There is now little doubt that the cadres of ruling CPN (Maoist Center) were involved in tearing of ballot papers in Bharatpur municipality, Chitwan. They acted when they saw that their mayoral candidate, Renu Dahal, was losing. Talking to Republica, Superintendent of Police Deepak Thapa of District Police Office, Chitwan—who was present in person at the vote-counting station—said he had personally apprehended two people whom he saw tearing ballot papers inside the station. The two later turned out to be Maoist party representatives. Renu, the mayoral candidate, is the daughter of (now caretaker) Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. In the lead up to the May 14 vote, Dahal had left no stone unturned to ensure the victory of his daughter. He had personally campaigned on his daughter’s behalf in Bharatpur, making a mockery of the election code of conduct that bars those occupying high public office from campaigning. That was not all. Dahal had also secured a pledge from Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba that Congress would not field a mayoral candidate against Renu. In fact, Dahal and Deuba had together campaigned for Renu on election-eve. Yet it appears even this electoral alliance with Congress was not enough to head off the challenge from CPN-UML’s Devi Gyawali.
The Maoist cadres at the vote-counting station at Bharatpur seem to have acted when they realized that with votes from 27 of the 29 wards in Bharatpur municipality already counted, and their candidate trailing by 733 votes to UML’s Gyawali, Renu was destined for a sure loss if they didn’t intervene. There are also rumors that PM Dahal had personally supervised the foul play in Bharatpur when he learned from his attorney general that the only way vote-counting would be halted, with a possible reelection in offing, was to tear up the ballot papers. The Election Act does permit the Election Commission to hold reelection in places from where electoral irregularities are reported. But such a reelection would also set a dangerous precedent. Whenever someone is losing vote-count in future elections, their representatives at the vote-counting stations will start tearing up ballot papers. The way we see it, tearing ballot papers is a criminal office and those involved should be thrown in jail. Not just that. The candidate of the concerned party should at once be disqualified for election. Now that the Election Commission has formed a probe panel to look into the matter, we hope it can quickly get to the bottom of the incident.
If its investigation finds that Maoist cadres were involved in tearing up ballot papers, Maoist candidate Renu Dahal should be disqualified. But what if the orders had come from the prime minister himself? If so, it will be an unmistakable proof that the Maoist party and its chairman are either not conversant in the democratic process or that they still think, more than a decade after they laid down their guns, that they can still subvert the democratic process with brute force. What happened in Bharatpur is a serious incident, with direct implication on the sanctity of electoral democracy in Nepal. It’s also a test of whether the Election Commission under Ayodhee Prasad Yadav is capable of acting independently or whether, as some suspect, it is influenced by the ruling parties.