Saturday, April 12, 2008

Election Update from Kathmandu

Yeah, after that first result in Kathmandu things got turned on it's head. There is a revolution going on here - fortunately a quiet one. The moaists are in the lead by far - with almost 60% of the seats and then UML with about 20% and NC with about 12%. The results are still coming in but there is a clear trend - the old established folks are being kicked out and new 'no bodies' are in their place. I think there were about 6 constituencies that had to cancel their election due to bad behaviour - burning ballot boxes etc. but everything went very smoothly everywhere else. Things were peaceful and well managed in all the stations I visited in Biratnagar, which seems to have been the case in most places. Here's a weblink if you'd like to keep up with the events here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Big News in Nepal and Guest Lecturing

Nepal in the News:

Nepal held the historic constituent assembly elections yesterday. If you have been reading the New York Times or listening to NPR you would have read and hear several people how are participating in our documentary, such as Manjushree Thapa, David Pottie, Kunda Dixit, Ian Martin, Prachanda and Jimmy Carter. It is good to see that the same people who are contributing to these big media outlets are also working with us and that this is getting some news penetration domestically.

Guest Lecturing:

Today I was invited to speak in the Issues in Cross Cultural Mental Health at Emory University. The discussion went well and I showed the preview of the documentary to the group of undergraduate students. The feedback was very positive; one student said that he thought it was very powerful. Most of the student seemed interested in the film and wanted to know when and where they could the full documentary, so that is a good sign.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nepal’s Perilous Ascent By MANJUSHREE THAPA

On April 10th, 2008, the constituent assembly elections took place in Nepal. Manjushree Thapa, who is also in the documentary "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army" wrote this Op-Ed piece for the today's New York Times. She gives an interesting perspective on the political struggles that Nepal is facing.

Here is the story:

Op-Ed Contributor
Nepal’s Perilous Ascent

NEPALIS will vote today for the first time since a democratic uprising in 2006 that rejected King Gyanendra Shah’s absolute rule and led to a peace deal that ended a 10-year Maoist insurgency. This is not an ordinary election. We will be voting for a 601-member constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution that most likely will abolish the monarchy and will certainly restructure Nepal.

It is compelling, and moving, to live through the remaking of one’s nation.

Still, Katmandu has grown hushed and watchful, and anxious, as Election Day has neared. In previous weeks, the political parties staged rallies, canvassed door to door, and filled the streets with scratchy loudspeaker announcements imploring us to vote.

Now the campaigning is over. Electoral violence, though, is on the rise, with officials yesterday reporting eight deaths. Hundreds of international observers, and thousands of their Nepali counterparts, have fanned out to monitor the 10,000 polling places. Jimmy Carter has arrived. The government has declared a five-day public holiday to encourage people to vote, and banned alcohol to ensure public safety.

“So, are you planning to risk your life to vote?” This is the question my friends and I have been asking one another, not entirely in jest.

In the fray are the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which in 1995 started a blood-soaked insurgency that left more than 13,000 dead and the country’s economy ravaged. Used to ruling their rural strongholds by force, members of their Red Guard-style Young Communist League have attacked the candidates and workers of rival parties, and have threatened, rather than wooed, voters. They are convinced that the security forces are working against them. It would surprise no one to see the Maoists stuffing ballot boxes on voting day.

Equally menacing are the supporters of Nepal’s embattled monarchy. In its very first meeting, the constituent assembly is expected to abolish the 240-year-old monarchy. Ultraroyalists have forged a shadowy alliance of high-caste feudal landowners, Hindu fundamentalists and criminals in hopes of spoiling the election with violence. An underground group called the Nepal Defense Army bombed a mosque to incite Hindu-Muslim antagonism; and dark rumors are circulating of further bombings and assassination attempts on Election Day.

Between these two extremes lie scores of liberal and leftist parties, the largest of which are the Nepali Congress Party and the Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist), a moderate party despite the name.

In the past, these parties have not done much to protect democracy from the onslaughts of the extreme left and the extreme right. Yet the mere possibility of being able to choose from among them at all rouses what the Nepali newspapers call “election fever.”

Democracy may be imperfect, but unlike absolute systems like Maoism and monarchism, it incorporates mechanisms to correct its own flaws.

So, yes: I am planning to risk my life to vote today.

Not that the election will resolve much. Most Nepalis recognize that it will, in fact, send our country into an era of heightened instability.

Immediately after the polls, there will be extensive re-polling in the constituencies marred by rigging and violence. The announcement of results may also be combustible. The Maoists, in particular, are unlikely to be gracious either in the case of a landslide victory or of a humiliating defeat. “It would be ideal if they came in third,” a friend commented. “That would keep them from taking over, but also from going back to war.”

The danger will not end there. When the constituent assembly is formed, it will have to handle the delicate matter of asking the king to step down. So far, Gyanendra Shah has been adamantly opposed to giving up what he feels is his family’s birthright.

But the most bitter struggles will probably erupt over the drafting of the new constitution. The remote, neglected rural regions of Nepal have been demanding autonomous federal states. But to Katmandu-dwellers accustomed to a unitary, centralized state, a “United States of Nepal” can feel like the end of all that is known, all that is certain. The battles ahead are likely to be fierce.

“Three years,” laughs a friend, speculating on how long it will take for our country to become a functioning democracy. Another friend has a more somber assessment: “If we’re lucky, five years.”

On good days we will call this volatile age our “transition to democracy.” On bad days, though, it will feel frightening and even painful.

This is why we are hushed and watchful going into Election Day. This is why we are anxious.

Our sole consolation is the hope that we will become a democracy one day: the dream that we will free ourselves, at long last, from the autocracy of Maoism and monarchy alike.

Manjushree Thapa is the author of “Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy” and “The Tutor of History,” a novel.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nepal's Child Soldiers on BBC