By Dinesh Wagle
Very few people are participating in Nepal’s municipal election that is boycotted by political parties.
A man looks for his name in a Voters’ list outside a voting booth in New Baneshwor.
I went around a few voting booths to see how the election process was going on. I saw no people but security personnel on all booths. They were staying idle witht nothing to do. A voting center in New Baneshwor was exception. There were some people! And they were looking for their names on the voters’ list pasted on the wall outside the Cooperative Center.
Police and Army were imposing a strict NO ENTRY policy for the press. I, along with Balaram Baniya, a senior reporter with Kantipur daily and secretary at the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) tried to enter inside the voting booth at Maryland School in Tinkune. A policeman asked for my identity card. I told him that I was not going inside to vote but to see what’s happening inside. Well, I could see what was happening inside from where I was standing and talking with the police. There was no one except a few policemen and one or two people in civil dress (and I guess they were election commission officials). I told him that I was not a voter but a reporter and showed him my PRESS identity card. The police said that the press is not allowed inside the voting booth. Without debating further we left the area.
Deserted Road in downtown Kathmandu. Today is a double Nepal Banda in this troubled country. The week-long general strike called by Maoist rebels to foil the election is on its fourth day where as the government has banned driving in the city for today’s election purpose.
Then we went to the voting booth at VS Niketan School in Min Bhavan. Policemen there turned out to be unexpectedly friendly and smiling. They were in good mood though there wasn’t a single person inside the voting center to vote. We told them that we wanted to go inside the booth just to see what was goin on inside. They asked if we were voters. No, we said and told them who we were. “No, we can’t allow you inside,” the policeman politely said.
The lady had gone to caste her vote in the voting center at the Cooperative Center in New Baneshwor with her son and granddaughter. After her identification card (previous voting card) was rejected by the policeman at the gate, she couldn’t enter inside. Here in this photo her son looks the card where as the lady’s granddaughter makes herself more beautiful for the benefit of my camera. A moment ago, her father had notified her that someone was clicking her photos and she was quick enough to do her hair.
One of the policemen asked which paper we were working for. “Did you talk journalism classes in the college?” he asked me. “Yes, I did.” I replied. “In RR College.” Then he became nostalgic. He too was a student of journalism in RR College at the Intermediate level but he never did journalism.
“When did you join the police force?” I asked.
“Four years ago.”
Then another policeman wanted to take part in the conversation.
“By the way, where is your home?” he said thinking that he might be able to suggest me proper voting booth if I wanted to cast my vote.
“Well, I am from outside Kathmandu,” I replied. “Remote area that doesn’t even a municipality. So I have nothing to worry about for votes.”
Young folks look for their names on the voters’ list in New Baneshwor.
Then he asked Balaram’s home. That’s in Tanahun district and there is a municapility. So where was his then?
“In Gorkha,” he said and asked if Balaram had gone to the district naming a few villages. Yes, the reporter had gone to a few places. Gorkha is one of the most affected areas by the Maoists.
“Khai aba yestai ho chunab. Dekhi halnu vo hola ni,” the policeman said rather sarcastically. “Well, this is how an election is like. You are seeing it youself.”
A voting booth has been established in VS Niketan School in Min Bhavan. Government has used many schools in Kathmandu for the election purpose despite the schools refusal to provide venue for the purpose.
We bid him goodbye and went to our next destination: voting booth at Nepal Commerce Campus, Min Bhavan.
“We are here just to see how people are voting,” I said.
“Oh.. people are coming here in big numbers and they are voting enthusiastically,” said a policeman smiling. When he heard his friend replying, another policeman laughed. We too laughed by his style of answering swiftly.
There were no people inside the voting booth and we were the only people in civil dress.
“Well, we would love to go inside and look the voting place,” I tried to read their mind. “No,” the policeman replied politely. “We can’t let you inside.”
Then a policewoman added in a rather authoritative voice: “No entry for the press.” That was that and we had no problem with that. Okay, why debate with a lady. We left the place and headed toward another booth.
When we reached at Cooperative Training Center in New Baneshwor, behind Birendra International Convention Center (BICC) to see a few people curiously looking for their names on the list pasted on the walls. They were curious about voting and wanted to vote.
A Poster issued by the Election Commission that urges people to vote not giving any attention to possible advise by people who are against election.
But many of them were barred entry by the police at the gate for not brining valid voting/identification card. I saw an old woman who had gone to caste her their vote (in Kathmandu in years) with her son and granddaughter. She couldn’t get inside the voting booth because, police told, she wasn’t from the area. Her name was not listed in the voters’ list.
As I was taking pictures and talking to possible voters, a policeman came near the entrance gate and started threatening me. “It would be very bad if you take our pictures. Don’t take any photos of ours,” he warned.
“No, I haven’t taken your photos,” I said.
Then he ordered other people to move away from the gate. We stayed there for a few minutes and left the area. We headed toward another booth at EPS School, Min Bhavan. And there was nothing to see and no one to talk to. The place was literally deserted with a few policemen doing their duties.