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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
02KATHMANDU1285
2002-07-01 13:04:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

NEPAL: PROSPECTS FOR ELECTIONS CLOUDED BY

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  NP  GON 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KATHMANDU 001285 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS
LONDON FOR POL - RIEDEL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2012
TAGS: PGOV PREL NP GON
SUBJECT: NEPAL: PROSPECTS FOR ELECTIONS CLOUDED BY
SECURITY, LOGISTICAL CONCERNS

REF: A. (A) KATHMANDU 1199


B. (B) KATHMANDU 1146

C. (C) KATHMANDU 1091

Classified By: DCM ROBERT K. BOGGS. REASON: 1.5(B,D).

--------
SUMMARY
---------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KATHMANDU 001285

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS
LONDON FOR POL - RIEDEL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2012
TAGS: PGOV PREL NP GON
SUBJECT: NEPAL: PROSPECTS FOR ELECTIONS CLOUDED BY
SECURITY, LOGISTICAL CONCERNS

REF: A. (A) KATHMANDU 1199


B. (B) KATHMANDU 1146

C. (C) KATHMANDU 1091

Classified By: DCM ROBERT K. BOGGS. REASON: 1.5(B,D).

--------------
SUMMARY
--------------


1. (C) Despite Prime Minister Deuba's repeated assurances
that the Government of Nepal will proceed with national
elections on schedule, the Embassy finds increasing numbers
of commentators who express significant concern that
elections can be held as planned. Questions about the
ability of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and the police to
provide adequate security at the nation's 7,000 polling
places--to say nothing of pre-election campaign
activities--top the list of such concerns. Compounding the
uncertainty is the lack of clear Constitutional guidelines in
the event elections must be postponed, or cannot be held in
all 75 districts. Many observers have suggested the King may
use a vaguely-worded Constitutional provision granting him
latitude to act in the event of such "difficulty" to appoint
an interim government if elections are unable to take place
on time. End summary.

--------------
ELECTIONS--FIVE MONTHS AND COUNTING
--------------


2. (C) Although more than a month has passed since King
Gyanendra dissolved Parliament and set national elections for
November 13 (Ref C), serious planning to stage such elections
still seems largely on hold for a variety of reasons,
including the split within the Prime Minister's own Nepali
Congress Party (Ref A); a pending Supreme Court decision on
the constitutionality of the dissolution of Parliament (Ref
B); the uncertainty of the security situation; a lack of
clarity regarding emergency restrictions on campaign
activities; and last but by no means least, the general
proclivity towards procrastination across the Nepali polity.
The Election Commission has yet to announce the findings of a
redistricting committee, which is reallocating Parliamentary
seats based on the 2001 census; to make public the budget
needed to hold the elections; or to decide whether polling

will be held on a single day or in consecutive phases
throughout the kingdom. While there is some speculation that
the Election Commission may be deferring action until the
Supreme Court decision on whether to reinstate Parliament,
there is also concern that planning the logistics of
elections in a country suffering an insurgency nationwide may
be proving too much for the Commission's limited resources
and political clout. There is some concern that the
Commission may be ceding much of its planning authority to
the military, who will, perforce, undertake a greatly
expanded role in providing security--and thus have much
greater input in logistical discussions--than ever before.

-------------- ---
SECURITY: BIGGEST CONCERN, GREATEST LIMITATION
-------------- ---


3. (C) Given the factors cited above, many
observers--including many would-be participants--question
whether elections can take place as scheduled. Concern about
the ability of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and the police to
provide adequate security at the nation's 7,000 polling
places--to say nothing of pre-election campaign
activities--is the most significant source of doubt. Even
now, before campaigning has begun, security forces are
stretched to capacity guarding sensitive infrastructure,
district headquarters, and government buildings and VIPs in
Kathmandu. Many assume the insurgents will attack
candidates, intimidate voters, and capitalize on the
diversion of security forces to launch raids on vital
infrastructure. A June press release from Maoist leader
Prachanda brands the elections as a false "drama" staged by
the Palace and Army, and castigates the Communist Party of
Nepal - United Marxist Leninist for announcing its intention
to participate. More explicit warnings against participation
have been given to individual politicians in outlying
districts. Even if, as has been often suggested, the
election is conducted in separate phases, with polling taking
place on different days in different areas of the country,
any concentration of security forces in a particular
geographic region could invite a Maoist attack in other, less
protected areas, some observers fear. One former MP from the
Terai, a region comparatively less affected by Maoist
violence, suggested that conducting polling even in the
relative safety of his constituency will present significant
challenges, commenting, "It won't take much effort (for the
Maoists) to disturb the elections." How to pay for the
crippling cost of mobilizing the security needed--one source
put the price tag at USD 23 million--for a country already
facing severe budgetary problems is another cause for
concern.

--------------
ROLE OF THE ARMY
--------------


4. (C) Members of Opposition political parties have also
voiced concern about the expanded presence of the
military--whom they perceive as sympathetic toward incumbent
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba--at polling places this
election. Some question if the Army leadership, who they
believe influenced Deuba's move to extend the emergency and
dissolve Parliament, can be counted on to maintain strict
impartiality during the voting. During the previous election
in 1994, Opposition Leader Madhav Kumar Nepal recalled, armed
thugs kept his party representatives away from some of the
polling places, making it impossible to monitor the voting
procedures. (Note: International observers judged this
election to be basically free and fair, but clearly some
abuses were committed by a number of parties. End note.)
With so many more guns in evidence at polling places, even if
they are in the hands of the military, he said he fears the
potential for such intimidation will increase.

-------------- --------------
PROSPECTS AND PARTICIPATION--THE VIEW FROM SIX PARTIES
-------------- --------------


5. (C) Given the degree of uncertainty surrounding the
elections, politicians from most parties have yet to begin
campaigning--or trying to construct coalitions--in earnest.
The paralysis in the Nepali Congress Party, whose two rival
factions are awaiting an Election Commission ruling on which
has the right to use the Party name, symbol, and flag in the
upcoming elections (Ref A), has helped keep the usual
horse-trading and deal-making in temporary limbo.
Discussions with representatives of six parties reveal that
most (with the possible exception of the far-leftist United
People's Front and National People's Front) are planning to
participate in elections, while simultaneously expressing
doubt that elections can be held in the current environment.
Many Opposition party representatives have also pointed out
that the emergency continues to place substantial
restrictions on their ability to campaign, hold rallies, or
give speeches.

--------------
GOVERNMENT ASSURANCES
--------------


6. (C) The Nepali Congress Party alone--that is to say, the
Deuba faction of the split party--expresses confidence that
elections will take place as planned. At a June 28 meeting
with business leaders and diplomats (from the U.S., U.K.,
France, Germany, and India) at the Ambassador's residence,
the PM asserted that conducting elections in all 75 districts
will be "difficult, but not impossible." The election might
take place in phases ("perhaps three-to-five phases; I don't
know") to allow the concentration of security forces needed
to provide adequate security in a given locality. He
acknowledged security will be a problem in seven districts
and some other constituencies in the Maoist heartland, but
noted the Royal Nepal Army has enlisted 5,000 new soldiers,
and the Armed Police Force 7,000 new recruits, who can help
fulfill the additional manpower requirements during election
time. He added that the Government plans to invite
international observers to participate, possibly under UN
auspices. To help defray the costs of holding the election,
the Government has already decided to suspend "300-400"
development projects. He realizes that suspension of these
projects will be taken at some political cost, but sees no
alternative to paying that price.

--------------
CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS
--------------


7. (U) Nepal's Constitution offers little guidance about
procedures in the all-too-likely event that elections may not
take place nationwide by the scheduled date. The
Constitution stipulates a five-year term for the Lower House
of Parliament, "unless dissolved earlier." If the King
dissolves Parliament, he must "specify a date, to be within
six months (of the date of dissolution), for new elections."
The Constitution does not/not state that elections must
actually be held within six months, and offers no
prescription for remedial action if elections are not
actually held within the specified time.


8. (SBU) The Constitution also makes no provision for
partial elections (other than a by-election to fill a seat
vacated by the death, resignation or dismissal of a member)
or elections during a state of emergency (except to say that
Members' terms may be extended for one year during a state of
emergency). One legal expert speculated that as long as
polling could be held to elect at least 25 percent of the
Lower House's 205 Members--the quorum needed for voting
purposes--the elections could be deemed valid and the House
could meet. Elections for additional seats could then later
be held as possible. The Constitution, however, does not
explicitly authorize such an election, and any attempt to
convene a Parliament that had fewer than its complete
membership of 205 elected would undoubtedly face a challenge
in the Supreme Court. Nor would people likely accept results
from an election held only in fortified district
headquarters, according to former MPs representing four
different political parties. Such limited polling would
constitute a travesty, one commented, and could never be
characterized as full, free, fair, or an accurate reflection
of the will of the Nepali people.


9. (SBU) If the elections are held, as expected, in phases,
polling could take as long as six months. Many observers
anticipate that degraded security conditions in the Maoist
heartland will make voting outside of district headquarters
virtually impossible, possibly necessitating the repeated
postponement of polling there. Although the Constitution
sets no limit on the time by which elections must have taken
place, many observers fear that protracted polling--and the
predictable public discontent that would likely accompany
it--could set the stage for activation of the Constitution's
ambiguously-worded Clause 127, granting the King the power to
"issue necessary Orders" to "remove (any) difficulty" arising
in the implementation of the Constitution. The vague wording
of the Clause gives the King broad scope to undertake any
action he deems likely to "remove such difficulty," from the
continued postponement of elections to the appointment of an
interim government.


10. (C) Many political and business sources, clearly
anticipating that stalled elections will necessitate some
form of Palace intervention, have floated a variety of
theoretical scenarios for such action, ranging from the
sublime (the King calls a Constitutional convention; Maoists
participate; the Constitution is amended; Maoists come into
political mainstream; free and fair elections are held) to
the ridiculous (the King reinstates absolute monarchy). One
businessman suggested the King could name a caretaker
government headed by Deuba, appoint a technocrat Cabinet, and
use the interim before elections to restore good governance,
root out corruption, and crack down on the insurgency.

--------------
COMMENT
--------------


11. (C) Despite the Prime Minsiter's upbeat assessment of
election prospects, we share many of our interlocutors'
reservations about the Government's ability to hold free,
fair, and credible elections on time, given the threat posed
by Maoist insurgents in virtually every district of the
country. This is not, unfortunately, a problem that can be
ameliorated by international observers, donor-funded voter
education programs, or any of the usual battery of assistance
friendly democracies usually bring to the table. Continued
postponement of the elections or any attempt to hold polling
in only selected parts of the country would doubtless result
in protracted Court challenges to the validity of the voting
and the legitimacy of any government so elected. The Nepali
Congress political shenanigans that caused the Prime Minister
to dissolve Parliament have pushed Nepal into a situation
from which there is no graceful or easy exit.

MALINOWSKI