The Nepalese government is paying a great deal of attention to providing security for the upcoming election. Besides the regular police and temporary police, over 60,000 Nepalese army personnel are being deployed.
Of course, the deployment of the army during elections was a regular event through the 1990s. It was only during the 2008 elections that the army was not mobilised, as they had recently fought against one of the parties contesting the elections, and peace agreements consigned them to their barracks. So, in a sense, the deployment of the army for election purposes represents a return to normalcy.
However, it is also true that the scale of the army deployment this time around is unprecedented. The army is preparing to provide the outermost perimetre of security for all polling stations, and thus will be a very conspicuous aspect of the security apparatus. In previous elections, the soldiers were not as visible as they will be now.
Meanwhile, the security agencies have identified 16 districts that they believe are the most “sensitive” when it comes to security. A number of these districts are in the hills. In the West, these include districts like Rolpa and Pyuthan. These are areas where the presence of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist) is relatively strong. Presumably, the security forces are preparing to keep an eye on the activities of this party.
In the eastern hills, Taplejung has been classified as a “sensitive district”, likely because of the history of disruptive behaviour by small groups claiming to represent Limbus in the area.
A large number of districts that have been classified as “sensitive”, however, are in the central and eastern Tarai regions.
There are many reasons to expect problems in these areas. First, armed groups still exist in the region. Second, this area has a large population. Third, there is a historical tendency of groups attempting booth captures and engaging in other kinds of electoral malpractice. Fourth, these areas border India. In the past, there have been cases where politicians have hired Indian goons to intimidate voters and polling officials.
From this brief account alone, it is clear that the situation in the Tarai is immensely complex. Security problems in this area cannot be resolved using brute force. Rather, astute political intelligence and negotiation is required. The local administration and police of these districts possesses the best information regarding local dynamics. Therefore, it is apt that the chief officers of each district have been given overall responsibility for election security in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
If any occasion arises when the use of the Nepalese army becomes necessary, it will be crucial that army officers deployed in the field maintain close coordination with the local police and administrations.