Rural poor pin hopes for better life on 10 April elections

After witnessing so much violence over the past 11 years in Nepal, Laxmi Motari, aged 60, was beginning to lose hope of ever improving her impoverished life. “But now I am quite hopeful that things will change for the better,” she said, explaining that the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections on 10 April could restore lasting peace.

Motari and her 70-year old husband, both of whom were displaced from their village in Mahottari District of eastern Nepal, are now planning to return home - to vote.

“We would like to have a member of parliament from our area who will share our problems of food shortages and extreme poverty in my village,” said Motari.

Millions of impoverished and food-insecure Nepalese like Motari are pinning their hopes on the elections.

The decade-long armed conflict (1996-2006) between the former Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government ended with the signing of a peace agreement in November 2006 but new political conflicts surfaced with protests by pro-Madhesi political groups in the Terai region, Nepal’s most fertile and industrialised region.

''We would like to have a member of parliament from our area who will share our problems of food shortages and extreme poverty in my village.''

Pro-Madhesi parties have led a year-long campaign demanding the government give the region greater autonomy and local people more political rights. According to human rights groups, the protests and strikes have almost crippled the nation’s economy.

Accord

However, an agreement between the Nepalese government and the main Madhesi parties signed on 29 February has gradually restored peace and security for civilians in the Terai, according to rights groups. They said the elections were key to lasting peace and greater prosperity.

“This is a major breakthrough for all Nepalese and now we should all focus on making the elections a great success,” said senior political leader Madhav Nepal, leader of the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), one of the main parties, which played a key role in reaching an accord with the Madhesi groups.

Hopes high in Bajura village

“I have been counting the days to cast my vote,” said Shanti Nepali, a low caste woman who was displaced from her remote village of Bajura District, nearly 600km northwest of Kathmandu. Nepali is also preparing to return home to vote.

Bajura is one of the most food-insecure areas: Most people live on less than US$1 a day, according to government Village Development Committee (VDC) officials.

The villagers are hoping that currently defunct government initiatives might be revived, and that officials might bring in money for agricultural projects, better storage of farm products and better market facilities.

“For villagers, the election is a symbol of the country returning to normalcy and better livelihoods,” said Kausi Giri, a Bajura teacher who works to educate local people on elections.

She said all the villagers wanted to take part in the election in the hope of bringing about such things as road construction, improved electricity distribution and better farming technologies.

“I think now that the political war is over we can finally breathe an air of peace,” said a 70-year-old farmer, Shiva Yogi.

nn/ar/cb