Political parties that chose to boycott next Tuesday’s election in Nepal also vowed to foil it. Their attempts to do so have failed spectacularly so far.
In the summer of 2012, the Maoist party that had fought a ten-year civil war before signing a cease-fire agreement in 2006 and participating in an election in 2008 split into moderate and hardline factions. The hardliners led by Mohan Baidya were unwilling to contest the coming election and said that they would prevent it from happening.
The centerpiece of their anti-poll program was a ten-day nationwide strike call for November 11-20. (The 19th is election day.) But since the first day of the strike, the public has increasingly gone about their business freely. By Thursday, traffic was normal and all businesses, schools, and offices were open.
A strong police and army presence on the streets and government promises to reimburse for losses helped. (Strike enforcers sometimes target vehicles and businesses that defy shutdown calls.) But most importantly, the Nepali people do not support the strike – they want this election because they hope that that it will break the political deadlock that has paralyzed the country for more than a year.
The Baidya faction, known here as the Dash Maoists, has also been responsible for obstructions such as felling trees to block roads to locations where election rallies were planned and for some violence, including small socket bombs and burning of vehicles defying their strike call. There have been some injuries in these incidents, but by South Asian standards and relative to other elections here, the problems have not been very serious. Nepal’s election commissioner said on Wednesday that incidents reported to the Election Commission were fewer than at the same point in the run-up to the 2008 polls, which international observers including the Carter Foundation declared mostly free and fair.
The Dash Maoists may perhaps have surprises in store for the nation before Tuesday, but none of their senior leaders has appeared in public for several days. Press “conferences” are being phoned in, and the statements made in them appear to be disconnected from reality. The faction’s spokesperson, Pampa Bhusal said yesterday that the government was bribing opponents of the strike to come out onto the streets and that security forces were using “terror tactics” to support the election.
The Dashists have clearly shot themselves in the foot by declining to participate in elections that are supported by the people and by announcing their intent to prevent those elections without being able to do so. The Nepali culture of politically-initiated strikes may also have taken a body blow, something that would be very welcome here. And if the elections come off reasonably well, the Dash Maoists will have few options but to fold up their tent or to return to the jungle and reopen armed conflict.
The latter possibility is worrisome of course, but support for the hardline faction is fading daily as it becomes manifest that their agenda is out of touch with that of the Nepali people. An underground Baidya faction would be a nuisance but would not mean a return to civil war.