Poll is unlikely to end tension

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2008, 12:00am

Election observers are bracing for a tense postscript to today's voting in Nepal - with the tricky logistics of the polls further complicating affairs.

'Any of the possible [election] outcomes could aggravate tensions, and each would generate powerful losers,' said the International Crisis Group in its most recent report.

Part of the problem is that election results will take a minimum of 10 days to declare - but more likely longer - giving defeated parties time to oppose the outcome and militant groups the chance to wreak havoc.

'The [potential] spoilers - both for the election and afterwards - are the extreme left and the extreme right, the Maoists on the left and the royalists on the right,' said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times.

The ICG, a Belgium-based conflict-resolution think-tank, also lists ethnic-based political parties in Nepal's southern districts and international reaction as factors to watch in the election aftermath.

Any disgruntled party could cite the violent campaign as an excuse to reject the election result. In fact, the ways things could go bad at the polls are too many to name, even for optimists at the UN.

'One Nepali politician has said there are 100 forms of booth capturing, and I'm certainly not in a position to describe them all,' said Ian Martin, the UN secretary general's special representative in Nepal, getting a chuckle from local journalists before the poll.

'Booth capturing' usually refers to taking over a polling station and stuffing the ballot box, using either outright violence or pressure from partisan agents.

Mr Martin warned that electoral malpractice would almost certainly result in repolling in some of Nepal's 21,000 polling stations.

The long counting process - one of the slowest in the world - is partly due to the difficult terrain and lack of roads in the Himalayan nation, but mostly it is because of the complex voting system Nepal has chosen.

The vote will elect a 601-member Constituent Assembly that will rewrite the constitution, decide the fate of the king and act as an interim lawmaking body.

But voters will cast two ballots - a light-blue one to elect their preferred local representative directly and a pink one to indicate which party they think should lead the country.

After the votes are brought into district centres, the blue 'first-past-the-post' ballots will be counted first and results will be announced.

Observers say this section of the ballot may favour candidates with an existing profile from past elections and spark unrest.

Once the blue ballots have been counted, the pink proportional-representation votes will be tallied in a complex process used elsewhere only in Serbia and Guyana.

Basically, the parties that win their constituencies will then nominate a candidate from a list already submitted to the Election Commission. In addition, the parties must satisfy a quota system to ensure a representative number of women, Madheshis from the southern plains, indigenous caste members and dalits (the so-called untouchables).

It may take days to get the quota right. This means candidates who are initially nominated could be replaced the next day, causing friction within parties.

'I would appeal to everyone to be patient during an inevitably prolonged period because of the nature of this electoral system ... and [appeal] to the main political leaders to stand by their commitment to co-operate with each other,' Mr Martin said.