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Violence plagues Nepal on the eve of crucial polls

By Vicky Nanjappa
April 09, 2008 13:11 IST
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The Nepal government and political parties should ensure that the long-awaited constituent assembly elections on April 10 are free of violence, candidate intimidation, and efforts to suppress voter turnout, according to the Human Rights Watch.

The newly elected lawmakers will draft a brand new constitution and are expected to ratify a pledge by the main political parties to turn Nepal into a federal republic.

During the election campaign, supporters of all major parties have clashed almost daily. On April 6, the United Nations Mission in Nepal reported, "Election-related violence and intimidation by party workers continues, with frequent and sometimes severe clashes between political parties in many districts."

UNMIN added that the Youth Communist League and other Maoist cadres were involved in the maximum number of such incidents.

"The Nepali election campaign has been plagued by violence and intimidation by all the parties," said Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director at HRW. "The elections have already been delayed twice, and it is important that the Nepali people, who campaigned so hard to secure their democratic rights, are now able to choose their leaders."

Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the harassment of candidates and voters by members of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and the Youth Communist League, as well as armed groups in the Terai region of Nepal.

The Human Rights Watch is also concerned as some party leaders, particularly from the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, have indicated that an unfavourable result for their party will be questioned because it could be due to undue pressure from opposition parties.

The HRW has urged all the parties to abide by the Election Commission's code of conduct. Leaders should be demonstrating their commitment to uphold the code of conduct by sanctioning their supporters, who have threatened voters and other candidates, and they should ensure that their local representatives take steps to prevent future violations of the code.

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Vicky Nanjappa