An election boycott by radical communist groups, and the use of violence, especially through IED explosions, to enforce the boycott aren’t new phenomena in Nepal. The Maoist faction led by Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ did this in the 2013 elections, and the Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’ led faction boycotted the first phase of parliamentary and provincial elections.
In the run-up to the second phase of these elections, however, there has somewhat been a change. The frequency and intensity of the IED attacks have escalated. There had been reports that the Biplab group had told their cadres to avoid inflicting harm upon people.
But in the past week there has been an incident in Dang where a temporary police recruit lost his life. In Udayapur, a member of the Nepali Congress lost a leg. It has become evident that the Biplab faction is desperate to demonstrate its presence during this election. Its immediate purpose seems to be to intimidate people from coming out to vote and thus undermine the legitimacy of the election.
If the incidents keep growing, the intimidation tactic might work. The lower-than-usual turnout during the first phase was partially attributed to the Biplab group’s violence, especially in such districts as Rolpa. Since there have been a greater number of incidents during the second phase, it is possible that a a higher number of people will stay at home instead of going out to vote on December 7.
It is the task of the government and the security forces to ensure that adequate security is maintained and that people feel secure. The Home Ministry has been poorly run, especially since it came under the direct control of the prime minister.
Nonetheless, over recent days, the security agencies have come up with plans to strengthen security, including a more extensive mobilisation of the Nepal Army. It will be important for the government and security agencies to ensure that proper security is provided while at the same time avoiding any arbitrary exercise of force themselves.
An excessive deployment of security would be counterproductive if it intimidated people instead of making them feel more secure.
The Biplab faction, which is very likely behind most of the recent attacks, should rethink their tactics. They should recognise that while disrupting the elections through violence in this way might gain them notice in the short term, it will not make them any more relevant to the political process in the longer term.
Furthermore, harming civilians is sure to antagonise large sections of the population against them. Rather than increasing their support, they might find that it has diminished. Having endured a decade of armed conflict, there is no appetite in Nepali society for violent struggle anymore.
The only feasible option for the Biplab group would be to enter the public sphere and campaign on their agenda in a non-violent way. Any other tactic would leave their movement widely reviled and proscribed
The Kathmandu Post, December 5, 2017