British statement on polls

May 16, 2017

Nepali Times, 15th May 2017, Kathmandu

A day after the first phase of local elections in which Kathmandu-based diplomats were not allowed to be observers, the British Embassy in Kathmandu issued a terse press statement on Monday urging the government to ensure ‘unrestrained international election observation’ for the second phase.

The embassy ‘welcomed the commencement of local elections’, but added bluntly: ‘We are not commenting on the (election) process at this stage.’

The statement read: ‘We encourage unrestricted international election observation to be authorised for the next phase of the polls, to enable the international community, including accredited diplomats, to observe and offer support to the outcomes of the election.’

But Election Commissioner (EC) spokesperson Surya Sharma told Nepali Times that diplomats will not be allowed to observe the second phase of local elections either. Those polls will take place in four provinces on 14 June. Asked why, he said: “It is not necessary.”

Sources say diplomats in Kathmandu wanted to travel outside Kathmandu Valley to observe Sunday’s elections, but the EC did not let them. They were allowed to ‘see election activity unofficially’ inside the valley. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) had provided liaison officers for diplomats, but they were not asked to submit any reports to the EC.

The first round of elections in three provinces saw 73 per cent of voter turnout, with Bhaktapur registering the highest turnout of 83 per cent. The EC has already begun counting votes, and the UML that had swept the 1997 local elections is ahead of other parties in most places.

The UML is leading with NC and the Maoist-centre trailing in preliminary results. In Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the UML mayoral candidate Bidya Sundar Shakya is leading the race. Bibeksheel Party’s Ranju Darshana and Sajha Party’s Kishor Thapa are surprisingly neck-to-neck with the NC’s Raju Raj Joshi.

However, counting is taking a lot of time because of the size of the ballot papers and complicated posts in ward, municipal and village councils.

Vote counting has not begun in nearly two dozen village and ward councils due to inter-party disputes. Counting all votes cast in the first phase is likely to take weeks.