Nepal polls: a second chance to get it right

Nepal’s first elected government failed to agree a constitution. Politicians know another failure is out of the question

The only thing that would have worried voters on Tuesday in Nepal was the chill in the air, as many lined up in wooly hats and scarves waiting for polls to open at 7am. 

Up to twelve million people were eligible to vote in the election, which will decide who sits in the country’s Constituent Assembly and draws up a new constitution. 

The first assembly, elected in 2008 after the fall of the country’s 250-year-old monarchy, was unable to write a constitution during its term of office due to internal infighting.

Its failure betrayed the very people it was supposed to help. Politicians here are full of promises but the saying goes that the proof of the pudding is in the eating… and this is the case in Nepal.

This election is the last chance for political leaders and their followers to deliver on their promises. They know that failure to agree a constitution will end badly this time.

Strikes and protests have preluded this election.

But largely, voters I spoke to seemed hopeful that the will of the people will be respected and that no party could take the electorate for granted. 

It was a theme mentioned to me by the former US President, Jimmy Carter, when I met him yesterday before the vote.

He said: “I’m very proud of what had been achieved already I think almost all the politicians are committed to a peaceful coexistence.

“I think in general the ones that had a more radical or extreme views in the past have come towards the middle so they can understand each other and cooperate better, I think there’s a better chance of success now than there was at the end of the 2008 election.”

Let’s hope so.

The UN’s resident coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, told me that colleagues in Nepal believe the turnout to be very high, or as high of the first election in 2008. It’s encouraging because a new identity and verification card has been introduced to make sure everyone eligible is on the list.

Photo identification cards with a corresponding electoral register seem to have done the trick. Those that felt disenfranchised in the past, perhaps now feel inclusive of the electoral process.

Such a scheme encourages confidence in an individual. They have the power to decide who they want to represent them, emboldening them to cast that all important vote even if it means waiting hours and not being bullied by a tribal chief.

I covered the Bangladesh elections in 2008 and this style of voter registration was a huge success there. The power of the people will eventually drown out the sound of the ‘nay-sayers’.

The results for 240 directly elected MPs will be known on November 26. A further 361 seats, allocated through proportional representation, will be known by December 6. Let’s hope the politicians don’t let the Nepali public down.

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