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South Asia Peace Initiative

Nepalese Vote to Give Peace a Chance

Kathmandu, Nepal - The election results that are emerging in the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal are a surprise to nearly everyone. No one could have imagined the landslide victory for the Communist Party Nepal-Maoist, in both the direct and proportional elections.

Votes are still being counted, but it already appears that the Maoists will have an absolute majority in the Constituent Assembly and alone can decide the fate of the monarchy and write a new Constitution for Nepal.

The question everyone is asking is, "Why?" There may not be a single answer. Probably several factors aligned themselves into what may be called, "the perfect victory."

For one thing, the amount of air time in the electronic media given to Prachanda, chairman of the CPN-Maoist, was more than double any other party head. Reports from the Media Monitoring Program indicate that in the month running up to the election Prachanda received five hours and 38 minutes of direct speech on the eight TV channels and 15 radio stations monitored in the capital.

By contrast, Prime Minister G.P. Koirala of the Nepali Congress had two hours and 44 minutes, while Madhav K. Nepal of the Communist Party Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist was given two hours and 20 minutes of direct air coverage.

Another factor was the psyche of the Nepalese people, which impacted the electoral process in several ways. Weeks before the election, N.S. Gajurel, principal and founder of the Holy Vision School, said the best way to handle the Maoists was to give them power. Two of his brothers are in the Maoist party. When asked to explain his rationale more fully, he said, "In a classroom if a student acts up, you give him responsibility. It works even better than punishment." It seems the Nepalese people want to teach Prachanda a big lesson, since they have given him a huge

Next is the forgiveness factor. A zoology teacher in Kathmandu, who asked not to be named, described this aspect of the Nepali thinking: "In the U.S. elections, everyone is looking into the past, opening closets and dragging out skeletons. But in Nepal, people easily forgive. If someone changes their ways, they will be forgiven." He went on to say that Prachanda has changed his ways. Two years ago he gave up armed struggle to enter the peace process. This was a difficult and dicey decision for him, and pitted him against other hard-line communists. But clearly the Nepalese people have forgiven him.

Finally, and very importantly, the fear factor played a major role in the unprecedented landslide that destroyed the CPN-UML party, which has now resigned from the government, and crippled the mighty Nepali Congress. Arun Paudel, who was campaigning from his hometown in Gorkha district, said, "People were genuinely afraid of the Maoists." More than 10 years of armed conflict that left over 13,000 people dead and two years of "peaceful" intimidation and extortion, left its mark on the minds of the Nepalese people.

In the West they may call this appeasement, but here is it called "give peace a chance." The thinking goes like this, "If the Maoists want power, give it to them. Then, at least, we can dream again of peace."

The Nepalese people -- and the Maoists -- know that they must deliver the goods. Nepal must begin to develop economically. Its two giant neighbors, India and China, have proven that this is indeed possible under the most adverse conditions, not unlike those here, and the Nepalese people want that too.

People in this Himalayan nation know they have nearly unlimited hydroelectric power, beautiful mountains, majestic scenery and fertile plains. They are tired of corruption that imprisons them in poverty.

There have been two "jana andolan," or people's uprisings, when the patience of these peace-loving people has run out and they have taken to the streets. The clock is ticking. The Maoists have a clear mandate to usher in a new Nepal; they do not have a blank check.

Related articles:

Nepal Concludes Historic Elections, U.N. Envoy Praises Peace Process, Making Poverty History in Nepal

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