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Technical Election Assessment: The Kingdom of Nepal, November 1994


On July 1, 1994, King Birendra Bir Bikran Shal Dev in his annual message to the Parliament put forward the Congress Party program for the year. On July 10, thirty six Congress Party members absented themselves from voting on accepting the King's message and by a vote of 74-86 a vote of confidence was denied. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala submitted his resignation and requested that the King dissolve the House and declare new elections. Prime Minister Koirala was asked by the King to lead a "caretaker" government and November 13 (later changed to the 15th) was selected as the date for mid-term parliamentary elections.

Once again, political campaigns got underway and the Election Commission made ready for the difficult task of organizing for the administration of these quickly called elections.

A 127 member international observer delegation from 28 countries was assembled under the auspices of the National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), who also hosted the 1991 group (see Appendix A). The delegation was dispatched to some 46 locales the day before the election or in the case of those in the Kathmandu Valley the day of the balloting.

IFES fielded a two-person delegation, former Ambassador to Nepal and IFES Boardmember Leon Weil and Mark Freeman, an International Development Specialist with Meridian House. Mr. Freeman also lived in Nepal from 1980-1983 in the development arena. Mr. Freeman also served as a consultant to IFES in 1990 with preparations leading up to the 1991 elections. Both Ambassador Weil and Mr. Freeman served as official observers for the 1991 IFES delegation.

On 17 November, after listening to group reports from each constituency visited, a general report was issued by the international observer delegation supported by NEOC once again declaring that the elections conducted " ... were in most constituencies fair and free with minor irregularities." However, in contrast with the 1991 elections, the report cites the Nepali Congress Party as stating that " ... most cases of irregularities seemed to have been committed by the present ruling party, although other major parties were also reported". Irregularities cited included "proxy voting, underage voting, multiple voting, sale of votes, and entry of unauthorized persons into the polling stations".

The delegation also mentioned problems with the voting lists, intimidation, booth capturing and other procedural and security issues. Interestingly, only about 60 voting stations were re-polled which is only about 10 more than in 1991. This is a very low percentage considering the more than 7,412 polling stations in operation. NEOC obviously had good intelligence gathering ability to see as to where the problem constituencies were and made sure the observers were dispatched to these districts. As presented in appendix B, many districts which were visited by the international observers were briefed through "Geographic/Demographic Features" handouts. It became quickly apparent to the international observers that these mid-term elections were also a referendum on the performance of the Nepali Congress Party.

The first election returns from the Kathmandu Valley revealed the strength of the United Marxist Leninist party (UML). The UML captured all seven (7) seats and would eventually, with the assistance of a small Communist wing, take all thirteen (13) seats in the Valley. Unlike 1991, , when the UML got off to a similarly fast start, this momentum held fast. The UML garnered 88 seats making it the largest party while the Congress Party slipped to 83 seats. The right of center National Democratic Party gained 20 seats and nearly 18% of the popular vote. This was in marked contrast to the 1991 elections where the Congress Party was able to command an absolute majority of the seats in the 205 member lower house (please refer to Appendix C for 1991 and 1994 results). A more detailed analysis of the 1994 election is offered in a subsequent section of this report.

The other winner of the 1994 election was the King. It is generally recognized that the Crown played a restrained and constructive role during the course of the election. The King's decision to ask Man Mohan Adhikary, the UML president, to form a minority government, was perceived as a positive step as well. This followed an attempt by the Congress Party to form a coalition government which failed. An Indian journalist was quoted by the New York Times as stating that "the real winner of the elections was the King. By sticking strictly to the Constitution, and showing no favor or disfavor to any side, he showed himself as the real upholder of democracy. "  

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