KATHMANDU—Nepalese police confiscated ballot boxes at Tibetan exile government polling stations in Kathmandu before polls closed Sunday, according to a local election official.
Twenty ballot boxes were confiscated from the Swayambhunath, Boudha, and Jawalakel polling stations, all located in the Nepali capital.
Tsering Dhondup, an election officer in charge of the Boudha-Jorpati area, said police seized the boxes at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 3, half an hour before polling stations closed for the day.
“The pre-election went well … However, suddenly around 30 to 40 Nepalese policemen came to the Boudha election site and took all of the election boxes that we Tibetans voted in today,” Dhondup said.
“Later, we found that … the order to do this had come straight down from the Home Ministry,” he said.
Tibetans were casting ballots to nominate the prime minister and parliamentary members of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is led by the Dalai Lama and headquartered in Dharamsala, India.
Ballot returns unlikely
Dhondup said it is unlikely that Nepali authorities would return the confiscated ballot boxes.
“It is difficult to say whether they will return the boxes exactly as they were or not …They are asking which Tibetans are involved in the election,” Dhondup said.
“The political status and conditions allowed to Tibetans in Nepal are harsh. On the surface, there is support for Tibetans in Nepal, but in reality the Nepalese government has given us a lot of hardship,” he said.
Nepal's increasing political tilt toward China has put at risk Tibetan refugees protesting China's rule in neighboring Tibetan regions of China.
Tibetans demonstrating outside Chinese diplomatic facilities in Nepal have routinely been beaten, detained, and threatened with deportation to India.
According to Thinley Gyatso, head of the Kathmandu Election Commission for the Tibetan government-in-exile, nearly 8,200 Tibetans in Nepal's capital are registered to vote in the election.
Over 79,500 Tibetans worldwide are registered for the election, according to the election commission.
The final round of voting will be held in March.
Pokhara, Lalitpur ballots safeElection commission officials in central Nepal’s Pokhara city, after hearing about the news in Kathmandu, confirmed that nothing had happened to ballot boxes there.
One man who voted in Phokara praised election management, but called for election officials to keep the public informed.
“The voting process went very well but the election commission should be very transparent about the reports.”
Another voter said public interest in the polls was high.
“For the past two months people have been discussing and debating it. That shows people are demonstrating standard democratic practice.”
The Tibetan government-in-exile was first established in India after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, following a failed national uprising against Chinese rule. Since 2001, members of the Chitue (exile parliament) and the Kalon Tripa (prime minister) have been directly elected by the Tibetan community in exile.
The exile government issues “green books” to Tibetans living outside Tibet to allow them to register for elections. The books are used for school admission and scholarships, for employment within the exile community, and for making contributions or “voluntary taxes” to the exile government.
Voter registration is higher this year than for past elections, as Tibetans in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region have grown increasingly outspoken against Beijing’s rule.
During the previous election in 2006, 72,800 Tibetans registered to vote.
More than one dozen candidates are competing to replace current Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche, who will step down after serving the maximum two terms allowed under the Tibetan charter.
Candidates include Harvard University research scholar Lobsang Sangay, former minister Tenzin Tethong Namgyal, former president of the Tibetan Youth Congress Tseten Norbu, Speaker Pempa Tsering, and Deputy Speaker Dolma Gyari.
Results from the primary election are expected in about one month’s time, as ballots must be collected from Tibetan exile communities throughout India, Bhutan, Nepal, and North America.
Original reporting by Dawa Dolma and Thupten Sangye for RFA’s Tibetan service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.