Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Nepal Election

7:22 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak this evening on the Nepal election. Senator Kroger has already reported that a national election was held on Tuesday, 19 November this year for Nepal's Constituent Assembly. The Election Commission of Nepal had registered more than 12 million voters for this historic poll and we were very privileged to be selected to be official observers. As Senator Kroger has said, Australia was one of only five nations, including the UN, that were invited to join other international and local observers to provide an independent review of the electoral process and of all the matters connected with the conduct of the election. Last night Senator Kroger outlined the context of the election, so I will not go over that. After the 2008 election, the Constituent Assembly failed to deliver a new constitution for Nepal, so the caretaker government was appointed to oversee a new election and I have to say it did an exceptional job in bringing about this election in a very timely manner.

The Nepali media continued to report a high level of local scepticism that the national election could take place in 2013, because there had been a series of national strikes, boycotts, protests and violence in the period leading up to the announcement of the election date and the government had experienced difficulties in producing the voting lists. Having developed a very comprehensive code of conduct guide that included the development of the requirement of a photographic voter registration card, it then had to oversee the distribution of that card.

So, as Senator Kroger said, it was a very complex environment in which we observed the election. But it was evident when we arrived in Nepal that there was a huge level of expectation and speculation about the voter turnout. Every Nepali that we spoke to was genuinely excited about having the opportunity to vote, and most believed it would be a very fair process, that the threats of intimidation and boycotts had been a general failure, and that the incendiary devices we had heard about exploding were often just mud bombs, designed to frighten rather than to maim—although, as Senator Kroger reported, there was one serious incident on election day.

We had the opportunity to meet with the Nepal Chief Election Commissioner, Nilkantha Uprety, and the other commissioners. We had the opportunity to meet with the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We met with many of the international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, and we had the opportunity to be briefed by two of our Australian Electoral Commission staff who have been assisting the Nepali preparations. We also met two youth ambassadors, fantastic ambassadors for Australia who participated very actively in this process.

The Australian observers consisted of four teams led by Senator Kroger; me; the Australian ambassador, Glenn White; and the deputy head of mission, Damien Dunn. Each team comprised a leader, a coordinator, an interpreter and a driver. Senator Kroger's team also included the first secretary development cooperation, Ben Reece, who did a fantastic job.

I visited Chitwan, where I was accompanied by two locally engaged staff who provided wonderful support to me. The vehicles all had to be registered because there was a four-day public holiday declared to deal with the administrative processes of the day and no vehicles were allowed on the road except those that were registered. We visited a total of 48 polling booths across the country and had an opportunity to meet officials and volunteers. We visited the counting centres, where we had an extraordinary time. The polling day was full of colour and light and it was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of those registering to vote for the first time, and those elderly and disabled Nepalis who were determined to exercise their vote in what they all recognised was a very important election.

We drew conclusions in our official report and I would like to put them on the record. We made the following observations: registered voters were enthusiastic in their desire to exercise their democratic right to vote and that desire was appropriately facilitated; security was sufficient; the parties were eliminated from threat; procedures were— (Time expired)