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
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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.


Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”