On the road to vote

A political party mobiliser in Kathmandu's Koteswor intersection collecting names of voters in Triyuja Municipality in Udaypur. All photos: MONIKA DEUPALA

“What is your name?”

“Binod Murmu.”

“Do you know who the candidates are in our municipality?”


“Then why are you going home? We have done so much to get you home, but you do not even know the candidate?”

Murmu has no reply for the political party cadre.

“Bhagwan Raut,” says the man sitting next to him. “I will tell him about our candidate.”

“Do you have a voter ID?” the party worker asks the man.  

“No, but my name is on the voters' list.”

“Good, otherwise it will be difficult for us. After all, we are going through so much trouble to get you home.”

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This was an overheard conversation earlier this week between a political party mobiliser and a passenger getting ready to board a bus in Kathmandu’s Koteswor intersection.

The bus had been chartered by Bhagwat Raut, the UML candidate for mayor of Trijuga Municipality in Udaypur district, a 8 hour drive away. One of the passengers was Chandra Roka, and he was among people on the voters’ list that were being provided free transport by the party.

The other parties in Trijuga are also rounding up voters in Kathmandu and busing them to vote in their home districts.

Many of the 17,733,726 registered voters for the 13 May local elections are not in the voters’ list of Kathmandu where they now live and work. An estimated 300,000 people have travelled to their home districts this week to vote in Friday’s elections.

Most have got a free ride home from political parties, some are even getting a stipend, in return for votes. Even before the journey begins, the party cadre is already educating the passengers on the complicated ballot paper, the election symbols of their candidates, and how to vote.

But not everyone is going to vote for the party’s candidates in return for the ride. Purna Maya Biswokarma, 88, is waiting for another free bus ride to her village in Sindhupalchok provided by the Maoists party. She has no plans to vote for anyone.

Purna Maya Biswokarma has no sympathy for the parties and has no plans to vote for anyone despite a free bus ticket sponsored by the candidates in her village.

Biswokarma lost five of her children because of the lack of health care in her village, and she has no sympathy for the parties.

“The five years of the local government term ended, but they could not guarantee even free medicines in the health post,” she tells us. “What are these candidates going to do for the poor like us? Nothing.”

Biswokarma’s daughter-in-law Manju plans to return to Kathmandu the very next day after casting her vote, but is not sure if the party is paying for the roundtrip. “If they bring us back then it will be easy for us, but it is unlikely they will,” she says.

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Apsara BK and her husband Ram Bahadur BK are daily wage earners from Surkhet district working at a brick kiln in Lalitpur. The family is getting a free 18-hour bus ride from the party, but the family has no intention of coming back to Kathmandu.

“Kathmandu is expensive and it is impossible to support our five children here, so we are using the election as an excuse to return to our village,” says Ram Bahadur. He now plans to go to India to find work.

The BK couple has a house near Surkhet. It takes them half an hour to collect water from the nearest tap, and an hour to reach school. Not much has changed in their village since the last local election in 2017.

“In the last election, the candidates promised us jobs and a better life, but five years later it is still the same,” says Apsara.

The BK family waiting to board their bus to Surket in Balaju. The family doesn't plan to come back to Kathmandu after the election.

Ram Bahadur gets an urgent phone call from the party cadre in his village to board the bus. He says, “They remember us only when they need votes. They promised us drinking water, irrigation and a forest fence, but they forgot it all once they were elected,” he says.

Nepali voters are disillusioned by successive governments who have failed to address their grievances time and again. Many say they will be voting for the candidates who will do a good job regardless of the free bus ticket.

Tek Bahadur Khatri is 88 but age is just a number for him, as he prepares to board a bus for Okhaldhunga. Worried he might not make it till the next election, he is determined to cast his vote this time and make it count.

“Voting is carrying out the duty of a good citizen,” says Khatri. “They may or may not work for the people in the future but we should vote for those we think are good candidates.”

Politicians and their cadres can try all they want, buy bus tickets, distribute food and alcohol, or dole out lofty promises, but people hold all the power as they head to the polling booths across the country this Friday, and they will reward performance above all.

Says Manju Biswokarma: “We are going to our village because we need to. Regardless of which candidate paid for the bus, we will cast our votes for those who will do a good job.”

Translated by Aria Parasai from the Nepali original in himalkhabar.com