+977 9801193336

Tag: Alternative Politics

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Women in politics: Redefining representation and empowering others

SAGOON Bhetwal

The opinion piece originally appeared in the Online Khabar. Please read the original article here.

Nepal transitioned into a federal state of government after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal in 2015. One remarkable achievement since this shift has been the significant arrival of women in politics.

A total of 14,352 (40.96 percent) elected representatives in the 2017 local election and 14,407 (41.22 percent) elected representatives in the 2022 local election were women.

Nepal Institute for Policy Research (NIPoRe) recently completed research on ‘Nominations and Electability: The Role of Gender Norms in Nepal’s Local Elections’. The institute, with the support of Advancing Learning and Innovation in Gender Norms (ALIGN), undertook this research to bust stereotypes that are against the political engagement of Nepali women.

As a part of the team, I had the chance to meet and analyse interviews that took place with more than a dozen of women in politics who have had the experience of running for elections, with some who have also been elected to the local government.

Meeting women in politics, witnessing the work they have accomplished, and listening to their aspirations gave me a sense of pride and representation as I first-hand watched women hold spaces and make decisions.

Getting to know women in politics

As I reflected back on the conversations that allowed me to know about women in politics from close, I was able to note similarities between them that qualify as factors that can increase meaningful political engagement of Nepali women.

It is with financial independence, support from family, and education that women can pave a political path for themselves in their community and beyond.

These women have had a history of engagement in their community as they contributed to its welfare in any way possible. While some were active members of the student unions, others have remained socially active through community initiatives while a few were also a part of the Maoist insurgency.

These women in politics have since then continued their engagements as teachers, social workers, and members of women’s associations within political parties.

Almost all these female politicians we interacted with came from some kind of political background and/or had parents and partners who have been supportive of their political interests.

One of the respondents from Rukum said, “When there is support from family, the society also looks at women in politics positively.” Having a supportive family does make a difference in the political participation of women, especially when one has to tackle gender norms that society at large imposes on women.

Importance of financial independence and education

The other factor that was largely emphasised in most of these conversations was financial independence and financial decision-making. The above-mentioned research has also stated how, according to political parties, the winnability of a candidate is defined by their ability to finance elections.

National Population and Housing Census 2021 of Nepal found that only 23.8 percent of families have their land or housing or both in the ownership of a female household member. While this is a very low percentage (although a slight increase from 2011), the bigger concern remains on the decision-making autonomy of such assets.

With limited authority and a low rate of labour force participation, managing finances for female candidates in elections is an arduous task. This acts as a limitation and barres women from running for elections despite being interested and possessing leadership ability.

Another factor that the female candidates we interviewed stressed was the need for education for women and girls. When asked — What should be done to encourage more women in politics and local government?— they emphasised education.

Most of them had acquired education up to or above the high school level. Four of these interviewees were engaged in the teaching profession prior to joining active politics. They shared how their educational background added as an attribute to their profile and how it build their confidence to create a political pathway for themselves.

And so, efforts are needed early on to ensure more women become candidates and acquire chief executive roles in local government. In a patriarchal society that has long seen men at the forefront of politics, it isn’t an easy task to create your hold where you rightfully deserve.

The difficulty starts right at the beginning when contesting for nominations within the political parties and it persists even after. It is hence crucial that we put in efforts to build their ability and also support them throughout their political journey.

OP-EDs and Columns

Key Ally Quits Government in Nepal

– SANTOSH Sharma Poudel

The column originally appeared in The Diplomat on 8 February 2023. Please read the original article here.

On February 6, the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) decided to quit the coalition government led by Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center (CPN-MC) supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The party lasted barely a month in the government.

Its leader, Rabi Lamichhane, decided to quit the government after Dahal refused to give the Home Ministry portfolio to the party. However, the party has not withdrawn support for the government, leaving the door open for rejoining the ruling coalition in the future.

This is a dramatic change in course for the six-month-old party.

The RSP had a rapid ascent to power as it emerged as the fourth largest party, winning 20 seats (out of 275) in the November 2022 elections. It landed four ministries, including the Home Ministry, in the power-sharing agreement among the seven-party ruling coalition formed after that.

Lamichhane became the deputy prime minister and home minister. His ascent was unprecedented in Nepali political history. On his return to Nepal in 2016, he hosted a popular talk show on television and then launched his own television company.

However, Lamichhane’s appointment as the home minister was controversial to start with. The investigation about his citizenship and passport was ongoing. Lamichhane had taken American citizenship in 2014, rendering his Nepali citizenship invalid. He left his American citizenship in 2018 and was eligible for Nepali citizenship, yet he did not go through the due process. In between, he also had a Nepali passport issued using the “invalid” citizenship certificate. Ironically, the Home Ministry is responsible for carrying out those investigations.

On January 27, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Lamichhane did not hold a valid citizenship certificate and scrapped his status as a member of parliament and president of RSP. A day after the verdict, he followed due process, acquired the Nepali citizenship certificate, and returned as the RSP president.

After the court’s verdict, Dahal decided to keep the Home Ministry portfolio to himself and refused to give it to Lamichhane, who was ineligible because he was no longer a parliament member, or any other parliamentarian from the RSP.

After the decision to leave the government, RSP organized a press conference where Lamichhane had an outburst, to put it mildly. In an hour-and-half rant, he went after the media in a rage. He accused the media – specifically Kantipur Media Group – of targeting him by headlining his citizenship front and center and held them responsible for his ouster from the government. He even threatened the media that he would incite his supporters to “punish” media houses if they dared write “wrong” news about him.

Lamichhane is in his own league when it comes to hogging the limelight. His outburst is also not out of character. Nepali media and opinion makers have roundly criticized him for the outburst. However, his supporters have stood firmly in support of “exposing” the reality of Nepali media.

RSP’s quitting of the government has an immediate impact on Nepali politics.

First, RSP and its leaders were the dark horses in Nepali politics. Despite their performance in the election, people did not know where the party stood ideologically or how they would participate in governance. People voted in droves for the party expecting it to be the alternative to the establishment, which was corrupt and cared only about gaining power.

While a month is not enough to judge the party, it has hardly shown itself to be different from the others.

Second, RSP was billed as a coalition of independents. Nevertheless, the recent development shows that the party is Lamichhane, and Lamichhane is the party. There were dissenting voices on whether RSP should quit the government. However, Lamichhane hardly engaged his party officials and issued a diktat that the party would withdraw from the ruling coalition.

Third, RSP’s quitting of the government has increased the trust deficit between the CPN-MC and Khadga Prasad Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the two major parties in the ruling coalition. Dahal and Oli shared a contentious relationship before this, and their differences started to increase with the apparent closeness between Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC), despite Dahal ditching Deuba to form a coalition government with Oli.

Dahal has kept Deuba close in order to limit Oli’s influence in the coalition, whereas Deuba is eying Dahal’s support in electing an NC candidate for the upcoming presidential election. In the longer term, Deuba would like to break the Dahal-Oli partnership to gain power, just like Oli broke the Dahal-Deuba partnership.

With presidential elections coming up, the CPN-UML has come out supporting RSP, even trivializing the court’s verdict about Lamichhane’s citizenship. Two other coalition partners have yet to join the government. RSP’s exit means only four parties from the original seven-party coalition are participating in the government.

The longer-term implications are more concerning than the short-term impact on coalition dynamics.

Lamichhane’s outburst is an ominous sign in Nepali politics. He was a populist and was known to play to the crowd. He emerged in the political scene riding the anti-establishment wave. Now, he is discrediting Nepal’s chaotic but relatively free media. In doing so, he has lumped the media in with the corrupt establishment, and projected himself as the one who can challenge the status quo.

His tantrum on February 6 played differently to audiences. His supporters saw a leader willing to take on the powerful elements of the “swamp” and challenge the establishment. Meanwhile, his speech gave enough ammunition to his detractors about his political priorities and temperament. The gap between his supporters and detractors has widened as a result and will continue to grow.

Lamichhane’s rant also carried concerning signs. He played the victim that the establishment was trying to corner. He alleged that he had been targeted relentlessly because some elements of the establishment would be “exposed” if he continued as the home minister. By projecting himself as the only one who can challenge the establishment, he is building a personality cult.

He dared some members of the “swamp” to contest him in elections or shut up. He attacked the media for reporting on his citizenship and insinuated that they were not to be trusted. These are Trumpian tactics, and indeed his politics is shaped by Donald Trump’s success in 2016 in the United States.

This is not to suggest that Lamichhane will walk the Trumpian way. For a start, Nepal has a parliamentary system. Even populists such as Oli have found it challenging to have a singular hold on the Nepali political structure. However, expect the anti-establishment voices to be louder and politics more divisive as voters turn into followers and distrust the establishment or the media.

OP-EDs and Columns

Rise of young, independent candidates a worrying sign for aging political leaders

– SANTOSH Sharma Poudel

The column originally appeared in The Republica Daily on 19 November 2022. Please read the original article here.

Will the young guns ever replace the old guards?

The federal and provincial elections are just one day away. Mainstream political parties have projected confidence in the public but express concern at the visible surge of young and independent candidates. Some youth seem energized at the prospect of change. Yet, others remain skeptical that the young guns will ever replace the old guards.

While discussing with a group of more than a dozen students at King’s College, Buddhanagar (which offers foreign university-affiliated courses) in Kathmandu, I was astounded by their lack of interest in politics. It was not because they had no access to information. They chose ‘Routine of Nepal Banda’ as their primary source of information. They knew Balendra Shah but precisely little else. It could mean young people (urban youth from an economically privileged background) are disinterested in politics or the mainstream politics and political leaders do not appeal to them.

Polls in other countries too suggest that youth are more apathetic to politics than older voters. Even in neighboring India, state elections have seen a decline in youth voting since 2019.

Most youths who participated in the discussion at the King’s College wanted to go abroad and thus were hardly interested in politics or felt that ‘all leaders were the same’.

A nationally representative survey of 1080 individuals aged between 18 to 40 years conducted by the Nepal Institute for Policy Research (NIPoRe), and supported by Freidrich Ebert Stiftung-Nepal (FES-N), tests the perception.

A whopping 83 percent of young people feel that mainstream political leaders are worried about their petty personal interests, and more than half think they do not represent grassroots interests. However, it is not that the youths feel the leaders are incapable. Ironically, 77 percent still believe that the current political leadership can improve governance if they desired to do so. However, they conclude that the current leaders care less about delivering for the people.

Almost two-thirds of youths disagree that Nepal’s politics is heading in the right direction. Because youths make up a big chunk of the electorate, it should be a warning sign for the political leaders of Nepal.

This, especially, opens the path for young, independent candidates or fresh faces. Buoyed by the success of some young and independent candidates in the local elections, mainly Balendra Shah of Kathmandu, there are more such independent candidates in the upcoming provincial and federal elections. The survey shows that three out of four young voters are willing to vote for a ‘fresh face’ even if such candidates are unlikely to win. 

Another encouraging factor for the young candidates is that youth voters care less about party affiliation (only 10 percent said candidates’ party affiliation was necessary) and more about the candidates’ profile, ideology, and past performance. Therefore, the success of new and independent candidates will depend on their ability to reach out, engage and get the youth to the voting booth.

However, youths care about the same issues as the rest of the population. Infrastructure development, economic growth/jobs, education, health, and governance rounded off the top five spots in youth priority. Meanwhile, issues such as agriculture, social security and religious identity, which could be of more interest to older  generation and rural voters, mattered less for the youths. Hence, the youth population is looking more for opportunities than handouts.

Similarly, family and friends play a critical role in their political decisions. One-third of youths discuss politics at home, and more than two in five talk about politics with friends. One in ten youths decide whom to vote for based on the discussion with them. This opens up an opportunity for candidates to reach out to families via the youths. Balendra Shah employed this method effectively to win Kathmandu’s mayoral election, defying the expectations of many analysts.

In saying so, reaching out to young voters will take tireless effort. Less than half the youths read the news regularly (at least once a week). They rely primarily on Facebook for information but do not make a decision based on a candidate’s post on the platform. This could lead to a vicious cycle of information lapse and non-engagement of the youths. They are less likely to watch political speeches and join campaigns.

Youth’s reliance on social media also poses new risks of mis/disinformation campaigns. Half the youths will ‘ignore’ misinformation/hate speech because they fear retribution from candidates’ supporters if they correct or criticize the posts. The spread of short ‘viral’ clips of the candidates could have a more considerable influence on the youth’s decision, positively or negatively.

The survey offers hope for the country and young/independent candidates. Youths feel responsible for their political future. And there are also valid lessons for mainstream political parties to take away: If they can choose better and more capable candidates, this could help them perform better in future elections. And this way, young people’s approach to politics might also be healthy for Nepal’s future democracy. Meanwhile, young/independent candidates will likely put the mainstream political parties’ candidates on their toes, especially in urban areas.