Who Fouled up the Election?

By Murari Sharma

I had read a story long time ago in which the main character, attacked by someone at night, wonders about who might have assaulted him even though he had no enemy but concludes that everyone around him could have reason to hurt him. The UCPN (Maoist) finds itself in that character’s predicament after the recent election debacle of monumental proportions.

But there is a major difference between the story character and Maoist leaders: The former quietly pondered while the latter have been making hue and cry about domestic and foreign players fouling up the election. So much so that the Maoists have announced that they would boycott CA II if their complaint about the election fraud were not properly addressed.

In a monumental decline, the Maoists were reduced from the first position with 238 seats in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly I to the remotely third position in CA II. They have 80 seats from direct and proportional elections and may have four more seats if the nominated 26 are apportioned this time as before. All told, their rivals, the Nepali Congress, the CPN (UML) and the UCPN (Maoist), may  have 215 and 183 seats respectively.

To internally investigate the election fraud, the UCPN (Maoist) constituted a committee headed by Barsa Man Pun. The committee reported that the Election Commission and the army had conducted institutional fraud by letting the army transport the ballot boxes to counting centers and letting their agents go with the ballot boxes and demanded official investigation. Both agencies have denounced the allegation as baseless.

Why the alleged institutional fraud? The Maoists claim that domestic and external players conspired to defeat them. In a great irony, among internal players, the head of the election government, Khil Raj Regmi, and the chief election commissioner were appointed at the recommendation of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the fallen Maoist star. The army chief was appointed by Dahal’s deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, when he was prime minister. It is inconceivable that the Maoist protégés could have betrayed their mentors.

The usual external suspects are India and Western countries. Of course, India prodded Nepal to go for the polls at the earliest and helped organize them with equipment and materials. But it apparently did not try to influence the outcome as such. India did not help Madheshi parties, even though Rajendra Mahato, the Sadbhavana Party leader, has said their defeat was India’s defeat.

There is no indication, let alone proof, that Western countries tried to shape the election result. Why should they? They are sympathetic to the Maoist proposal to carve Nepal into an ethnic federal state. And they do not have the kind of network India has in Nepal to influence Nepalese elections, even if they wanted.

Let us stretch the net further and include China as a potential suspect because it is wary about the ethnic division of states in a federal Nepal. But Beijing would not want to defeat the ideologically closest kin that is also most sympathetic to its most vital interest in Nepal: Control anti-China activities of Tibetan refugees.

Put it differently, the conspiracy by national and foreign elements does not wash.

That leaves voters disaffection as the only valid and overwhelming reason behind the Maoist meltdown. As the largest party in the CA I, the Maoists could not deliver good government and a new constitution. Government was corrupt and ineffective and the constitution stalled because the Maoists backed out of the last minute compromise on federalism. Besides, Maoist leaders were arrogant. So voters jilted the new boys in town and went back to the old love.

It was unexpected. Dahal and Bhattarai had called on voters to give them a two-thirds majority and hoped that they would again be the largest party. Even analysts had predicted only a slight loss for the Maoists. However, the Nepali Congress and UML had predicted that they would win the election and did. Madheshis had hoped to win big on “One Madhesh, One Pradesh.”

Of all, Dahal was stunned most. He had left no stone unturned to win. Going against the grain of communist ideology, he had rooted for ethnic states. He had called on his supporters to use all fair and foul means, including booth capturing, for his party to win, had travelled across the country by helicopter flouting the Election Code of Conduct to arouse support for his party. Voters thronged to see him and his helicopter but voted for opponents.

Dahal himself lost a relatively unknown NC candidate the Kathmandu constituency. His victory from Siraha was wafer thin. Bhattarai too won one and lost the other. So many of their comrades lost. With this outcome, Dahal’s dream to write a constitution in his vision and become the first executive president of Nepal shattered into smithereens. Now he is worried about losing his party leadership.

To be fair to Dahal, elections are never perfect, not even in most advanced democracies.  Carried out nation-wide on a single day by thousands of officials in thousands of booths, they are likely to have weaknesses even in the most advanced countries. In the recent Australian elections, some ballot boxes were found missing. The Supreme Court settled the dispute over hanging chads in the Bush-Gore contest for the US presidency in 2003.

Neither in 2008 nor in 2013, the Nepalese elections were clean. If the 2008 vote were clean, Bhattarai would not have won by a higher margin than the total number of voters in his constituency. This time, Dahal himself had asked his supporters to get the vote by hook or crook. Others may have followed suit. Yet this election was the cleanest in Nepal’s history thanks to voters identity cards and non-partisan election government. Both national and internal observers, including the former US President Jimmy Carter, have vouched for it.

Although Dahal might be making a noise about fraud to save his leadership, he or his party has no moral ground to denounce the vote, boycott the CA II, and disrespect the voters’ mandate. In democratic politics, losing one ballot is not the end of the world. Losing patience with voters is. If the Maoists behave, they will have a second chance. It is a different matter altogether that the winners should demonstrate some magnanimity towards the losers as well.

But when will the Maoists realize that they have lost the election and their main enemy was themselves?

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