CHITWAN, March 29: Faced with an imminent defeat in the mayoral election of Bharatpur Metropolitan City, representatives of the ruling CPN (Maoist Center) torn off ballot papers on Sunday at around 11:45 PM during the final phase of vote counting. This obstruction has resulted in the halting of the vote counting process until Wednesday.
Police have confirmed that the representatives of the Maoist Center present at the vote counting station tore off some ballot papers. Superintendent of Police (SP) Deepak Thapa, who is also the chief of the District Police Office (DPO), Chitwan, said, “The vote counting process was going on peacefully. But there was suddenly a dispute between two groups. Suddenly, the Maoist representatives sprang up and started tearing off the ballot papers. I immediately got there and took the people involved under control.”
According to Thapa, police have arrested Maoist Center representatives Madhu Neupane and Dronbabu Siwakoti for the foul play. A total of 33 police personnel, including Thapa and a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), were present at the time of the incident. Senior leaders of political parties in the district were also present to observe the vote count.
The election in Bharatpur metropolis has been keenly observed nationwide after Maoist Center fielded Renu Dahal, the daughter of Prime Minster Pushpa Kamal Dahal, as its mayoral candidate for the metropolis forging an electoral alliance with the Nepali Congress (NC).
Out of 29 wards in Bharatpur, votes cast in 27 wards have already been completed. Counting of votes cast in ward numbers 19 and 20 has not been completed. Votes from ward number 19 were being counted when the incident took place.
Before the incident, CPN UML's mayoral candidate Devi Gyawali was leading the poll by 733 votes. While Gyawali had received a total of 41,641 votes, Maoist Center's candidate Renu Dahal was trailing behind him with 40,908 votes.
Chief Returning Officer Kavi Prasad Neupane said he was on the way to bathroom when the incident took place. “I returned after hearing the noise. The situation had turned upside down in the blink of an eye. It was like a scene from a battleground,” he said. Neupane, however, refused to comment how many ballot papers were torn.
UML district chairman Krishna Bhakta Pokharel accused the Maoist Center cadres of tearing off the ballot papers after being certain that their candidate Dahal had no hope of winning. “Our competitors stooped to such a low level after our party's candidate Gyawali became certain to win,” he said.
On the other hand, Maoist Center's district in-charge Ishwari Bhattari blamed the UML cadres for the incident. “As our party's candidate Dahal was closing in on their candidate, UML cadres caused the incident,” he said.
The cadres of NC, Maoist Center's poll partner, too said the same thing. Following the incident, NC has demanded re-voting in the disputed ward-19 of Bharatpur Metropolis as per clauses 49 and 50 of the Election Act-2073.
The Election Commission (EC) has formed a panel to investigate the incident. A board meeting of the election body assigned Joint-secretary Geeta Prasad Timsina to investigate the matter and submit the report by Wednesday morning. Another Joint-secretary Mahesh Acharya from the Ministry of Home Affairs and DIG Kedar Man Singh Bhandari are the members of the committee.
"We had asked them to prepare the report by Monday. But they demanded two more days," said EC Spokesperson Surya Prasad Sharma adding that they should complete the investigation by Wednesday morning.
Vote counting has been put off until the probe panel submits the report to the EC. The investigation team has already left to Chitwan for investigation.
PM Dahal, who is also the chairman of Maoist Center, had left no stone unturned to ensure his daughter's victory. He forged an electoral alliance in Bharatpur with NC President Sher Bahadur Deuwa, an old enemy who as prime minister, had set bounty for Dahal's head at the height of the Maoist insurgency. Just before the election, the duo had visited Chitwan to jointly campaign for the PM's daughter as Bharatpur's mayor.
The election in Bharatpur has become a matter of prestige for the ruling parties as well as the main opposition UML which contested the elections for the metropolis on its own despite the formidable strength of the NC-Maoist Center alliance.