February 1, 2010, 10:07 am
By Deborah Hakes
Carter Center observer Antonia Staats was stationed in Nepal from June-December 2009 to observe the constitution-drafting process following historic elections monitored by The Carter Center in 2008. She talks about the challenges and rewards of being an observer:
The project in Nepal is special both in its length and the freedom we observers have to look at a variety of factors relevant to local governance and the constitution-drafting process. I just finished spending six months based in the Western Region, covering its 16 districts in a mixed Nepali-international team of four.
A district visit usually starts at the district capital, which is where we find the political parties, civil society organizations, journalists, and local authorities, who are our first points of contact. There is always plenty to discuss and debate, as well as to laugh about – for example when I received unexpected “congratulations” from one district party chairman for being the compatriot of Marx and Engels. The district headquarters is also usually the place where demonstrations, rallies, and protest programs take place, several of which I saw during my stay in Nepal.
After a few days, once we have finished interviews at district headquarter level, gathered further contacts, and identified villages we would like to visit, the true field visit begins. Infrastructure is poor in many parts of Nepal, and roads may be completely submerged or blocked by landslides during the monsoon, so reaching remote villages can be quite a challenge. Often we leave the car behind and plan several days of walking. Walking has the additional benefit that it makes talking to people much easier: driving straight up to someone’s door in a jeep can be intimidating – you’re much more likely to strike up a conversation about Nepali politics and local dynamics when walking (and sweating) along the same path. Several days of walking and talking to farmers, village-level party members, teachers, and conflict victims often provide a much more nuanced picture of the situation in a district and complement meetings in the bigger towns.
Nepal has undergone tremendous changes in the past several years, achieving peace in 2006 after a decade of fighting between government forces and the Maoists; eliminating the monarchy; and in 2008, electing a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.
Working to build peace in Nepal since 2003, the Carter Center’s focus transitioned to an international election observation mission to observe the 2008 constituent assembly elections. The Center has remained in-country to monitor the constitution-drafting process and to provide impartial information on progress to political and civil society leaders throughout the country.
The New York Times recently highlighted the big challenges ahead for Nepal, whose constituent assembly faces a May 28 deadline to finalize the constitution-drafting process: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/world/asia/26nepal.html?ref=world
You can read the Center’s reports on Nepal’s progress at http://cartercenter.org/countries/nepal.html