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Meet Gopal Siwakoti: Domestic Observer in Nepal

Days before Nepal's November 2013 constituent assembly election, the National Election Observation Committee (NEOC) headquarters in Kathmandu was abuzz with activity. Director Gopal Siwakoti checked on the distribution of ID cards to observers at the front desk, stopped by a conference room for an update on the more than 10,000 observers his organization had deployed, and finally walked to his office to make a few calls. His positive energy was contagious; those around him smiled but quickly got back to work.

"This election is important. It is the culmination of the Nepalese people's six decades-long aspiration to draft a constitution through directly-elected representatives. We need to get it right this time," said Siwakoti at the desk in his small office, where shelves were crowded with books on human rights, Nepali politics, and the electoral process. His own domestic observer credential hung ready on a cupboard.

A former political prisoner, Dr. Siwakoti now is one of Nepal's most prominent human rights advocates. His passion for human rights stems from his personal knowledge of what happens when a country lacks democracy and an open society.

"The entire nation becomes like an open prison," he said.

Siwakoti founded NEOC in 1991 as the first domestic observation group in Nepal. He believes that election observation is vital to generate voter confidence and to help ensure transparent elections. His group coordinates closely with international observation groups such as The Carter Center.

"When effectively trained and widely deployed, nonpartisan domestic observers can provide a truly national assessment of an election that complements our international effort," said Dr. David Pottie, associate director of the Carter Center's Democracy Program. "Beyond our coordinated efforts surrounding the election, we also cooperated with the NEOC to deploy long-term observers during voter registration."

On election day, NEOC's observers could be found across Nepal in every constituency, covering many of the country's 18,438 polling centers.

"This election will start a new era by promulgating a new constitution that we expect to enshrine all the non-negotiable principles of democratic development," said Siwakoti. "Nepal is a very tiny nation with giant aspirations."

Nepal's new constituent assembly met for the first time in January 2014, and NEOC will monitor closely their efforts to draft a new constitution to ensure human rights are a strong component.

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