Nepal’s Communist parties poised for election landslide

Supporters of Nepali Communist Party Nepal-Union Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Communist Party Nepal (CPN-Maoist Center) attend alliance election campaign mass meeting event in Katmandu on Nov. 28, 2017. Nepal is gearing up for its first national elections under the new constitution, introduced as part of the peace deal that ended the country’s brutal Maoist insurgency, cementing its transformation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular federal state. (AFP/Prakash Mathema)
Updated 11 December 2017

Nepal’s Communist parties poised for election landslide

KATMANDU: Nepal’s Communist parties were headed Monday for a landslide win in elections seen as a turning point after two decades of conflict, political instability and disaster that have crippled the Himalayan country.
The landmark elections for national and provincial parliaments capped Nepal’s 11-year transition from monarchy to federal democracy after a brutal civil war.
Many hope they will usher in a much-needed period of stability in the impoverished country, which has cycled through 10 prime ministers since 2006.
An alliance of the main Communist party and the country’s former Maoist rebels is expected to form the next government, ousting the ruling centrist Nepali Congress.
The Himalayan Times said the left alliance’s strong mandate meant the country “could experience political stability,” which it has lacked over the last decade, but cautioned that a strong opposition was also crucial in the young democracy.
With counting still going on, the leftist alliance has won 97 seats in the national parliament according to preliminary data from the election commission.
That puts them on course for a hefty majority in the country’s first federal parliament, which comprises 275 seats, 110 of which are allocated on a proportional representation basis.
They are also leading in six out of seven newly created provincial assemblies mandated in a new national constitution, which was finally agreed by parliament in 2015 in a rare moment of political consensus months after the country was devastated by a powerful earthquake.
The charter laid the ground for a sweeping overhaul of the political system to devolve power from the center to seven newly-created provinces.
It was intended to build on the promise of a more inclusive society integral to the peace deal that followed the end of the civil war between Maoists and the state in 2006.
But the constitution sparked deadly protests among ethnic minorities who said the provincial boundaries it laid out had been gerrymandered to limit their voice and demanded change.
The Maoists and the Communist CPN-UML have often found themselves on opposite sides of parliament, but formed an electoral alliance ahead of the polls.
The alliance campaigned on a promise to bring stability and growth to the impoverished Himalayan nation.
Its victory returns many figures of the tumultuous transition period, including CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli, who is expected to be the new prime minister.
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a two-time former prime minister who led the rebel faction during the war, is also tipped for a prominent position in the next cabinet.
The newly-elected provincial assemblies will be tasked with naming their provinces, which are currently referred to by number, choosing a capital and negotiating budgets with Katmandu — all issues that could rekindle ethnic unrest.
But the protest movements have lost momentum as voters have become fed up with the political merry-go-round that has starved the country of much-needed development.
Most voters voiced a desire for stability and a longer lasting government, while also expressing hope that the new provincial assemblies will prioritize local needs.
The new constitution also lays out strict rules for ousting a prime minister, meaning this government could be the first to last a full five year term.
Final results are expected by the end of the week.

Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

Updated 39 min 58 sec ago

Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

  • Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows
  • Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan

KABUL: The burden of life has made Masooma look twice her age. Her life story in many ways is similar to those of several hundred thousand other Afghan women who have become widows since the latest conflict began here more than 40 years ago.
She lost her husband in a rocket attack 17 years ago in Kabul and since then has been feeding and raising her five children, doing jobs such as cleaning and laundry.

Looking frail and exhausted, Masooma is now part of the army of Kabul’s municipality and cleans roads in the city where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, thanks to the flow of foreign aid that has largely ended up in the pockets of commanders and those with links either to the government or foreign troops, as Masooma laments.

“I hate to beg and am proud of my job. I'm happy to earn a livelihood in a legitimate way,” Masooma told Arab News, sweeping a road and wearing an orange gown and a tight headscarf.

Like the rest of her female colleagues, she cleans the streets by braving the attacks, the rising heat in summer and extreme cold in winter.

Her eldest child is a young man now and he is a bus conductor, helping her to pay the rent for the house and sharing other responsibilities. 

But her life has been a long struggle in a male-dominated society where women are perceived largely as owned by their father before becoming their husband’s property and widows are often rejected or regarded as burdens.

“You cannot imagine the hardships I have gone through. It is not easy to raise five children without a father, without money and a house,” Masooma said.

Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan. They suffer violence, expulsion, ostracism and sometimes forced remarriage, often with a brother-in-law, as reported by the UN Mission in Afghanistan in a study in 2014.

Ferooza, another widow, lost her husband 20 years ago during a clash with the Taliban in northern Baghlan province. She moved to Kabul along with her daughter, Habiba. They have similar jobs to Masooma, with no health or life insurance in a country in the middle of war that relies on foreign aid.

“Life is very tough for widows. It is not easy for women to clean the streets day after day, for months and years, but we do not have an alternative. We are content and feel happy that we are working rather than being a burden on others,” Habiba told Arab News with a mild smile.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, there are more than 500,000 widows in Afghanistan, most of them war widows. Of these, 70,000 are breadwinners for their families, the ministry said in recent statistics given to the media last week.

Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows. The first women settled on this stony-slope location outside Kabul in the 1990s, hoping to escape the stigma they are forced to endure.

Today it is known as Afghanistan’s "hill of widows," home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns them.

Ninety percent of them are illiterate, some even taking care of as many as eight children, Hashratullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the ministry, told Arab News.

“We are in a state of war. The number of women who become widows is increasing. Those who fight on the government side and those on the side of the Taliban and the miltants have wives and mothers too. People on both sides suffer and women on all sides are affected more than anyone in this war,” Ahmadzai said. 

War widows who are registered by the government receive some meagre annual help from the ministry, but that does not meet the need of the victims, he said.

Gul Ghotai, head of the statistics department at the Ministry of Women Affairs, said the government lacks any strategy on creating vocational or short-term jobs for the widows.

“The ministry of women has done nothing on this. The government as a whole has failed to address the widows’ problems because it does not have the capacity. It has not even come up with a plan as to how to tackle the problem,” she told Arab News.