken sufficient measures to avoid the clashes, Nepal's government enforced 10-hour curfew in Siraha on Saturday to prevent the Forum from holding a mass meet. It clamped prohibitory orders in five districts in the plains Jhapa, Sunsari, Morang, Siraha and Saptari for four days, banning rallies and public meets to stop the Forum's protest programmes.
It also arrested six people in Gaur town on suspicion they were involved in Wednesday's carnage.
Yadav said the government, instead of beginning talks with the Forum, was ignoring the Terai turmoil. Yadav belongs to the Nepali Congress (Democratic), the third largest party in the government.
On Friday, NCD chief Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was sacked by King Gyanendra in 2002 for failing to hold elections because of the Maoist insurgency, broke the silence in the ruling alliance, saying June polls would be impossible.
Deuba said the seven parties and the Maoists should instead amend the constitution and defer the election date. He also said that the top UN official overseeing the peace process in Nepal, Ian Martin, had virtually said it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections if the Terai unrest continued.
However, the prime minister is yet to relent, though his own daughter Sujata Koirala, a legislator from his Nepali Congress party, has been saying for some time that in view of the fragile security situation, Nepal should focus on improving law and order.
Koirala is under intense pressure from the Maoists to go ahead with the elections. Maoist chief Prachanda has warned the government that his party would start another protest movement if the polls were deferred.