Vote for change drives Maoist victory in Nepal

April 12th, 2008 - 11:34 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 12 (IANS) An overwhelming desire for change and increase in the number of young voters, many of whom cast their ballot the first time, drove the astounding victory of Nepal’s Maoist party, a formerly banned underground organisation that continued to sweep the historic constituent assembly polls. On Saturday, as counting continued for the second day, the former guerrilla party consolidated the leads it had wrested, engineering surprise upsets in the capital, once the fortress of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

As results for six seats was officially announced by Saturday morning, the Maoists had captured four with the remaining going to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) and the UML.

While the first seat fell to the NC Friday, soon after counting started, the Maoists retaliated by grabbing two seats in prestigious Kathmandu valley, one in remote Manag in the north, once a Tibetan kingdom, and one in Dang in western Nepal.

The Maoist party, that had waged a 10-year war on the state and the powerful army from 1996 and prevented elections after 1999, ruthlessly annihilated the UML, whose stalwarts were floundering with only one seat in Palpa going to them.

Of the 10 seats in the capital, that had embraced the UML in the past, the former rebels were surging ahead in four, led by their charismatic leader Prachanda. The Maoist supremo, who cast his vote Thursday after 28 years, is making his poll debut after two decades underground, from Kathmandu 10 and Rolpa in midwestern Nepal, the cradle of the Maoist movement.

While counting was yet to start in Rolpa, the former schoolteacher was strengthening his lead in the capital while two of his lieutenants pulled off stunning coups.

Jhakku Prasad Subedi, a little-known Maoist candidate who was pitted against the formidable UML chief and former deputy prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, took an early lead from Kathmandu 2 and was holding on to it effortlessly.

In Kathmandu 6, Maoist MP Hitman Shakya, who was trailing behind his NC rival Friday, had surged ahead.

Maoist ministers, most of whom were fighting a national election for the first time, were also ahead in the race while UML and NC ministers were falling behind.

The soft-spoken Maoist minister for local development Dev Gurung was the second winner to be declared officially after NC’s Prakash Man Singh.

In mountainous Manang, where Dev Gurung’s NC rival Palten Gurung had won unchallenged in the past, Maoist cadres defied a drizzle and the biting cold to take out a victory rally Friday night.

Maoist minister for physical planning and works, Delhi School of Architecture graduate Hisila Yami, was leading from Kathmandu 7 while her husband, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University graduate Baburam Bhattarai, was ahead in Gorkha, the original kingdom of Nepal’s Shah kings, who now stand in danger of losing their crown to the new victors.

Remote underdeveloped areas that had suffered in the hands of the security forces and still have hundreds of people missing voted for the Maoists, who were leading in Bardiya and Dang.

While Maoist minister for information and communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a veteran who had also won the 1991 election, was winning in Dang 3, NC minister for peace and construction Ram Chandra Poudel was trailing in Tanahun.

Sujata Koirala, NC minister without portfolio and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s daughter, was trailing in Sunsari.

The PM’s cousin and one of the top NC leaders Sushil Koirala was also flagging behind in Banke.

Former UML ministers K.P. Oli, who was also deputy PM, Raghuji Panta and Ishwor Pokhrel were biting the dust.

In the Terai plains in the south, two ethnic parties making their poll debut were doing quite well.

The Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party floated by former NC minister Mahanta Thakur was ahead in three seats in the plains and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum in three more.

However, NC strongman and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was comfortably ahead of his rivals in both Kanchanpur and Dadeldhura constituencies.

The east was proving the UML’s saviour with the humbled party leading in two seats from the tea garden district of Ilam near the Indian border.

“We won because people want a change,” said Raju Kaji Maharjan, debutant Maoist winner from Lalitpur district in Kathmandu valley that yielded two of its three seats to the Maoists.

“People have faith that Maoists will bring justice, a new vision.

“We also won because of the youth factor. Young men have realised the role they can play against repression and voted not out of personal considerations but to usher in social change.”

The UML suffered the worst defeat also because of its decision to support King Gyanendra six years ago, when the monarch began ruling the country indirectly through a series of hand-picked prime ministers.

The NC, though it failed to deliver during a succession of governments headed since 1999, retained some credibility thanks to Koirala steadfastly refusing to become a puppet in the king’s cabinet.

The Maoists’ emergence as a major political force will now force some quick re-thinking in the foreign policies of the governments that had played a major role in Nepal, mainly India and the US.

While the Indian government was seen as supporting the NC, the US has still kept the Maoists on its list of terrorist organisations.

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