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Local election security: Close eye on refugees and migrants, 75,000 army personnel to be deployed

Local election security: Close eye on refugees and migrants, 75,000 army personnel to be deployed

On May 13, Nepali voters will head to the polling stations to elect their representatives in what will be the second local elections after Nepal became a federal republic in 2015. The previous three-phase elections for 753 local units were held in 2017.

With the D-Day just a month away, preparations are in full swing to ensure voters get to exercise their franchise freely and fearlessly. 

Election security is always a concern in Nepal. In the run-up to the 2017 elections, five people were killed and several others injured in Maleth village of Saptari district when security forces opened fire on Madhesi demonstrators rallying against the CPN-UML’s ‘Mechi-Mahakali Campaign’.

There were also incidents of clashes between the parties contesting the polls. At least one death was reported on election-day in Dolakha while the cadres of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal stole and burned ballot papers from a polling station in Kalikot district.

To ensure that the upcoming local polls are free of untoward incidents, the Election Commission has sought the assurance of the political parties that they will strictly adhere to the election code of conduct. The election governing body has also urged the government and the security agencies to make all the necessary security arrangements.

Phanindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told ApEx that the ministry has come up with ‘Local Level Elections Joint Security Plan’, which will serve as a guideline for the security agencies to monitor election threats and take necessary steps.

A meeting of Home Minister Balkrishna Khand-headed central security committee approved the plan on March 24.

“The security plan will not only facilitate safe conduct of the May 13 elections but also the following provincial and parliamentary polls,” says Pokharel.

The plan was prepared based on a threat analysis conducted across the country, and the ministry has already instructed authorities in all 77 districts to make necessary arrangements. 

As in previous elections, all the four security agencies—the Nepal Army (NA), the Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force (APF) and the National Investigation Department (NID)—will be mobilized for poll security. They will perform their duties as instructed by the central security committee. The committee under the home minister has home secretary, defense secretary, joint secretary of defense at the Ministry of Home Affairs, and heads of the security agencies as members. It will assess risk and instruct security agencies accordingly.

The home secretary will coordinate with the central command post to evaluate overall security arrangements. The chiefs of the four security agencies will be a part of the command post.

Likewise, the chief of Security and Coordination Division under the Home Ministry will lead the central election security cell, with high-ranking officers of the security agencies as members.

The Home Ministry has decided to deploy army personnel for election security a month ahead of the polling date. Nearly 75,000 soldiers are to be mobilized across the country.

According to the security plan, the army will set up its units within a 30-minute distance of every polling station. They will also be deployed at the voting centers deemed “sensitive” and “highly sensitive”.

The army will also be tasked with overseeing the security of ballot printing stations and escorting ballot boxes after voting. Besides, it will be required to mobilize bomb disposal squads and security backup as and when necessary.

A source at the Home Ministry says the ministry has also decided to use the army’s helicopters for aerial patrol and security support.

“As per the ministry’s request, the Nepal Army is preparing to station helicopters at three of its command headquarters outside Kathmandu Valley 10 days ahead of the election,” the source tells ApEx. 

Moreover, the army will be deployed for additional security support of prisons and other important institutions throughout the election period.

The Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the National Investigation Department will largely oversee the security of voters and polling stations. They will also safeguard election materials and electoral officials.   

Unlike in the past, officials expect the May 13 elections to go ahead with minimum disruption, as political groups like Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal and the CK Raut-led Janamat Party have joined mainstream politics. These two groups were considered the main security threats during the 2017 elections.

However, given the past conducts of these parties, the Home Ministry has instructed security agencies to closely monitor their activities. This warning also comes amid reports of the Chand’s cadres dividing into rival camps on the issue of local elections.

The ministry has directed the security agencies to monitor the activities of the Mohan Baidya-led Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist), which has announced a boycott of upcoming elections.

The security assessment has identified obscure outfits like Himal Surakshya Parishad and Mongol Nepal Organization as potential threats. Both these groups recently announced armed struggles against the state.

The Home Ministry has directed the security agencies to “deactivate” all anti-poll activities and elements.

“There are still some elements that could try to disrupt elections. But the security agencies are fully prepared to repel them,” says a senior police officer.

Security challenges could also be posed by the cadres of rival factions of parties contesting elections as well as by hired political goons.

As there had been some instances of inter-party clashes during the previous local level elections, the Home Ministry has directed security agencies to make necessary arrangements to prevent such incidents this time.

As part of the election security, Nepal-India border crossings will be sealed 72 hours ahead of voting.  Security in bordering areas will also be beefed up.

Firearms—registered or not—is another concern. The Home Ministry has directed district administration offices across the country to ask all registered firearm owners to provisionally surrender their weapons to their local police stations and seize the unregistered ones.

It has also told the security agencies to monitor the activities of refugees and undocumented migrants who could be used to commit electoral fraud or disrupt elections.

“The Home Ministry and the security agencies will continually assess the security challenges and fine-tune its strategies as the election draws closer,” Pokharel, the ministry spokesperson, tells ApEx.