27Jan2023

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Tag: Local Level Election

OP-EDs and Columns

For More Women in Politics

– BINITA Nepali

The opinion piece originally appeared in the January 2023 Issue of New Business Age Magazine. Please read the original article here.

Nepal ranks first in South Asia and second in Asia in terms of the share of women representatives in the parliament. However, it ranks 123rd in the world in terms of the number of women holding ministerial posts. Women in Nepal have been assigned ministerial roles at general ministries only. It demonstrates the reality that, despite increased female political participation, women are not trusted to exercise authority and manage resources at the key ministries that have the potential to make major policy implications in the country.

In 2008, a mixed-model election system [First Past the Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR)] was introduced to encourage positive discrimination of women and other marginalised and unrepresented groups in the country. However, the political parties have exploited the PR system and turned it into the sole route for women to enter politics.

Political parties are reluctant to field women under the FPTP system. Therefore, to ensure constitutional adherence, women are brought onto the PR list. Only 9% the FPTP candidates in the 2022 federal and provincial elections were female. Most of the female candidates were fielded in fiercely competitive constituencies, with the less competitive seats going to the supposedly “strong” male leaders.

As per Article 84 of the Constitution of Nepal, at least one-third of the members elected from each political party to the federal parliament must be women. Therefore, at least 92 of the 275 members of the new federal parliament must be women, as there are currently only 19 women (32.2 percent), in the 59-member upper house. As only nine women were elected directly, the remaining 85 seats have been filled through proportional representation. It means there are just nine women in the top decision-making positions, as it has been found that the directly elected representatives – more than 95% of whom are men – hold greater sway over resources, authority, and influence than those who come via the PR system in Nepal’s parliament.

The country also fell short of meeting the target of having 50% women representatives in the local units. Only 14,407 (41.21%) out of the 34,953 elected in 753 local units were women. Of them, only 25 women have been elected to top or decision-making posts (13 mayors and 12 chairpersons). Moreover, women were sidelined in the guise of political coalitions during the recent local, provincial, and federal elections. Consequently, fewer women today hold leadership roles at all three tiers of government, owing to political parties’ aversion to promoting women to decision-making positions. To put it another way, Nepal missed out on the opportunities that more women in decision-making positions would bring.

First, more women in politics means a more inclusive democracy. A study shows more women in decision-making roles, with their inclusive and cooperative leadership styles, result in tangible gains for democracy. This entails better service delivery, stronger collaboration across racial and political boundaries, expanded social safety nets, and a more sustainable future.

Moreover, other research links women’s political participation to improved governance, transparency, and low levels of corruption. As women are often seen to be more trustworthy and honest, it is hoped that their increased participation in politics will reduce corruption. In 2011, Mexico replaced all of its male traffic cops with female cops to curb corruption, since women are seen as more trustworthy. New Zealand has the highest level of female representation (49.2%) of any parliament in the Asia and Pacific Region and the sixth highest in the world. Now wonder, the country ranks first out of 180 in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Whereas, Nepal  ranks first in South Asia in having more women in national parliament (32.7 percent) and is 117th out of 180 in the CPI. Undoubtedly, Nepal needs more proactive women leaders who would guarantee more inclusive policies and responsible institutions that combat the pervasive corruption.

Second, more women legislators mean a more stable, inclusive, and vibrant economy. Researches show that gender equity has favourable economic gains for everyone and that the presence of women in politics corresponds with a wider economic impact.

India showed much improved socio-economic growth with greater gender-sensitive spending on programmes related to health, nutrition, and education when women were present in a decision making role. Likewise, women’s political leadership and women’s broader engagement in the economy are intertwined. Thus, if Nepal wants more women at work, it should prioritise raising the number of women in elected offices.

The government, which remains dominated by men as of now, repeatedly attempts to prohibit women from being involved in the economy. One recent example is the government’s effort to implement a law requiring women under the age of 40 to get permission from their family and local ward chair before travelling to the Middle East and Africa. In Nepal, 74% of women are involved in agriculture. Only 15.7% of agricultural work is performed by men, while the rest 84.3% is performed by women. However, they have no say in the earnings from farming and endure various types of discrimination (such as access to land, water, seeds, and training, among others). Yet, the government does not consider it essential to implement women-friendly farming policies, training, or materials.

Thus, women’s participation in two of the most important economic factors, remittances and agriculture, is minimal. This would be drastically different if more women were in positions of legislative power. More women in decision-making positions would fight against such discriminatory restrictions that limit women’s full participation in the economy and create a vicious loop: women don’t have money, they can’t win, therefore they are chosen through PR.

Third, there is significant evidence that women politicians are changing the way politics work by introducing policies in areas that aren’t usually talked about at the political table, like domestic violence, women’s reproductive health, and maternity leave, and by broadening perspectives on other policy areas. This has been seen in France, Sweden, South Africa, Rwanda, and Egypt, among others. Increased policymaking that prioritises welfare, healthcare, education, families, water and sanitation, women, and minorities is also linked to the number of elected women. Here, the New Zealand experience serves as the best example.

Women politicians not only propose such policies but also tirelessly work to put them into effect, as Margaret Thatcher rightly stated: “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.” A study done in the US has found that congresswomen provide 9% more government programmes annually to their home districts than their male counterparts. And women are 10% more effective lawmakers and pass twice as many bills on average than men. The increasing instances of gender-based violence, rape, early child marriage, acid attacks, and girls’ trafficking are tearing the country apart. With Nepal’s political class becoming more and more apathetic, it is certain that greater representation of women in decision-making positions will increase efforts to put an end to these issues.

Nepal cannot afford to ignore women. It must ponder seriously what might be done to avoid losing out on these costly opportunities. As was done in Rwanda (which implemented 30% gender quotas in the parliament only in 2003 but ranks first in the world in terms of the proportion of women, 61.25%, in its national legislature due to rigorous implementation), one of the most important recommendations is to implement the legally mandated gender quota with adequate political finance regulations to support it, as the exorbitant cost of political elections is a significant barrier for women who are interested in running for elective office.

The patriarchal attitudes of Nepali society and local political parties that “women cannot win,”  which limit women’s electability and winnability in the elections must be challenged by raising awareness of the importance that women could offer to overall political governance and public service delivery. As women cannot be what they cannot see, elected women should get more media publicity to inspire other women to pursue leadership positions. Lastly, there should be more training and networks for women who want to run for government. For example, a cross-party and cross-country network for women politicians could be set up. 

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.

The Explainer - NIPoRe Blog

Can Nepal Sustain Increasing Election Expenses?

SAMJHANA Karki

An election is a basis for democratic governance. The ways elections are conducted, including overall election financing, affect the overall performance of the resultant democracy and the related public institutions. However, the increasing election costs in Nepal is a matter of concern as it ultimately results in a higher level of corruption among the thus-elected lawmakers and officials. 

Nepal spent NPR five billion for the recently held second round of nationwide local elections on 13 May 2022. The amount thus spent for the election is equivalent to almost 14 percent of Sudhurpachim Province’s annual budget for the FY 2022/23. On a similar note, as the Government of Nepal (GoN) has announced to conduct the second round of federal and provincial elections scheduled on 20 Nov 2022, it is very likely that GoN will have to spend significant financial resources to finance the upcoming elections. As of now, the Election Commission (EC) has asked GoN to allocate an estimated budget of NPR 10 billion, equivalent to about one-third of Karnali Province’s annual budget for the FY 2022/23. This clearly shows that a country like Nepal, with very limited industries and revenue-generating activities, is forced to spend billions of rupees every five years, in an upward trend, to conduct elections at the federal, provincial and at the local levels. In addition, arranging financial resources for managing election-related security mechanisms adds additional burden on GoN. For example, the Ministry of Home Affairs has suggested to GoN that the ministry needs to recruit 120,000 Myadi Police personnels for managing security arrangements for the upcoming elections. As per the estimates, the total costs for these personnel will incur additional NPR six billion. Undoubtedly, these figures clearly show how Nepal’s elections are getting more costly with each election cycle passing.

Some past studies have shown that the actual election costs in Nepal remain quite higher. For Example, a study has found that the combined costs of GoN authorities, political parties and the candidates remained at NPR ​​131.63 billion for Nepal’s 2017 elections – held for all three levels of the government, with the candidates and their supporters spending NPR 96.91 billion and the GoN authorities spending NPR 34.72 billion. Though the election-related legal framework (the Election Offense and Punishment Act, 2017) mandates that all political parties and candidates participating in the election must submit their income and expenditure statements along with the sources of funds raised and used during their election campaign to the EC within two weeks of the election. Yet, given the whopping election-related costs and less reporting by the concerned candidates and the parties, it is certain that the political parties and candidates do not accurately maintain and report their costs of campaign financing to the EC.

On account of these figures, Mr. Bhojraj Pokharel – a former Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal – shared in one of NIPoRe’s नितिका कुरा: Policy Talks episodes that the rules and policies related to election-financing in Nepal are strong enough. However, due to poor monitoring mechanisms and the subsequent penalties, political parties and the candidates continue to neglect those terms and policies. He further stressed that the recruitment of a temporary police force in every election, can also be controlled using the available force and remaining from the voluntary participation of the youths from the local level. This can help GoN to minimize the extra coats by a large margin. Besides that, a strong civic and moral education on election and election-related affairs will definitely help make better use of the resources that are spent on elections each election cycle.

To conclude, increasing election costs in Nepal are worrying. The EC and other concerned stakeholders, including GoN, political parties and candidates should work to make future elections in Nepal affordable. As increase in election costs will have direct and indirect implications on the subsequent plans and policies, an intervention to keep these expenses within limits can definitely help all policy stakeholders in the country and beyond.