Don’t Turn Out the Lights in Nepal Just Yet

The Constituent Assembly Elections will happen this time

Kathmandu is a city of inconveniences this winter. Some of them, like three-hour power cuts twice a day and kerosine shortages, don’t bother the the country’s leaders. They have generators or battery-backup systems. The leaders send their drivers to wait in all-day lines for gas, they roll up their SUV’s windows as they ride past piles of uncollected garbage, and they listen to their iPods while stuck in the impossible traffic. Food price increases don’t make a dent.

The biggest inconvenience for Nepal’s leaders right now is that mobile phone service is lousy.

But add together winter weather, blackouts, fuel shortages, higher prices, and a collapse of basic services, life is pretty miserable for many Kathmandu residents. Conditions are worse elsewhere. Nepalis know who to blame: A survey published Monday in a Kathmandu news weekly shows that fewer than four percent of respondents had faith in parliament or the cabinet.

People are angry, but they are not protesting in the streets. The reason is that they still have hope. Nepalis want a better government and a better life. Whether or not they understand what the constituent assembly will do, the promised election is the only hope they have left.

The leaders do get that. The UML is eager for elections, assuming that they will come out first in a free and fair poll. Congress is bitterly divided and had to be dragged to it, but the party is committed now. The royalists will be cheered by continued polling showing that nearly half of Nepalis want a monarchy. And the Maoists are, finally, ready to let people vote.

The Terai troubles will cause some confusion and force the government to shift election dates in a few districts or to re-poll in others. But the forces determined to wreck the elections in the south don’t have enough strength to prevent the poll, only to disrupt it.

There are still many problems ahead. The Maoists will contest the election but are determined to win at any cost. (For starters, 200 cadres, many ex-PLA, to be deployed at each polling place.) If the Maoists use force during the poll or fail to earn a respectable showing in a fair election, there could be major trouble.

But in the short term, everyone loses if the elections don’t happen in April. The promise and the hope that attends the poll is the only thing keeping the lid on in cold, dark, hungry Nepal. Any party or player seen to foil the elections this time would face real people power. Count on elections, but keep your fingers crossed for May.

At least the phone company promises that the mobile network will be working by then.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.