Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Nepal – a thwarted election
DISTURBING pictures of Nepali police in riot gear carting off ballot boxes illustrate both China’s clout in Nepal and its fears about the activities of Tibetan exiles. This was a primary election held among some 80,000 exiles to pick candidates for polls for a new parliament-in-exile and prime minister next year. The Nepali government has made sure that votes in the primary in Nepal at least will not count.
Most of the 120,000 or so exiled Tibetans are in India—either in the north, where the government-in-exile, and Tibet’s spiritual leader, have their seat in the Himalayan foothills at Dharamsala, or in the southern state of Karnataka. Every year more join them, mostly by fleeing the Tibet Autonomous Region of China through Nepal.
Some 20,000 live in Nepal, about half of them eligible to vote. In recent years, Nepal, at China’s behest, has curbed their political activities, such as protests. In 2005, floundering and looking to China to prop up his regime, the former king, Gyanendra, closed the Dalai Lama's representative office in Kathmandu. China has obvious objections to an election for a government-in-exile it does not recognise, and which supports the Dalai Lama, whom it regards as the source of many of its troubles in Tibet.
There are two other reasons why China objects to the voting. It does not want the world—or China—to be reminded that the Dalai Lama has insisted his exiled compatriots embrace democracy. Rather, it prefers to depict him as the representative of a cruel feudal elite which forced the miserable masses into monasteries or serfdom.
Also, the Dalai Lama’s advanced age—he is now 75—give elections increased importance, as the government elected may have to cope with the difficult transition to a new incarnation.
Nepal, sandwiched between two huge and overbearing neighbours, India and China, has no desire to antagonise either. India is by far the bigger influence in Nepal. To keep it in check, Nepal seeks good relations with China. One sure way of ruining those would be to show any sympathy to the Dalai Lama and his followers. Banyan’s notebook for The Economist