Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll



File 20171219 4951 ew47yt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Nick Xenophon won 46% of the preferred South Australian premier vote in a recent Newspoll.
AAP/Morgan Sette

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next South Australian election will be held in three months, on March 17, 2018. A South Australian Newspoll, conducted October to December from a sample of 800, had primary votes of 32% for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST party, 29% Liberal, 27% Labor, and 6% Greens.

On the better premier measure, Nick Xenophon had 46% of the vote, followed by incumbent Jay Weatherill on 22% and Opposition Leader Steven Marshall on 19%.

Xenophon’s strong performance is partly explained by the dire ratings of both Weatherill and Marshall. Weatherill had 53% dissatisfied, 34% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 19. Marshall had 50% dissatisfied, 27% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 23.

The previous South Australian Newspoll was taken in late 2015. A Galaxy poll taken for the Australian Bankers’ Association in early October gave the Liberals 31% of the primary vote, SA-BEST 30%, and Labor 26%. The better premier measure in that poll had 41% Xenophon, with Weatherill and Marshall both on 21%.

If the primary votes in Newspoll were replicated at the March 2018 election, SA-BEST would probably win a clear majority of lower house seats. Both major parties’ supporters dislike the other major party, so most Labor voters will preference SA-BEST ahead of the Liberals, and vice versa.

There are still three months until the election, and SA-BEST will be attacked ferociously in the coming weeks. However, the disdain for both major parties, and Xenophon’s popularity, gives SA-BEST a real opportunity to end the major party duopoly in South Australia.

The total vote for all “others” in Newspoll is 6%. At the 2014 state election, Family First won 6%. This poll does not suggest the Australian Conservatives, formed by Cory Bernardi, are surging.

Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll, 53-47

This week’s Newspoll, conducted December 14-17 from a sample of 1,670, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (steady), 10% Greens (steady), and 7% One Nation (down one).

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 25th successive Newspoll loss. Tony Abbott lost 30 in a row before he was dumped.

Turnbull’s ratings were unchanged at 57% dissatisfied, 32% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell three points to minus 24. Turnbull led by 41-34 as better prime minister (39-33 last fortnight).

The 7% for One Nation is its lowest support in Newspoll since December 2016, before One Nation was included in the party readout. On the overall vote for left- and right-wing parties, the left leads by 47-43 in this Newspoll (47-44 last fortnight). This is the first change in the overall left/right balance since October.

The passage of same-sex marriage legislation through parliament and the media furore over Sam Dastyari do not appear to have improved the Coalition’s position. Most voters realise that the large “yes” vote in the plebiscite forced the Coalition to act. It is likely that only partisans are interested in Dastyari.

Newspoll (paywalled) asked who was better at handling the economy, national security, asylum seekers, cost of living, and tax cuts. Turnbull had more than 20-point leads over Shorten on the first three issues, and a 40-33 lead on tax cuts. Shorten led by 43-41 on cost of living.

These questions are biased in favour of Turnbull, as they appeal to the Coalition’s perceived strength on the economy, national security and asylum seekers. There were no questions regarding issues like health, education and climate change, where Labor is perceived to be better than the Coalition.

Incumbent prime ministers tend to outperform their party, so Labor would probably have obtained more favourable results had Newspoll asked Coalition vs Labor, not Turnbull vs Shorten.

Essential 53-47 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, the Coalition gained two points since last fortnight, reducing Labor’s lead to 53-47. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 7% One Nation. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800, with additional questions based on one week’s sample.

All proposed reforms of political donations were very popular, with the exception of banning donations and making all political party spending taxpayer-funded (50-30 opposed).

Respondents were asked whether the last 12 months had been good or bad for various items. The economy had a net +11 rating, large companies a net +22, your workplace a net +34, and you and your family a net +27. The planet had a net -22 rating and Australian politics a net -36.

Respondents were also asked about their expectations for 2018, though Essential apparently thought the next year is 2017.

By 54-29, voters disapproved of the proposed A$50 billion in company tax cuts to medium and large businesses (50-30 in October). By 47-8, voters thought personal income tax cuts were more important than business tax cuts, with 33% for both being equally important.

37% thought interference in Australian politics by foreign countries is a major problem, 36% a minor problem, and 12% did not think it was a problem at all.

Bennelong preference flows

With virtually all votes counted in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection, Liberal John Alexander defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally by 54.9-45.1, a 4.9-point swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 45.1% Alexander, 35.8% Keneally, 6.7% Greens, 4.3% Australian Conservatives, and 3.1% Christian Democrats.

The informal rate of 8.1% is far too high, and indicates savings provisions should be introduced so that votes can still be counted even if voters do not number every square. There is confusion in New South Wales because state elections use optional preferential voting.

I have information about preference flows from one booth in Bennelong from a Labor scrutineer. At this booth, Keneally won 88% of Greens preferences, but Alexander won 85% of Australian Conservatives’ preferences and 77% of Christian Democrat preferences.

Preferences of other candidates split evenly between Keneally and Alexander. This booth may not be representative of the whole electorate, but these preference flows seem reasonable.

The ConversationWhile Newspoll and Galaxy understated Alexander by four-to-five points, these polls were of one seat. Australian pollsters have been bad with seat polling, but very good with national and state polls. The error in Bennelong does not affect the trustworthiness of Newspoll’s national polls.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Labour wins NZ election after backing from NZ First. Bankers’ SA Galaxy: 31% Lib, 30% SA Best, 26% Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The New Zealand election was held on 23 September, with final results released on 7 October. The conservative National won 56 of the 120 seats, Labour 46, the anti-immigrant populist NZ First 9, the Greens 8 and the right-wing ACT 1. As a result, the right held 57 seats and the left 54, with NZ First’s 9 seats required for a majority (61 seats) for either the left or right.

26 days after the election, and 12 days after final results were published, NZ First leader Winston Peters today announced that his party would form a coalition government with Labour. With NZ First backing, the left bloc has 63 seats, a clear majority in the NZ Parliament. This outcome ends National’s nine successive years in power, in which Labour had utterly dismal results in the three elections from 2008-14.

While the time taken after the election to form a government may seem long, it is not by international standards. Following the Dutch election in March 2017, a coalition government was not formed for 208 days. The German election was held on 24 September, with final results known on 25 September, but government negotiations only began yesterday.

Bankers’ SA Galaxy: 31% Liberal, 30% SA Best, 26% Labor

The Australian reported today that a SA Galaxy poll, conducted for the Australian Bankers Association 10-12 October from a sample of 806, gave the Liberals 31% of the primary vote, SA Best (Nick Xenophon’s SA party) 30% and Labor 26%. The next SA election will be held in mid-March 2018.

This poll is not a media-commissioned poll. The ABA is an anti-Labor lobby group that wants to stop the proposed SA state bank tax. Polls such as these are prone to selective release; it is unlikely the ABA would have released a poll with Labor doing well.

The last media-commissioned SA Galaxy poll, in late June, had the Liberals leading Labor 34-28 on primary votes with SA Best on 21%, and a 50-50 tie between the major parties after preferences. If this ABA Galaxy poll is accurate, it implies that SA Best has surged 9 points since Xenophon announced his candidacy for the Liberal-held seat of Hartley.

In the better Premier question, Xenophon had 41%, with both incumbent Premier Jay Weatherill and opposition leader Steven Marshall at 21%.

If these primary votes were replicated at an election, SA Best would win many seats on Labor preferences, and could be the largest party in SA’s lower house. Such an outcome would break the two party duopoly for the first time in an Australian Parliament since the early 20th century.

However, there are still five months to go before the election. Even if this poll is accurate, it could represent SA Best’s high point. Both major parties will attack Xenophon during the election campaign, in an attempt to undermine his popularity. Labor will use Xenophon’s controversial Senate decisions against him.

Although Labor is third in this poll, they are not out of the running. If Labor can take a few percent from SA Best, they would be more likely to benefit on preferences than the Liberals. If Labor retains office at the next election, it will be a fifth consecutive term for them.

The ConversationAfter 14 years in office, Queensland Labor was demolished at the 2012 Queensland election, and NSW Labor had a similar fate after 16 years at the 2011 NSW election. A SA Labor victory after 16 years would be a remarkable achievement.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

NSW ReachTEL: Coalition leads 52-48 as One Nation slumps. Xenophon tied or ahead in SA’s Hartley


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A NSW ReachTEL poll for Fairfax media, conducted 5 October from a sample of 1650, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead by preference flows at the 2015 election, a 3 point gain for Labor since a Channel 7 ReachTEL poll, conducted just after Mike Baird’s resignation as Premier in January. With 8.1% undecided excluded, primary votes in this ReachTEL were 40.9% Coalition (down 1.8), 33.7% Labor (up 5.7), 9.9% Greens (up 1.5), 8.9% One Nation (down 7.4) and 2.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. NSW uses optional preferential voting.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a 52.1-47.9 lead over opposition leader Luke Foley in ReachTEL’s forced choice better Premier question, which tends to favour opposition leaders over polls that have an undecided option.

The January poll was taken when One Nation was at its peak, both nationally and in state polls, and that poll had One Nation at a record for any NSW poll. As One Nation’s right-wing economic views have become better known, it appears that much of their working-class support has returned to Labor.

In Queensland, One Nation’s support in a recent ReachTEL was 18.1% including undecided voters. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s support for the Adani coal mine does not distinguish Labor from the LNP. If the two major parties are seen as similar, anti-establishment parties can thrive.

At the recent NZ and UK elections, the total major party vote increased substantially. I believe this increase occurred at least partly because the major NZ and UK parties had very different policies, and anti-establishment parties were denied the “this mob is the same as the other mob” line. In contrast, the major parties were in coalition before the German election, and both slumped badly, with the far-right AfD winning 12.6%.

NSW state by-elections: Nats hold seats despite big swings against

Yesterday, by-elections occurred in the NSW National-held seats of Murray and Cootamundra, and in Labor-held Blacktown; all three seats were easily won by the incumbent party at the 2015 election. The Liberals did not contest Blacktown.

In Murray, Shooters candidate Helen Dalton stood as an Independent at the 2015 state election. The Nationals won by 53.5-46.5, a 19.2 point swing to Dalton since 2015. Primary votes were 40.5% Nationals (down 15.0), 31.4% Dalton (up 13.2) and 21.0% Labor (up 4.8).

In Cootamundra, the Nationals won by 60.1-39.9 vs Labor, a 10.3 point swing to Labor. Primary votes were 46.0% Nationals (down 19.9), 24.2% Labor (down 1.8) and 23.5% Shooters, who did not stand in 2015.

With no Liberal in Blacktown, Labor romped to 68.9% of the primary vote (up 15.0). The Christian Democrats were a distant second with 17.7% and the Greens won 8.8%.

These results do not yet include postal votes, which are likely to favour the Nationals. Further pre-poll votes in Murray and Cootamundra also remain to be counted.

Galaxy poll in SA seat of Hartley: Xenophon leads Liberals 53-47, but ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie

Nick Xenophon has announced he will leave the Senate after the High Court’s ruling on whether current members are eligible has been delivered. Xenophon will contest the SA state Liberal-held seat of Hartley at the March 2018 election. A Galaxy robopoll in Hartley, from a sample of 516, had Xenophon leading the Liberals by 53-47, from primary votes of 38% Liberal, 35% Xenophon, 17% Labor, 6% Greens and 3% Conservatives.

However, a ReachTEL poll for Channel 7 had a 50-50 tie, from primary votes of 36.7% Liberal, 21.7% Xenophon and 19.7% Labor. The primary votes probably include an undecided component of a little under 10%; these people can be pushed to say who they lean to. It is likely leaners strongly favoured Xenophon, as the Liberals would lead on the primary votes provided.

The Galaxy poll is encouraging for Xenophon, but the ReachTEL poll is more sobering. Labor will target Xenophon during the campaign over votes he has taken in the Senate that have helped the Coalition pass its legislation. Currently, only those who follow politics closely are aware of these votes, but Labor’s campaign is likely to increase this awareness. Such a campaign could undermine Xenophon’s support among centre-left voters.

Essential state polling: July to September

Essential has released July to September quarterly polling for all mainland states, by month for the eastern seaboard states. In September, the Coalition led by 51-49 in NSW, unchanged on August. In Victoria, Labor led by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since August. In WA, Labor led by 54-46 for July to September, a 1 point gain for the Coalition.

In Queensland, Labor led by 53-47 in September, a 2 point gain for the LNP since August. Primary votes were 35% Labor, 35% LNP, 13% One Nation and 10% Greens. By splitting One Nation and Others preferences evenly, Essential is likely to be overestimating Labor’s two party vote.

In SA, Labor led by an unchanged 52-48 in July to September. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 30% Liberal, 18% Nick Xenophon Team and 6% Greens. If these hard-to-believe primary votes are correct, Labor is far further ahead than 52-48. The NXT won 21.3% in SA at the 2016 Federal election.

The ConversationEssential’s state polling was not good at any of the Victorian 2014, Queensland 2015 or NSW 2015 state elections.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New NSW premier will have her hands full with issues that took the shine off Baird


Michael Hogan, University of Sydney

Gladys Berejiklian is undoubtedly one of the best-prepared candidates to take over the premiership of New South Wales in modern times. The Liberal partyroom confirmed her elevation as party leader and premier on Monday morning, with Dominic Perrottet to serve as her deputy.

Most of Berejiklian’s successful predecessors – Neville Wran, Nick Greiner, Bob Carr and Barry O’Farrell, for example – came to the job with much less experience of government, relying on strong performances as opposition leader. Berejiklian has successfully managed two of the most difficult portfolios – transport and treasury – with responsibility for the Hunter and industrial relations thrown in for variety. She also has experience as a senior member of the team that won a landslide victory over Labor in 2011.

However, being well prepared does not guarantee an easy time in office. Berejiklian inherits a Liberal Party that was losing public support in the last year of Mike Baird’s administration.

A vague smell of corruption over Liberal Party electoral funding practices also lingers. This is helped along by the Coalition’s recent decision to restructure the management of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – a move many saw as designed to weaken the body that exposed those funding practices.

Internal policy fights

The NSW Liberal Party is still strongly factionalised at both the parliamentary and local level. O’Farrell was able to neutralise the influence of the radical right faction, while Baird promoted a raft of economic policies that were generally acceptable to the right.

If Berejiklian, who is from the left, wants to choose a different policy mix then she can expect the right will exert its influence. The right faction does not have any viable alternative leadership candidates of its own, but has a strong enough presence in the partyroom to make life difficult.

Berejiklian’s stated intention to concentrate on economic development issues should not have factional implications, although any more PR disaster projects like WestConnex will not be well received. One of the interesting questions is how well she will be able to stare down opposition in the partyroom.

Berejiklian will certainly face a much less compliant National Party. This is a result of the recent shock defeat of the Nationals candidate at the recent Orange by-election, attributed to a perception in rural areas that the Nationals had ignored the interests of rural communities when it allowed the Baird government to ban greyhound racing (a decision it later reversed).

As a result of the by-election loss the Nationals also have a new leader, John Barilaro. He seems to have learned the lessons of the defeat in Orange.

The first issue Berejiklian will face on that front is local council and shire amalgamations. There will also be pressure to take a greater interest in the provision of good schools, hospitals and roads for country areas, which she should be able to accommodate without difficulty.

The next election and the future

Relations with the Nationals will be important as the next election approaches, since the Liberal Party is likely to be in deep trouble in its favoured electorates. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s success in Orange will certainly give it a higher profile in lower house seats. And the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will result in contests in most – if not all – rural seats.

There have been strong challenges in some electorates from local independents in recent state elections. There will be no safe seats for the Nationals.

Fortunately for Berejiklian, Labor is not in a position to profit from this situation. The “Country Labor” brand has made little impact in country areas in recent elections.

Nevertheless, given there is currently a swing against the Coalition, and a tight election is likely, a hung parliament after the next election is a real possibility.

Although Labor under Luke Foley has improved its position quickly after the catastrophic election defeat in 2011, it does not offer a great threat to the Berejiklian. Labor cannot win from opposition unless the government makes a complete mess of things – as Baird was threatening to do.

Berejiklian is a more instinctive political animal than Baird. She is less ideological, more pragmatic and prepared to compromise, so one would expect her to consult more and spend more energy on convincing the electorate of the value of her political initiatives.

Overall, while local press, radio and TV commentators prefer Liberal to Labor politicians, and were initially supportive of O’Farrell and Baird, any apparent mistakes will be jumped on. But this premier is female.

After the overtly sexist trashing of Julia Gillard by Tony Abbott, and of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump – both enthusiastically supported by right-wing media outlets – one has to wonder whether a female premier in NSW will be treated fairly.

Media handling of the state’s first female premier, Kristina Keneally, wasn’t particularly friendly, but that was not primarily because of her gender. It probably helps that Berejiklian is on the conservative side of politics.

Shock jock Alan Jones has already fired one broadside against her. But on this issue – as on many others – we will just have to wait and see.

The Conversation

Michael Hogan, Associate Professor and Honorary Associate, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 16 July 2013


Today in Australian politics there was a stoush over butlers and pillows between the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Kevin Rudd. It all seems a bit too much Campbell (he started it), trying to deflect attention from his own pay rise issues I’d suggest.

For more visit:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/breaking-news/rudd-has-a-cushion-carrier-qld-premier/story-fni0xqi3-1226680183388

Kevin Rudd also announced the end of the carbon tax and a move towards an emissions trading scheme from July 1, 2014. Measures to cover the lost revenue were also announced.


Australian Politics: 11 July 2013


Labelled a stunt by many and ignored by Tony Abbott, a proposed political debate between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott didn’t happen at the National Press Club today. The debate was proposed by Kevin Rudd, but Tony Abbott wanted nothing to do with it. So instead of a debate, Kevin Rudd delivered an address on the economy. The link below is to an article that reports on the address.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/11/kevin-rudd-seven-point-plan


Meanwhile, in Queensland the great politicians pay rise debate has continued with the premier now taking ‘action.’


Then of course there was more Kevin Rudd bashing by all and sundry. This time over a Twitter photo. My take – what’s wrong with Kevin Rudd being human and normal. I think the whiners need to take a long cold shower.

Australia: Victoria – Political Crisis in Government


The link below is to an article covering the resignation of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and the crisis in Victoria’s government.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/baillieu-government-in-crisis-talks-after-mp-geoff-shaw-quits-liberal-party/story-e6frgczx-1226591459409

New Threats, Old Enmity Pummel Nepal’s Christians


Armed group that forced over 1,500 government officials to quit now threatens pastors.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, September 16 (CDN) — A year after police busted an underground militant Hindu organization that had bombed a church and two mosques, Nepal’s Christians are facing new threats.

An underground group that speaks with bombs and has coerced hundreds of government officials into quitting their jobs is threatening Christian clergy with violence if they do not give in to extortion demands, Christian leader said.

The Nepal Christian Society (NCS), an umbrella group of denominations, churches and organizations, met in the Kathmandu Valley yesterday (Sept. 15) to discuss dangers amid reports of pastors receiving phone calls and letters from the Unified National Liberation Front (Samyukta Jatiya Mukti Morcha), an armed group demanding money and making threats. The group has threatened Christian leaders in eastern and western Nepal, as well as in the Kathmandu Valley.

“The pastors who received the extortion calls do not want to go public for fear of retaliation,” said Lok Mani Dhakal, general secretary of the NCS. “We decided to wait and watch a little longer before approaching police.”

The Front is among nearly three dozen armed groups that mushroomed after the fall of the military-backed government of the former king of Nepal, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, in 2006. It became a household name in July after 34 senior government officials – designated secretaries of village development committees – resigned en masse, pleading lack of security following threats by the Front.

Ironically, the resignations occurred in Rolpa, a district in western Nepal regarded as the cradle of the communist uprising in 1996 that led to Nepal becoming a secular federal republic after 10 years of civil war.

Nearly 1,500 government officials from 27 districts have resigned after receiving threats from the Front. Despite its apparent clout, it remains a shadowy body with little public knowledge about its leaders and objectives. Though initially active in southern Nepal, the group struck in the capital city of Kathmandu on Saturday (Sept. 11), bombing a carpet factory.

The emergence of the new underground threat comes a year after police arrested Ram Prasad Mainali, whose Nepal Defense Army had planted a bomb in a church in Kathmandu, killing three women during a Roman Catholic mass.

Christians’ relief at Mainali’s arrest was short-lived. Besides facing threats from a new group, the community has endured longstanding animosity from the years when Nepal was a Hindu state; the anti-Christian sentiment refuses to die four years after Parliament declared the nation secular.

When conversions were a punishable offense in Nepal 13 years ago, Ishwor Pudasaini had to leave his home in Giling village, Nuwakot district, because he became a Christian. Pudasaini, now a pastor in a Protestant church, said he still cannot return to his village because of persecution that has increased with time.

“We are mentally tortured,” the 32-year-old pastor told Compass. “My mother is old and refuses to leave the village, so I have to visit her from time to time to see if she is all right. Also, we have some arable land, and during monsoon season it is imperative that I farm it. But I go in dread.”

Pudasaini, who pastors Assembly of God Church, said that when he runs into his neighbors, they revile him and make threatening gestures. His family is not allowed to enter any public place, and he is afraid to spend nights in his old home for fear of being attacked. A new attack occurred in a recent monsoon, when villagers disconnected the family’s water pipes.

“Things reached such a head this time that I was forced to go to the media and make my plight public,” he says.

Pudasaini, his wife Laxmi and their two children have been living in the district headquarters, Bidur town. His brother Ram Prasad, 29, was thrown out of a local village’s reforms committee for becoming a Christian. Another relative in the same village, Bharat Pudasaini, lost his job and was forced to migrate to a different district.

“Bharat Pudasaini was a worker at Mulpani Primary School,” says Pudasaini. “The school sacked him for embracing Christianity, and the villagers forced his family to leave the village. Even four years after Nepal became officially secular, he is not allowed to return to his village and sell his house and land, which he wants to, desperately. He has four children to look after, and the displacement is virtually driving the family to starvation.”

Since Bidur, where the administrative machinery is concentrated, is safe from attacks, Pudasani said it is becoming a center for displaced Christians.

“There are dozens of persecuted Christians seeking shelter here,” he said.

One such displaced person was Kamla Kunwar, a woman in her 30s whose faith prompted her husband to severely beat her and throw her out of their home in Dhading district in central Nepal. She would eventually move in with relatives in Nuwakot.

Pudasaini said he chose not to complain of his mistreatment, either to the district administration or to police, because he does not want to encourage enmity in the village.

“My religion teaches me to turn the other cheek and love my enemies,” he said. “I would like to make the village come to Christ. For that I have to be patient.”

Dozens of villages scattered throughout Nepal remain inimical to Christians. In May, five Christians, including two women, were brutally attacked in Chanauta, a remote village in Kapilavastu district where the majority are ethnic Tharus.

Once an affluent people, the Tharus were displaced by migrating hordes from the hills of Nepal, as well as from India across the border, and forced into slavery. Today, they are considered to be “untouchables” despite an official ban on that customary practice of abuse and discrimination. In the villages, Tharus are not allowed to enter temples or draw water from the sources used by other villagers.

Tharus, like other disadvantaged communities, have been turning to Christianity. Recently five Tharu Christians, including a pastor and two evangelists, were asked to help construct a Hindu temple. Though they did, the five refused to eat the meat of a goat that villagers sacrificed before idols at the new temple.

Because of their refusal, the temple crowd beat them. Two women – Prema Chaudhary, 34, and Mahima Chaudhary, 22 – were as badly thrashed as Pastor Simon Chaudhari, 30, and two evangelists, Samuel Chaudhari, 19, and Prem Chaudhari, 22.

In June, a mob attacked Sher Bahadur Pun, a 68-year-old Nepali who had served with the Indian Army, and his son, Akka Bahadur, at their church service in Myagdi district in western Nepal. Pun suffered two fractured ribs.

The attack occurred after the Hindu-majority village decided to build a temple. All villagers were ordered to donate 7,000 rupees (US$93), a princely sum in Nepal’s villages, and the Christians were not spared. While the Puns paid up, they refused to worship in the temple. Retaliation was swift.

The vulnerability of Christians has escalated following an administrative vacuum that has seen violence and crime soar. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had been instrumental in the church bombers’ arrest, resigned in June due to pressure by the opposition Maoist party. Since then, though there have been seven rounds of elections in Parliament to choose a new premier, none of the two contenders has been able to win the minimum votes required thanks to bitter infighting between the major parties.

An eighth round of elections is scheduled for Sept. 26, and if that too fails, Nepal will have lost four of the 12 months given to the 601-member Parliament to write a new constitution.

“It is shameful,” said Believers Church Bishop Narayan Sharma. “It shows that Nepal is on the way to becoming a failed state. There is acute pessimism that the warring parties will not be able to draft a new constitution [that would consolidate secularism] by May 2011.”

Sharma said there is also concern about a reshuffle in the largest ruling party, the Nepali Congress (NC), set to elect new officers at its general convention starting Friday (Sept. 17). Some former NC ministers and members of Parliament have been lobbying for the restoration of a Hindu state in Nepal; their election would be a setback for secularism.

“We have been holding prayers for the country,” Sharma said. “It is a grim scene today. There is an economic crisis, and Nepal’s youths are fleeing abroad. Women job-seekers abroad are increasingly being molested and tortured. Even the Maoists, who fought for secularism, are now considering creating a cultural king. We are praying that the political deadlock will be resolved, and that peace and stability return to Nepal.”

Report from Compass Direct News