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Uncertainty And Hope During Elections in Nepal

Supporters of different Nepali political parties outside BICC building where vote counting is continuing. Image by Kumar Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (21/11/2013)

Supporters of different Nepali political parties outside BICC building where vote counting is continuing. Image by Kumar Shrestha. Copyright Demotix (21/11/2013)

Nepal's elections to choose a new Constituent Assembly were finally held on 19 November 2013 a year to the day that they were first planned. The vote counting is ongoing, with the latest reports pegging Nepal's oldest party, the Nepali Congress, as leading the polls.

The elections are shrouded with uncertainty as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has alleged vote rigging. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Nepali Congress are neck-and-neck, while the Maoists face electoral defeat. 

Much rides on these elections because the new assembly will be tasked with drafting Nepal's much awaited Constitution. Not long after a decade-long civil war between the country's Maoists and government came to an end, the first Constituent Assembly was formed in 2008. But after four years it failed to write a constitution, and the country has been in political crisis since.  

The voter turnout on the day was encouraging, with a large women participation. Blogger Ushaft discussed the general mood of voters on the voting day:

People who voted for Maoists last time have turned against them now. This is the general mood one can observe in districts, villages and streets.

However, the day did not pass without violence. Journalist and blogger Deepak Adhikari blogged about an election day bomb blast that severely injured children playing in the streets. There has been an increase in election-related violence in Nepal both pre-poll and during the poll, noted by blogger Ushaft:

A series of violent explosions were reported last week. It is not clear who did them, and most blame the Dash faction. But a large number of such activities are targeted at non-Maoist candidates.

Aakar Post analyzed social media reactions regarding the elections. The pre-election buzzwords were topped by words such as “bomb”:

Analysis of pre-election keywords in Social Media. Image by Aakar Tech. Used under a CC BY-NC license

Analysis of pre-election keywords in Social Media. Image by Aakar Tech. Used under a CC BY-NC license

While the post-election buzz words were dominated by words like “win” and “boycott”.

Nepal’s Maoists are disputing the election results. Previous Prime Minister and Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) urged the election commission to stop the vote counting with complaints of “conspiracy and poll-rigging.”

On Facebook, Maoists leaders and supporters – notably Prakash Dahal (Prachanda's son) – have posted series of updates regarding their allegation of irregularities. Prakash Dahal has also posted pictures which he claims prove that the pools were not free. He has posted four photos of what purportedly show an army officer standing next to voters casting ballot. Nepal deployed 62,000 army personnel in all the constituencies to provide security for the November 19 Constituent Assembly elections.

But majority of comments posted seem to indicate that the people want the Maoists to take this defeat as a lesson:

निष्पक्ष चुनाव भनेको यहि रहिछ हैन । सेना कुन घेरामा बस्ने रे । निलकण्डलगायत षडयन्त्रकारीहरु । ब्यारेकमा मतपेटिका साटेर नपुगेर सेनालाई कहां भोट हाल्ने सिकाउन लगाउन

This is free and fair election. Which boundary would the Army abide by? Nilkantha [Chief Elections Commissioner] and the other perpetrators? Not happy with changed ballot boxes in barracks, made the Army teach voters where to vote.

Blogger Ushaft quotes a citizen's statement, which expressed concern on the Maoists allegation of election irregularities and rejected demands of the Maoists to obstruct the vote tallying process.

On Twitter, the #NepalVotes hashtag was used by many commentators to write about the elections. NepalVotes.com is on the forefront of disseminating and visualizing election-related data, and a popular Nepali-language blog has coordinated coverage with them:

Screenshot o

Screenshot of the website Nepalvotes.com with graphical representation.

This election also highlighted the importance of data journalism within the Nepali context, with sites like NepalVotes.com and MySansar active in monitoring. 

Blogger and journalist Deepak Adhikari (@DeepakAdk) noted on Twitter:

Interesting to note that otherwise active Twitter user, former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai (@brb_laaldhwoj), has remained silent following the results. He tweeted just once after the polls, to thank his voters.

Paramendra Bhagat at Democracy for Nepal provides a snapshot of the latest standings as on 25 November 2013:

Image courtesy Paramendra Bhagat at Democracy for Nepal.

Image courtesy Paramendra Bhagat at Democracy for Nepal.

NepalVotes.com has the updates of results as they come in, and projections of seat count under the proportional representation as per their own analysis.

It's still not clear if these elections will result in a constitution, blogger Kaja wrote:

What I heard from some Nepali people was that for this election they hoped for a constitution. That was their biggest wish. Now only time will show what will happen.

Bhumika Ghimire also contributed to this post.

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