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Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Trip to Nepal, Nov. 14-23, 2013

via Amsterdam, New Delhi, Kathmandu, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and back to Atlanta

November 26, 2013

(Note: Around the world in 35 hours flight time and 10 hours on hold.)

The purpose of this visit was to participate in observing the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, which we hope will lead to an effective government and the writing of a constitution. The previous election in 2008 that we observed did not result in either of these accomplishments. After these failures became obvious, the four major parties agreed earlier this year to appoint Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi to head an Interim Election Council, and he has performed admirably in coordinating the elements of government necessary to accomplish this goal. My observer co-chairman was Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai, former deputy prime minister of Thailand, and other key leaders of our delegation were Dr. John Hardman, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, Dr. David Pottie, and David Hamilton.

The Carter Center has maintained a constant presence in Nepal since 2007, even after the U.N. organizations withdrew in 2010. Our 12 longtime observers (LTO) were joined by 52 short term observers (STO), combining representatives from 31 nations. They were deployed in 31 of the 75 voting districts and observers from the European Union (EU) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) cooperated by going to as many of the other districts as possible. About 12 million voters were registered (51 percent women), compared to 16 million on the list in 2008, which included many duplicates, deceased, or non-existent people. There has also been a substantial exodus of younger Nepalese to other countries. All political parties accepted the list as satisfactory. Although the primary purpose of the Constituent Assembly is to produce a constitution, the parties have placed more emphasis on the economy and the role of government. Work was completed on about 80 percent of a new constitution earlier this year, and the most contentious remaining issues are federalism (how many provinces), governance (parliamentary or presidential), and how much to emphasize ethnicity in the geographical delineations. The news media are relatively free and are healthy in representing diverse political viewpoints. The major parties have learned to compromise some of their previously sharp differences and have, in general terms, tended to move toward the center.

As in 2008, the next CA will have 601 members, of which 240 will be from personal campaigns in districts (first past the post), 335 from party lists allocated according to nationwide votes received, and then 26 to be chosen by the Council of Ministers. The final composition will have to include 33 percent women and 13 percent Dalits, most of whom will come from party lists. We were told that not more than 200 of the 2008 CA are seeking reelection, but it is likely that the political leaders will be relatively unchanged. There are about 15,500 election booths. A breakaway Maoist party headed by Mohan Baidya boycotted the election (joined by 32 other small parties), and threatened to disrupt the process with violence and intimidation, but their effect has been minimized by overwhelming public support for voting and a strong combined police and army security force.

During the visit I met American ambassador Peter Bodde and his staff for a briefing and then with Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, president, Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, Chairman of the Interim Election Council, Neel Kantha Uprety and other election commissioners, leaders of the other two international observer missions (EU and Anfrel), Chief of Army Staff General Guarav S.J.B. Rana, domestic observers, civil society, Dalit community representatives, Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae, Ambassadors from Norway and the U.K., Carter Center donors, leaders of the major political parties, business leaders, and the news media.

Observations: Nepal is a beautiful natural wonder and its long-suffering people are eager to live in a country where peace, justice, and economic viability exist. Since the last election in 2008, the major parties have been unable to function as an effective government or to draft and promulgate a constitution. Many people have lost confidence in all party leaders, believing them to be enjoying their positions of power and influence and not willing or able to work with adequate dedication or flexibility to perform the duties entrusted to them. The Maoists have occupied most CA seats and are more widely blamed for the failures. Most of the leaders are from the high castes, and women, dalits (untouchables), and other marginalized citizens are still deprived of adequate voices in the political process by all the parties. Among the 6,128 first-past-the-post candidates, there are only 667 women (11 percent) and very few Dalits, and most of them are relegated to more doubtful constituencies. The Council of Ministers, which can choose 26 members of the Assembly, includes just one woman and no Dalits.

Ambassadors and other representatives of foreign nations seem to be united in wanting to help Nepal realize its great potential, but find it difficult to find a receptive environment for commercial or financial investment, and the enormous opportunities for a booming tourist trade are not being realized. There is a great need and opportunity here for economic development and foreign investment, and one of the long-standing and generic impediments is the lack of adequate electrical power. Despite almost unlimited potential from hydro power, less than 1,000 megawatts are now produced.

Election: Despite some intimidation, there was an outpouring of eager voters, with a record breaking turnout of about 70 percent. Peter Burleigh and I visited 31 individual voting sites in and around Kathmandu. They were all well organized, peaceful, and with good cooperation from the many political party observers. There was the happy and excited air of a festival. Men and women waited in separate lines, but mingled while voting. There was an explosive device found and disarmed by the police in one of our targeted sites, which we decided to bypass. There were a number of people killed in the previous election, but the only fatalities this time were three elderly people who died from natural causes. At the conclusion of voting, the individual ballot boxes were carried to central locations to be mixed and counted. During my spare time I called a number of our observers throughout the country to thank them and receive their general comments. Their experiences were similar to ours. During the day each team reported to headquarters using an electronic device that we named ELMO (ELection MOnitor) with which they transmitted answers to a standardized series of questions. Each of their vehicles was monitored by GPS from our central headquarters, and we could ascertain their location, direction and speed, whether their seat belts were fastened, and be informed of any breakdown or other difficultly. All of us observed the counting process when it began the following morning and throughout the days and nights to follow. I estimated it would take about 72 hours of continuous counting at each of the larger centers.

It became increasingly obvious that the Maoists were suffering an embarrassing defeat, with the now moderate CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist) and the National Congress party prevailing. We met with Dr. Bhattarai, Vice-Chairman of the Maoist party, and he claimed that the Maoists would continue to cooperate and participate in the government. However, overnight they apparently decided to denounce the election as fraudulent and withdraw from observing the counting and from participation in the resulting Constituent Assembly. I talked to Chairman Regmi and President Yadav, who said the government would continue with the counting process and formation of a new assembly. As I write this report it is uncertain what further action the Maoists might take.

At our press conference I praised the conduct of the election, deplored the decision of the Maoists to boycott the counting, and recommended that in the future the votes be counted at the polling sites, there be a threshold of votes (obtaining at least 1 percent in the previous election) to qualify political parties, a uniform standard for valid votes, and better access of observers to the counting process. We will issue more definitive recommendations later.

Chairman Prachanda came to visit with me, and claimed irregularities in the election, and I urged him to remain in the system and to express their dissatisfaction peacefully and through the electoral and judiciary process. He has called a party congress and will inform me of the decisions reached. I tried to convince him that his many supporters will need a strong presence within the government as a new constitution is evolved, and his withdrawal from participation will leave them without a voice. It seems that both he and Bhatturrai will win a seat in one of their districts.

The registration and voting process was excellent, but I left Nepal with the counting still going on and a decision of the Maoists uncertain. Future developments will be posted on our website, and I expect that we will keep long term observers deployed.

Note: It seems the Maoists will participate in the next constituent assembly.

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