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South Asia Peace Initiative

U.N. Envoy to Nepal Praises Peace Process

KATHMANDU, NEPAL: The special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in Nepal, Ian Martin, Tuesday called the Nepalese peace process "unprecedented," two days ahead of the country's first general elections since a 2006 peace accord ended 10 years of armed conflict.

First, he noted there had "not been a shot fired between the two armies" since the peace agreement was signed. The Nepalese army has been confined to its barracks and the Maoist rebels disarmed and camped in seven main cantonment sites mostly in the southern Terai region of Nepal.

The election process, however, has not been without violence. The United Nations Mission in Nepal recently reported "frequent and sometimes severe clashes between political parties in many districts." Several days ago one candidate was murdered. The armies at least have been held at bay, which has been a vitally important and difficult part of the peace process.

Martin said he saw the peace process in Nepal as unprecedented because the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), which was a radical, armed insurgent movement, is now participating in an electoral process. It was a difficult and bold step for the Maoists to give up armed conflict -- a central tenet of communist philosophy being the justification of violence -- and return to the ballot box. It may well be a precedent for other nations in Asia and around the world to follow.

Two days ago the leader of the Maoists, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, signed an agreement which was given to the United Nations, saying "any results would be accepted" as long as the election was "credible." The United Nations does not like to use the description "free and fair" with regard to elections, considering the term too absolute. Instead it prefers the term "credible," which allows for minor incidents that do not alter the outcome.

The U.N. envoy praised the Nepalese people for what they themselves had done. "Another aspect to which this (peace) process is unprecedented is the extent to which it has been an indigenous process," Martin said. In other nations around the world there has been a "significant degree of international intervention, but this is a peace process that is genuinely a Nepali process that has been negotiated amongst the Nepali actors."

An unparalleled degree of world attention is focused on Nepal's election. At least 30 international groups, with a total of 856 individual observers, have registered with the Election Commission. The largest contingency, 125, is from the European Union. Second is the Asian Network for Free Elections with 100 observers; the United States has 50.

In addition, over 60,000 Nepalese will oversee the polling on Thursday to determine if it is credible. The United Nations is working with the Election Commission to coordinate this small army of observers so as to get maximum coverage.

Public campaigning ended Monday and on Thursday, April 10, 17 million Nepalese are expected to go to the polls to determine the fate of this nation of 30 million people. Over the next two days, individual candidates can still telephone people and meet voters one-on-one, but public campaigning -- with bullhorns, rallies and loudspeakers strapped on top of cars crisscrossing the cites -- is over. Only the voting remains.

At stake is the future of Nepal. The fate of the Hindu kingdom's 240-year-old monarchy hangs in the balance, a new Constitution will be written and the nation's course for the next few decades will be set by the new Parliament.

A total of 575 lawmakers will be elected. Running as individual candidates in what is called "first-past-the-post," 240 representatives will be elected directly -- whoever gets the most votes in a district wins. A second ballot will be given to voters who will cast their vote for the party, not the candidate. From this proportional system, based on the election results throughout the entire nation, another 335 parliamentarians will be chosen from among the 54 parties contesting the elections.

Afterwards, another 26 members of Parliament will be nominated by the new prime minister, making a total of 601 lawmakers in the constituent assembly.

Concluding his press conference, Martin emphasized that the peace process will not be over when the election results are announced, which may be days or weeks after the polls close, depending on the credibility of the electoral process. Among the outstanding issues are the need to integrate and rehabilitate former Maoist combatants, the democratization of the Nepal army so that it is inclusive and representative of the nation as a whole, and human rights training.

Related articles:

Nepalese Vote to Give Peace a Chance, Nepal Concludes Historic Elections, Making Poverty History in Nepal

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