With more attacks, anxiety over poll security grows

Published On: November 19, 2017 05:30 AM NPT By: Roshan Sedhai

KATHMANDU, Nov 19: Concerns over security of candidates contesting the parliamentary and provincial elections grew on Saturday after one more senior leader became the target of bomb attack, while three separate attacks targeting poll campaigns left nearly a dozen injured. 

Nepali Congress (NC) senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel narrowly survived a "murder attempt" in Bhanu Rural Municipality of Tanahun district when a pressure cooker bomb detonated when his car had just crossed a few meters away in the highway. 
"The bomb exploded seconds after my car had crossed. I survived by luck," Poudel told Republica. 

Earlier in the day, at least nine people were injured after a powerful bomb went off near poll campaign organized by the UML-led left alliance in Chandrapur, Rautahat district. 
Similarly, around five people including two police personnel and a left supporter suffered minor injuries in two separate bomb explosions in Bhojpur district. In Sadananda Municipality of Bhojpur, the blast was followed by cross firing between police and armed groups, according to Inspector Geet Narayan Chaudhary.  No group has taken responsibility for any of these attacks. 

Saturday's bomb attacks are the latest in a string of violent attacks targeting candidates contesting the elections of federal parliament and provincial assemblies scheduled to take place on November 26 and December 7 in two phases. 

More than two dozen leaders including UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal have become target of the bomb attacks.  Oli and Dahal were targeted while addressing an election rally in Gorkha. 

Other high-level targets of the bomb attacks include sitting minister Janardan Sharma, former ministers Ram Sharan Mahat, Barshaman Pun, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Sherdhan Rai and former speaker Onsari Gharti Magar.  While Mahat was attacked during election campaign, other leaders were hurled bomb while traveling on the road. 
Pun had twice escaped from the bomb attacks, while Sharma, a minister without portfolio in the present cabinet, had twice survived the bombing. 

The two elections have been viewed as the cornerstone for Nepal's stability, as well as a test for Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to prove his democratic credentials and ability to hold elections. 

Nepal had not seen poll-related violence at this scale since the Maoist rebels entered the mainstream politics ending a decade-long armed insurgency in 2006. The growing physical attacks on candidates and supporters of political parties have badly hit the election campaign. The poor security is also expected to adversely affect the voter turn-outs, mainly in the rural parts of eastern, western and southern Nepal.

The growing number of attacks has prompted widespread concerns and mounted pressure on the government and security agencies to do more to ensure free and fair elections.

The left alliance has accused Nepali Congress of colluding with Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) to foil the elections. CPN, which has boycotted the elections, has not officially taken responsibility of the attacks. Some left leaders even fear it could be a design to give direct role to Nepal Army in election security. 
Though the number of attacks has laid bare huge lapses in poll security, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the ministry responsible to maintain poll security, has not been so forthcoming in accepting it. 

Speaking at a program in Biratnagar on Saturday, Home Secretary Mohan Krishna Sapkota accepted some lapses in security arrangement for individual leaders but insisted that the security agencies are in control of the overall security situation. 

"Like it happens everywhere in the world, there are some obvious constraints facing our security plans. But I believe that the three-layer security arrangement prepared by the government is capable of holding polls," said Sapkota. 

As poll security hits rock bottom, concerned agencies have started passing blame to each other. Security agencies have been blaming lack of manpower and physical resources for poor security arrangement. A deputy inspector general of police expressed frustration at the government for not providing enough vehicles for patrolling. 

"Our mobility has been badly affected due to vehicle crunch. Nothing will change unless the government provides the required resources," said the official requesting anonymity. He said that the security has been heightened in districts that are going to polls in the first phase following the attacks. 

MoHA officials said that they are aware about the resource crunch but claimed that they haven't been able to take any decision on the matter due to busy schedule of PM Deuba. Deuba concurrently oversees the home ministry in absence of a home minister. 

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