04/07/2008, 00.00
NEPAL
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Voting for constituent assembly near, millions of voters still abroad as Maoist violence continues

by Kalpit Parajuli
A long holiday is scheduled to allow everyone to vote, but for millions of Nepalis living abroad who want to vote the trek home is too long. The United Nations calls on Maoists to stop pre-election attacks and violence.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The government of Nepal has called on the ten millions of Nepalis living abroad to come home for the historic election to the constituent assembly that is scheduled for next Thursday. In order to facilitate voting the government also announced a five-day holiday on 7-10 April which will be followed by the three-day celebrations for the Nepali New Year and the Hindu festivity of Ram Navami, in what Sport and education Minister Pradip Nepal has called the “first time in which the people will participate in drafting its own constitution.”

About five millions Nepalis live in India and another 300,000 are in the Persian Gulf, but for Kamalmani Guragain, president of Non-resident Nepalis (NRN) ‘those who live in Europe or the Americas, going home would take 15 days.”

Under the circumstances the NRN called on the government “to allow Nepalis to vote in their country of residence,’ but their request was ignored. Millions will thus be denied the right to vote. The NRN is also critical of the way the decision allowing Nepalis outside the country to vote was made only a week before the vote.

Keshab Pokharel, who lives in the United States, wonders how representative the constituent assembly will be since “it excludes more than ten millions Nepalis living abroad.”

“We don’t have any exact figure about the number of Nepalis abroad,” said Interior Minister Krishana Prasad Sitaula. “For this reason voting in their country of residence was impossible.”

Many Nepalis are in fact abroad illegally on expired student visas or work permits. Still thousands could make the trek from India even though border controls will be beefed up along the 1,750-kilometre border.

In order to ensure safety for the many international observers, the government is planning tight aerial control using helicopters

Overall security concerns remain paramount as pre-election violence increases. The United Nations has told Nepal’s Maoist party to stop its violent acts and intimidations against the population and members of other parties, acts which have been escalating as the date of the vote nears and which include bomb attacks and illegal arrests.

Other parties have also been accused of “violating election rules.”

Still Nepalis are by and large enthusiastic about the prospect of casting their ballot, the first time since 1999.

Out of respect for the electoral process, Tibetan exiles have suspended their protest against Chinese repression in Tibet.

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