Nepal Votes to End Political Gridlock

By Gopal Sharma 19 November 2013

KATHMANDU — Nepal started voting on Tuesday to elect a special assembly which will draft a constitution aimed at ending years of political instability after the abolition of the monarchy, but the vote could be split and leave Nepal facing further turmoil.

Nepal’s neighbors, India and China, have grown increasingly concerned about its prolonged struggle to build a stable republic to replace the centuries old monarchy that was toppled by a 10-year Maoist revolt.

The fear is that the small nation of nearly 27 million people dependent on tourism, remittances and aid would weaken further and become a haven for militants and criminal gangs.

A previous attempt at writing a constitution after a 2008 election failed with political parties unable to agree on the form of government and the number of states to be carved out of the ethnically diverse country.

Nepal had five governments in as many years as power-hungry politicians formed and broke alliances.

Soldiers stood guard at Phailamchuli on Tuesday, a polling booth outside Kathmandu, as voters lined up hours early to elect the 601-member assembly that will act as a parliament and establish a government until a charter is ready.

“We are giving the politicians a second chance,” said Lal Bahadur Lama, 58, as he emerged from the polling station.

But some fear further political instability.

“The stalemate is not going to end anytime soon,” said Bimal Koirala who served as a chief secretary or the highest ranking bureaucrat. “All that the political parties are interested in is to rush to power.”

The election is being fought by Maoists who joined the political mainstream after signing a peace deal in 2006, the oldest Nepali Congress party, and scores of other parties including a royalist group that wants to reinstate a monarchy.

A 33-party alliance led by a breakaway Maoist faction has called for a boycott of the election and at least 30 people have been wounded in small bomb blasts in the run-up to the vote.

Streets were deserted on Tuesday as the government ordered all vehicles off the roads for election day.

“We have to give a message to the international community that Nepal is able to draft a new constitution,” President Ram Baran Yadav said in a statement late on Monday.

Counting of votes will begin on Wednesday, but a clear picture is expected to emerge in a week as votes from remote parts of the mountainous nation are counted.