The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nepal lolling on polling day

Kathmandu, Feb. 8: Armed force cop Gyan Bahadur Lama was pointing an Insas rifle at a flock of pigeons on Durbar Square but he wasn’t being cruel. He was only using the barrel as a finger to count the birds that settle to peck grain in front of Kumari Temple.

“At least there are more of them here than there,” the cop said, jerking his head at the two polling booths behind him and the fistful of voters for the municipal elections.

He is in Durbar Square as of noon today. “But every time that bull” ' there is a black quadruped in the middle ' “wags his tail, the birds fly away and I lose count.”

Kathmandu is lolling but King Gyanendra is saying it is polling.

Nepal’s royal democracy is a sham. There are several times more people on the streets of Kathmandu sunning themselves than there are voters in front of booths getting their fingers inked.

There are two booths here ' one for men and another for women ' in the brick-paved platform in front of the site office of the Hanuman Dhoka-Durbar Square Heritage Conservation site office.

There are 5,800 voters listed in this ward No. 23 polling centre of the Kathmandu Municipal Corporation. Five hours later, after the close of the election, 566 people have cast their ballots.

The ballot paper is huge ' nearly one-and-a-half feet by two feet ' and it displays the symbols of 18 parties/candidates. Seven of them are of the alliance that has called for a boycott of the elections. Four men clustered around the election officer say there are only three candidates.

One of them is here. He is Krishna Prasad Sahi, 54, in red T-shirt and tight blue denims. Sahi is a Royal Democrat. He is also a loyal democrat, loyal to King Gyandendra’s Narayanhiti Palace.

At 5 pm when voting is closing, Sahi says he will definitely win. “One hundred and fifty per cent!” All the votes are genuine.

“I am Independent. And that is why I will win. If the (parliamentary) parties were contesting, there would be so much fraudulent voting. Few votes, but all genuine,” he says. His closest competitor, he claims, is Raja Ram Shrestha from one of the four factions of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party. “I’m happy with the voters. They are all mine. If the parliamentary parties had contested, there would be so much rigging.”

True. It is difficult to rig an election when few votes are cast. In Kathmandu, forget Calcutta. There is no booth jamming.

But the streets in this kingdom’s capital are full of people. Milling around, walking about, hands in pockets, shoulders slouched, dragging feet, plenty of time, little to do. The government has banned public transport for the day. Shops are closed. Offices are shut. The Maoists’ bandh is on and the state has declared a holiday.

So Kathmandu lolls.


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