Asia

Why Nepal rejected Maoists

Voters in Nepal (19 November 2013) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The voters have sent a clear message to the Maoists

Nepali voters woke up on Thursday to the find that the Maoist party, dominant for a decade, may have been relegated to third place in this year's general election. The fear now is that the Maoists will not go quietly, as a correspondent from Kathmandu reports.

When I switched on my television on election-day morning, I was surprised.

There were pictures of long queues outside polling stations - and they had only just opened.

I dressed quickly to get out and see what was happening.

Diehard Maoists

Everywhere I came upon streams of voters walking through the thin morning light towards polling stations.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Constituent Assembly has failed to draft a new constitution

Despite so many false starts with democracy, it was clear that Nepalese people were determined to vote yet again, hoping this time it will set them on the road to political stability.

The early signs as votes are that the electorate has turned against the hard-line Maoists, who have dominated politics for years.

Their protestations that the vote was fundamentally flawed were not supported by international monitors, who declared the election a success.

Some diehard Maoists have since called for a return to insurgency.

Yet this should not detract from the high voter turnout in the election itself. People from all walks of life and all age groups queued up to cast their ballots. Some were in tracksuits as they had come straight from their morning walk.

When people emerged after voting, some looked like they had won the lottery as they happily held up their inked fingers as proof that they had voted.

"We are going to use our rights," was the collective cry of a small group of young men and women voting for the first time, proudly showing their voter ID cards.

Learning lessons

Image copyright AP
Image caption Supporters of the Nepali Congress celebrated provisional election results

One determined elderly man also stressed the importance of exercising his rights as he waited his turn.

But he added: "I am not sure they will manage to draft the constitution."

The previous Constituent Assembly was bitterly divided as it struggled for years to frame a new constitution following the end of the civil war.

Nearly all those who voted seemed to be doing so out of genuinely held political convictions.

"We have come here so that the right people won't lose," said one person from a group of younger voters.

Again most voters seemed to be optimistic about the future.

"I think [our] leaders might have learnt lessons from the past," said Sushil Dhungel, 65, a Kathmandu resident.

Youth exodus

The 70% turnout on the day was far greater than anyone expected. It was a surprise because the mood across the country in the run-up to the vote appeared apathetic.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Maoists are still likely to play a role in drafting the constitution

Perhaps people were being careful not to signal their intentions, following a series of strikes by a breakaway faction of Maoists who wanted to stop the election from going ahead.

Bad memories of more than a decade of war and 16,000 deaths during the Maoist insurgency are still very fresh.

There also appears to be a widely held perception that the Maoist guerrillas-turned-politicians have been a disappointment in office.

They broke into factions as hopes of drawing up a new constitution repeatedly collapsed.

There have been five prime ministers over the past five years and Nepal has remained one of the world's poorest countries.

Every year, nearly 400,000 young Nepalese leave to work in the Gulf and Malaysia.

But as results come in, it seems people have decided to call time on the Maoists.

'Ready for war'

The main Maoist faction, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), is languishing in third place.

Its leader, former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, is on course for defeat.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The suddenness of the defeat has been a shock for Maoist leader Prachanda (L)

His calls for vote-counting to be stopped have been greeted with widespread disgust.

"The Maoist leaders should accept the reality," said an indignant taxi driver. "They are trying anything because they are losing."

But it seems as if the former guerrillas are not going quietly, threatening to boycott the constituent assembly if the count is not reviewed.

They have denounced former US President Jimmy Carter, who has been monitoring the voting, for declaring the election a success.

At a demonstration before his news conference, some were even calling for a return to arms.

"Order us Prachanda. We are ready for war," they shouted.

Nepal's neighbour India has been trying to stop things unravelling, sending its ambassador to meet Prachanda.

Even if they have lost popular support, the Maoists can still cause trouble for the constitution-drafting process that is now supposed to happen.

But it looks like many Nepalese have lost patience. This week voters put all their politicians on notice.

"They won't get the public's support again if they don't respect the people's voice," said one voter.

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