Local polls bring promising signs of social change
KATHMANDU, May 17: While it is yet to be seen if the country heads toward the path of political stability and prosperity with the second phase polls still due, the first phase of local level polls held on Sunday across 34 districts has already brought a number of positive outcomes if seen through the sociological lens.
The polls held in provinces 3, 4 and 6 has not only shown that democratic culture is getting mature amongst the people but also brought theoretical debate of inclusion into implementation, with mandatory provisions to field candidacies of women and Dalits as well as minority groups. Equally, the election has changed the perception of majority of youths that ‘politics is dirty game’, with enthusiastic participation of youths both as candidates and voters this time.
“The first phase of local elections has shown that democratic culture among Nepali people is getting mature, with only a few instances of violence among rival party cadres. I travelled to many places ahead of the polls. Party cadres were found involved in election campaign in friendly environment,” said sociologist Prem Sapkota.
Sapkota, who is also deputy director of Alliance for Social Dialogue, argued that the reduced level of bitterness among major political parties that would otherwise have involved politics of negation is a positive development seen in this election. Except one incident in Gauri Shankar Rural Municipality-2 in Dolakha in which a son of a CPN-UML candidate was killed when the cadres of UML and ruling CPN (Maoist Center) engaged in a brawl, there were no violent inter-party brawls in districts during the local polls this time.
Two other persons were killed during the elections in Namobuddha in Kavre and Melung Rural Municipality in Dolakha due to police firing. What is noticeable in this elections is that the flags of rival parties could be seen fluttering alongside in many places – something rare in the past elections.
While it is important politically that this election commenced the process of taking federalism – which was otherwise limited to theoretical debates – to the villages, inclusion of people from traditionally marginalized groups including those from the Dalit and other marginalized communities assumes a huge importance from sociological perspective. The existing election laws this time has made it mandatory to field candidacies of women, Dalits and those from the marginalized communities.
“In our prevailing social structure, it was rare until recent for the so called higher-caste people to cast their votes for candidates belonging to the lower caste. But in this election, people voted in favor of candidates from Dalit and minority groups, accepting them as their leaders,” said Sapkota, while noting this as a promising sign of social change.
It is not only the candidates from Dalit and minority groups but also the number of women candidates, including chiefs and deputy chiefs of municipalities, is increasing significantly. The election laws have made it mandatory for parties to file women candidates for deputy mayor and ward committee members both in open and Dalit and minority categories.
Sociologists argue that this election has also shown change in perception of youths toward politics.
While most of the youths regarded politics as dirty game and shied away from participating in it in the past, there was overwhelming participation of youths both as candidates and voters during this election. “Although major political parties continue to hold their sway, the newly-formed parties like Bibeksheel and Sajha Party that mostly fielded youth candidates, indicating a change in the perspective among youths toward politics,” said Associate Professor Hari Bhattarai, who teaches anthropology at Patan Multiple Campus.
Indeed, it was the youths who spearheaded the movement demanding provision of right to reject, popularly known as None of the Above (NOTA), in the ballot paper in the past.
“The demand of right to reject has weakened lately with the emergence of an array of alternative candidates. The emergence of parties like Bibeksheel and Sajha Party indicates that youths are more interested toward politics,” added Sapkota.