The nature and consequences of the 2017 Nepali Local Elections

By Sisir Devkota (KATHMANDU,11 May 2017) – The year 2017 was set for a series (French, later German, Iranian, Rwandan & Thai) of elections; but nothing caught global eye with much bewilderment than Nepal’s local elections taking place this weekend. On a short notice, Nepali government is ready to host two rounds of local polls. The refreshing development in Nepal is welcoming but like any other election; suspicions are rife and electoral credibility is on the edge. It is not about fairness with the ballot; but citizenry prejudices over their candidates, voter turnouts and the effectiveness of mobilization–that is coming in between Nepal’s spirited democratic performance. In the midst of events, the less addressed discourse of political consequences after the result is in need of greater attention.

As much as there has not been the exercise of opinion polls or the facilitation of one; election mobilization has taken the form of ideological endorsements, not the dissemination of local agendas. An unfortunate number of lesser women candidacy has been overshadowed by a vibrant set of young and old enthusiastic aspirants. On a positive note, Nepal also managed to include offstream and uncharacterized political parties into the deal. This could make the election a free exhibition of democratic exercise but carries the risk of promoting political partisanship. While the recent act of Chief Justice’s impeachment might be a balancing act of power struggles; it is nevertheless the cultivated product of Nepal’s vigorous democracy and its segregated politics. Electoral turnout is evaluated on the basis of the nature of prior election mobilization; which leaves Nepal’s ’17 local elections void from analyzing retrospective voting behavior. An absence of retrospection is equal to watching votes being tossed around without any accountability. An election without voters accountability cannot be a truly democratic practice. A retrospective inadequacy sums up the parallel problems associated with the deficit of information among the voters. The result of the elections; thus cannot fit any assessment. Voters will in-substantively make a choice.

Build up to the election day is also witnessing a great amount of citizenry skepticism towards candidates filing their nomination. Lack of trust has resulted not from candidates’ work records but due to the general confusion over their profiles and the nature in which they received tickets of political affiliation. Complete lack of justified candidacies has skipped a serious democratic process of public affirmation. Candidates have materialized outside public scrutiny which in essence has dampened the idea of local elections oozing democratic values and proceedings. In such a case, local elections are no longer local, but simply a struggle to reinforce the hierarchical political setup on a narrow constituency. A winning candidate would then solely be a model of larger party interests. On the bright side, it has enhanced citizen participation.

More than the first order national elections, local results call for a systematic scrutiny; but without the retrospective scope of voter’s behavior, resulting consequences of the election results can only be based on assumptions. On a more superficial level; change in voting patterns hold the capacity to influence the nature of the replacing government post-elections. It would be impossible to assume how; but the nature of local results will set voters preferences straight and clear-impossible for the political leaderships to ignore. This will establish the political culture of corresponding with voters’ aspirations before making a political decision. While that in itself is a positive sign, the downside is whether the political leadership will trust a group of opinion over others. Post elections, this is also how the leaders will take a hit of their own deliberation- impeding the democratic process for the voters will create political dilemmas for the elected rulers.

Amid the apparent politicking of local elections starting on the 14th of May; Nepal is stepping into a constitutional practice of dispensing the power of governance into public hands. While such practice will take time to ameliorate, it will provide a generation of Nepali citizens with first hand understanding of a truly fair civic process. The Nepali electorate will never have to revisit the asymmetrical design of power politics from the past. On the 14th of May, Nepal will plunge into a truly democratic effort and once again the world will watch and applaud its youngest republic for moving ahead in the right direction.


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