Sporadic violence further dampens the spirit of voters

Nepal will vote for a second Constituent Assembly on Tuesday, amid calls for boycott by a coalition of parties led by a hard-line Communist-led faction.

This is the second time Nepal is holding an election to a constituent assembly, hoping to end the deadlock that had marred the functioning of the last one.

More than 12 million of the nearly 27 million people have been registered themselves for the election to the 601-member Constituent Assembly that would double as parliament for a five-year term.

The first Constituent Assembly (CA), elected in April 2008 for a two-year term, failed in its task, despite four extensions totalling additional two years.

The euphoria that marked the 2008 elections appears missing this time, with newspapers reporting that the electorate is dismayed by the bickering among parties and a flailing economy.

However, many in the capital say they are eager to vote and have flocked to bus-stations to leave for their hometowns and villages to exercise their franchise.

“Despite being disappointed by political parties and their leaders, I am heading home to vote because of my love for the country,” said Bimala Gayak, while waiting for a bus to her home in Chitwan district in central Nepal, Kantipur daily reported on Monday.

Travelling on the highways is risky, though. The CPN-Maoist, which is leading a boycott call, has enforced a 10-day nationwide transport strike, a de facto bandh (a general shutdown), which began with a total strike on November 11. Since then, there have been several incidents of violence.

Workers of the pro-boycott alliance have allegedly thrown petrol bombs and other improvised explosive devices at traffic. One truck driver, transporting paddy in eastern Nepal, was hit by a bomb on Thursday. He died in a hospital in Kathmandu three days later.

The government, which had been initially blaming an “unidentified group,” accused the pro-boycott alliance on Saturday of unleashing violence and vandalising property. The CPN-Maoist denied involvement.

The CPN-Maoist had earlier been demanding dissolution of the government of retired bureaucrats, led by the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a roundtable conference of political parties to reach an agreement on contentious provisions in the new constitution.

Voter turnout is expected to be lower than the 60 per cent recorded last time. The parties have agreed to hold the election as per the mixed electoral system again, involving both the direct election of candidates, as in India, and a proportional representation system. While 240 seats are up for grabs under the direct election of candidates, 335 will be available under the proportional representation system. Twenty-six members will be nominated to the constituent assembly-cum-parliament.

Opinion polls show the largest party in the last election, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has been weakened by a split. The Nepali Congress is expected to better its performance and the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) might retain its third position.

Polls also predict some gains for the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal), which is calling for the restoration of Nepal’s earlier status as a Hindu Kingdom, as well as the institution of a constitutional monarchy.