Tulsi Gurung, 35, woke up at dawn on May 13 to board a bus at Kathmandu’s Naya Bus Park with his wife, Ri Maya Gurung, 32, and their daughter Rebika Gurung, 4. The bus park was crowded despite the early hour; passengers awaiting departure loitered with glasses of tea and hawkers announced bottled water and pustakari, a Nepali sweet, for sale. Tulsi and his family had come to catch a bus to their village of Laprak in Gorkha District, just kilometers from the epicenter of the April 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and left over 750,000 families homeless. Tulsi, a trekking guide, had recently completed a climb of Tukche Peak in the Annapurna region of the country. Ri Maya usually stays in the village, where she lives in a temporary shelter with the children and farms potatoes and buckwheat, but she had brought Rebika to the capital city several days earlier to treat an eye infection. The family was in a hurry to return home to vote in local elections — the country’s first since 1997. For many Nepalis, the election represents their first chance to choose local representatives responsible for governance and development, and to influence the ongoing earthquake recovery process.
“I’m 35 years old,” said Tulsi, cradling Rebika in his lap on the bus. “This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to vote in my village.” He explained that he planned to vote for a distant cousin who is running for chairperson of his rural municipality. “He’s the sort of person who when he speaks, everyone in the room becomes silent. Many people become corrupt once they get elected, but if he wins, we’ll see what he can do.”
Nepal has been through much in the past 20 years, since the last local elections were held. A Maoist insurgency gripped the countryside from 1996-2006, and local elections were called off in 2002 amid security concerns; villages like Laprak have been administered by centrally appointed bureaucrats ever since. The Maoist insurgency ended in a 2006 peace agreement that led to the end of the country’s constitutional monarchy and the declaration of a secular, federal republic. Constituent assemblies were elected in 2008 and again in 2013 to draft a new constitution, but local-level elections were put off to focus on the drafting process and address divisions over how to divide power between the northern hills and mountains on one hand, and the southern plains on the other. (Due to the ongoing nature of these disputes, this year’s local elections in the plains have been postponed until mid-June.)
Full Article: Nepal: Elections at the Epicenter | The Diplomat.