No fancy Slogans: Only roads, electricity and reconstruction
While election slogans of introducing metro trains, trams, and free WiFi have been reverberated in the urban areas, including Kathmandu; slogans of electricity, construction of roads and earthquake-destroyed houses have drawn inspiration of the disparate voters in the mountainous region.
-Navaraj Mahatara (Humla), Anu Acharya (Rasuwa),Sujata Tamanga (Solukhumbu): Centre for Investigative Journalism
It may seem tongue-tight to some. However, CPN-UML candidate for Simkot village municipality Nar Bahadur Rokaya has beguilingly kept a he-goat to lure voters of Humla's upper belt. Nepali Congress vice presidential aspirant Ramba Shahi, who has kept two he-goats to lure voters of her constituency, is not less excited. Gratifying voters with feasts has been a traditionally established custom that holds religious recognition too. As per traditional practice, the he-goats are sacrificed at temples and served meat as Prasad (religious offering) to the people. The custom is that whoever eats even a single piece of meat is obliged to cast his vote for the candidate who keeps the goat. Locals term this custom as ‘maanmanito' (a gesture of respect) and candidates make use of this custom in their favor. Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, Simkot presidential candidate representing Maoist Center, too has kept four goats in Dandafaiya and Simkot.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the customary practice of ‘meet' (traditional manner of making best friends), which is still prevalent in Humla on the basis of name and horoscope, local political leaders make ‘best friends' with as many voters as they can to get their votes. Since candidates cannot visit each and every household asking for votes due to difficult geographical terrain and lack of transportation, these ‘best friends' assist the candidates by asking for votes on behalf of the ‘best friend' candidates. Therefore in Humla, making ‘intimate' friends has surpassed customary practice for political gains.
While the election fever has not gripped Humla's northern belt as expected, the southern territory has been exhilarated. For instance, Adanpur village municipality-1, a village bordering Bajura district, has been abundantly filled with red party flags of CPN-UML and Maoist Center.
67-year-old Maangali Thapa of Kalkhe Thapa village has been weary of facing candidates and party cadres frequenting her house to woo the voters. She refers to at least four to five groups of these people saying, "I can't understand what these people are trying to do. Neither they allow us to eat food comfortably, nor do they allow us to work." Likewise, Budh Bhandari of Adanchuli-2 said separate teams of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, and Maoist Center frequent the houses with loud speakers several times a day. While most of the houses of Simkot, district headquarters of Humla, have been filled with election posters; people in hotels, tea stalls, gallies, and shops seem busy talking about elections and presuming the outcome.
Likewise, election fever has gripped the remote Rasuwa district with political parties relying on feasts to woo voters. Feasting during election time is not unusual in this district besides influencing voters with money. "During elections, feats are organized here by sacrificing goats and buffaloes. Previously, political parties used to pay us on a daily basis for campaigning," a local voter said. According to him, even now well-off candidates lure voters with money. "Some people even receive one to three thousand rupees per day for campaigning. And this is a practice here," he revealed. He, however, said that a section of the youth in the village has been against this practice.
In fact, since feasting and merrymaking are common amongst Sherpa community in Solukhumbu, people do not have to wait for election time. According to Ashok Jha, President of Nepali Congress-affiliated Nepal Tarun Dal, political parties organize programs taking into account the local culture and tradition. Sacrificing buffaloes, goats and feasting as well as wooing voters by making ‘intimate friends' is common in the district. He says, "Bal Bahadur dai (Nepali Congress leader Bal Bahadur KC) has a lot of ‘best friends' here.
Campaign is negligible
There has been limited time for election campaigning when the duration from candidate's nomination to Election Day is considered. Candidates intensify their campaigning activities only after they register their candidature in the Election Commission. Due to geographical remoteness and inaccessibility of roads, election fever has not gripped the mountainous region. Sixty-five-year old Aasya Kami of Nanla village, one and a half hour trek from Simkot, is so far unaware of the election. He has not been notified about the polls. Uprooting the weeds in his field, Aasya nonchalantly said, "I have no idea about elections. Nobody has told me about it."
Dudh Kala Kami, 61, of Nalna village is no different. She seemed vividly apprehensive about the Baisakh 31 elections while expressing surprise about what she said ‘zero election campaign' in her village. She recalls the campaign during the Constituent Assembly elections of 4th Mangsir, 2070 BS, which she said was gripped with election fever. Similarly, Namkha village, some 10 miles north of headquarters Simkot, is no exception. Sonam Gyalen, 65, says Namkha village has not witnessed anything that connoting elections, which depicts that election fever has not gripped the village. Lama, whom we met at a local fair, said, "Yes, have heard that election is happening, but no leader and their team have arrived in village so far." According to the new arrangement, Humla, which boasted of hosting 27 VDCs, has shrunk to 7 village municipalities.
Solukhumbu, an eastern mountainous district, is no exception when it comes to electoral campaigning. Looks like no political party leader or contestant have reached out to the locals electioneering for the polls. Even the district election office looks deserted. Following the postponement of the polls, this district has lost the electoral charm. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML parties have not been able to nominate their candidates due to internal wrangling.
Interestingly, despite being registered with the Election Commission, the existence of political parties such as Khumbuwan Rastriya Morcha Nepal, Nepal Purva Rastrasewak Loktantrik Party, and Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party seems almost a naught. Election campaigning in the tourist hub Sagarmatha region, including the Chaurikharka, Namche and Khumjung areas is almost zero. "Majority of the youth of this region are in the Sagarmatha base camp. Only children and elderly people remain at homes these days owing to tourist season. Therefore, the door-to-door campaign will be futile," said Nim Dorji Sherpa, CPN-UML mayoral candidate for Khumbu Pasang Lhamu village municipality. A few posters on the walls indicate that election is happening in the region.
"We don't have time to think about the election now," local Lhakpa Sherpa, making his way towards Mt. Everest base camp said. Locals said the election has been surpassed by the inflow of tourists in the region. Namgyal Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu village municipality coordinator of Maoist Center says, "Several people will not be able to vote this time due to peak season in this region."
Nepali Congress has not kick-started its election program. "We will start election campaigning only at the end of Baisakh (Nepali month)," said NC district President Binod Basnet. UML party said it has been carrying out election campaigning. "Plans are afoot to intensify campaign after Baisakh," UML district secretary Karka Bahadur Rai said. Likewise, Maoist Center has already finalized its candidates. Maoist district joint coordinator Himal Giri said that 90 per cent of their election-related programs has been completed.
In fact, voters of Solukhumbu region are least excited to exercise their voting rights because of the distance that they have to cover. "When it takes more than four to five hours to reach the polling station, how can elderly people and mothers go to vote?" Ramesh Kumar Magar of Sisakhola queried. Elderly people of Sibuche of Baku-4 did not go to vote in the Constituent Assembly election due to distance. Nepali Congress local leader Sabujit Rai expresses skepticism over the possibility of elderly people voting this time as well. District Election Office said difficult terrain, less population, and distant villages have created problems. According to the election office, despite adding 10 polling centers, problems have not been resolved.
Some 11 political parties have been registered in Solu, which has 120 polling centers, one municipality, and 8 local bodies. This district has 61 thousand 744 voters including 30 thousand 872 women with an equal number of male voters.
Likewise, Rasuwa district has not been gripped by election fever till date. Locals of Haku village allege the political parties of failing to conduct a door-to-door campaign in remote areas. They came down heavily on the parties of carrying out campaigns only in market areas. "Nobody has come to our village to ask for votes," said local Mendo Tamang. However, political parties have a reason since they are afraid to face people because of their failure to fulfill their promises they made during the previous Constituent Assembly elections.
Yanjen Tamang of Haku says, "They assured of motorable roads, development. We voted for them. They did not show their face again. Now we will elect those who will develop the village." Rasuwa, which has 27 thousand 756 voters is all set to elect 145 people's representatives. With five village municipalities and 27 wards, this district has 34 voting centers and 42 polling booths. The government has mobilized 250 officials for the election in this district. Chief District Office of Rasuwa, Chomendra Neupane said all concerned officials; including security forces have been working to conduct smooth elections.
Roads, electricity, and houses
While election slogans of introducing metro trains, trams, and free WiFi have reverberated in Kathmandu; slogans of electricity, construction of roads and earthquake-ruined houses have drawn inspiration of the disparate voters in the mountainous region. Construction of roads and electricity has been the major election slogans in Simkot since leaders are well aware of the hefty fare that Simikot people have to pay to transport their good through the air.
Five presidential candidates, including one independent candidate vying for the Simkot village municipality, have assured the people of constructing roads to "join Simot to national road grid. Other assurances include decreasing load shedding hours, among other development issues. For Nepali Congress candidate Padam Lama, while roads have been the topmost priority, decreasing load-shedding hours is another priority.
Maoist Center's Mahendra Bahadur Shahi assures of working towards ending irregularities in developmental works. "My priority would be to develop the district," he said. Likewise, CPN-UML candidate Purna Prasad Dhakal claimed of joining Tanjakot village municipality by road within two years. Similarly, UML presidential candidate for Adanchuli village municipality Dal Fadera also claims of linking his village with the national road network. Nepali Congress presidential aspirant for Chankhelni village municipality, Parilal Shahi has a slogan of ‘bringing vehicles in his village' within a year. Ward members too have put forward respective slogans of resolving local disputes.
Rasuwa district is one of the districts hard-hit by the devastating earthquake Baisakh of 12, 2072 BS. Several families in Yarsa, Haku Saramthali of the district are still rendered homeless with the majority of them still struggling to receive government compensation. The country is witnessing elections at a time when the infrastructures in the earthquake-hit district are still not reconstructed. Lack of shelter for election officials and security personnel in some villages of the district has proved government's apathy.
Lilanath Nepal, Programme Coordinator of District Coordination Committee, Rasuwa said the destruction of private houses by the earthquake has led to lack of shelter in the villages. He said, "When we had to adjust in schools during the 2070 BS elections due to lack of proper lodging facilities, the situation now is even worse." However, when queried about the lodging and food facilities for the election officials, District Election Officer Nabin Khaling skipped the query saying that since they would be provided with necessary allowances, they would have to ‘manage lodging and food by themselves'. Political parties such as Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Center and Naya Shakti Party have been comparatively active in Rasuwa, a district with a majority of Tamangs. Reconstruction of private houses and public infrastructure has been the major agenda of the electioneering slogans.
Karsang Tamang of Haku-3 says, "We are eagerly waiting for the Baisakh 31 election with the hope that people's representatives will support us to build our houses destroyed by the earthquake." Meanwhile, political parties have started flooding the people with assurances that include a solution to landslides, construction of integrated villages and roads, quality health and education, among others.
Political parties in Solu are not incompetent enough to sell their dreams with ear-soothing respective manifestos. According to Maoist Center's district joint-coordinator Himal Giri, his party's manifesto includes electricity and motorable roads, one family one employment, English medium schools, one house one homestay, among others. Likewise, voters too have started seeking assurances from the political parties. Indra Kumari Gurung of Pawai said she would cast her vote for the candidate who will bring drinking water to her village. Gurung said, "The representatives should ensure smooth water supply since we face hardship during winter when the water source dries up." Gurung village and neighboring villages of Pawai have been facing water scarcity, especially during winter season. UML district secretary Harka Rai said voters have been seeking assurances from the candidates to put water supply in the list of priority.