21-27 August 2015 #722

Trust no one

What do Nepalis think about parties, leaders, federalism and secularism?
Om Astha Rai

Photo: Gopen Rai

At a time when the four major parties are shaping Nepal’s fate and future by scripting a new constitution, more than half of the population seems to think there is no political leader who is fit to be prime minister.

Nearly half the respondents in the Himalmedia National Public Opinion Survey 2015 that polled 3,517 respondents across 35 districts from 3-10 August said none of the political parties can be relied on to build a peaceful and prosperous democratic country.

The astonishing survey results come at a time when the top leaders of the four parties are busy in closed-door negotiations to modify the boundaries of the six federal provinces that they had previously agreed to add to the draft constitution. Those boundaries are being hotly contested by indigenous groups and groups in western Nepal who want a Karnali province.

The Hindu royalist RPP-N has been criticising what it terms as a syndicate of the NC, the UML, the UCPN (M) and the MJF (D). But even this party is trusted by very few Nepalis. More than half the population has rejected its political agenda of a Hindu nation.

Compared to previous Himalmedia polls, the number of people against federalism based on ethnicity has grown to 80%, and most of them think a North-South model incorporating the mountains, hills and plains is the best guarantee of prosperity in future.

Map by Ayesha Shakya

The proportion of respondents who do not trust any political party has remained more or less constant at 40-44% in the past four annual Himalmedia surveys.

Although the major parties have hammered out most of the thorny issues impeding the constitution writing process in the aftermath of the April earthquake, their failure to control rising inflation, unemployment and corruption appears to be the primary reason why they are still not trusted.

Of the 58% of respondents supporting existing parties, 25.4% trust the NC while the UML has 13.4% people. In 2011, these two parties had support from 20% and 10.2% of respondents respectively. In 2013, the NC’s popularity dipped to 13.4% while the UML’s rose to 13.4%. The UCPN (M) continues to lose its pulling power, dipping to only 9.3% this year. In 2011, it had received an approval rating of 20.1%, even higher than the NC. But by 2013, its popularity ranking had slipped to 9.7% — a figure that was corroborated by its defeat in elections that year.

Political parties of Nepal- August 2015 | Create infographics

Infographics by Ayesha Shakya

The RPP-N, the fourth largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), ranks fourth as well in the Himalmedia Survey 2015. Despite spearheading a movement for a Hindu nation, it was supported by only just over 4% of respondents. Even the MJF (D) of Bijay Gachhadar, one of the signatories to the 8 August deal on the six-province federalism, received approval from only 1.1% respondents.

Disaggregated data from the survey responses show that younger Nepalis tend to tilt towards the UCPN(M) and Madhes-based parties, which are relatively new and still claim to be revolutionaries. The older generation is with old and conventional parties. The NC is the favorite in the age group 40-59. Most Nepalis above 60 are with the pro-Hindu RPP-N. The UML is favorited by the age group 25-59.

The most surprising has been the disenchantment of Nepalis of the exiting crop of leaders. Of those who agreed to choose a leader from the current breed, 10.4% said they wanted to see UCPN(M) leader Baburam Bhattarai as the next prime minister. Just over 7% wanted Sushil Koirala as PM even though he is due to step down. PM-in-waiting KP Oli got just under 6% approval. Although Bhattarai scored higher than most leaders, probably because of thepublic perception hat he is a “do-er”, his 10.4% is still much lower than the 54% of respondents who didn’t think there was anyone good enough.

The other surprising trend is the continued fall of Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the popularity ratings. After topping the Himalmedia Survey for the first few years of the peace process, Dahal has been sliding continuously. Only 1.8 % respondents said they wanted to see Dahal as the next PM, which is less than percentages of approval received by the RPP-N Chair Kamal Thapa (3.1) and the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) Chair Upendra Yadav (2%). Even Chitra Bahadur KC, who leads a fringe anti-federalism communist party, comes close to Dahal with approval from 1.2% respondents. NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba (4.8%) and UML leader Madhav Nepal (3%) have left him far behind.

Dahal’s leadership role and new political astuteness in showing flexibility and pushing through two important deals on constitution and federalism in the past months doesn’t seem to have helped him much.

NC youth leader Gagan Thapa is junior to all the prominent leaders and has never become a minister. However, he comes closer to Nepal and Deuba with approval of nearly 4% of respondents. Thapa’s rising popularity is yet another sign that the people are frustrated with the current breed of leaders and are looking for younger faces.

Secularism doesn’t seem to be very popular as a defining principle in the new constitution, with only about one in every five Nepalis supporting it. Nearly half of the respondents wanted Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, those who supported religious freedom, no mention of religion in the constitution or unwilling to comment adds up to 51.4% of the people opposed to Nepal being declared a Hindu nation. Interestingly, those against a Hindu state are evenly spread out across caste groups, ethnicities, literacy level and geographic regions.

The Himalmedia survey 2015 has once again reaffirmed the results of the past polls one federalism. As in the past, 80% respondents rejected ethnicity-based federalism with less than 12% supporting it. More than 83% respondents opposed to ethnicity-based federalism wanted North-South provinces. approved this idea.

Have faith

The results of Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015 that polled over 3,500 people across the country earlier this month are consistent with the past surveys in reiterating that among existing institutions Nepalis tend to trust the media the most, but have the least faith in their own government.

Respondents from 35 districts were representative of the demographic diversity of caste, ethnicity, gender, age groups, literacy levels and geographic regions.

Nearly 90 per cent said they have ‘great trust’ or ‘just enough’ trust in the media which is slightly higher than the 2012 Survey where it was 87%. But there is a subtle warning in the disaggregated data: if journalists do not behave more responsibly the high level of trust in journalists could slip. The percentage of people having ‘great trust’ in the media went down from 31% to 27.4% in three years.

On the contrary, as in previous annual surveys just 56.4% people trust their own government. Of them, only 5.4% have ‘great trust’ and 51% have ‘just enough trust. When it comes to the least trusted institutions, civil servants are second only to the government with approval from just 63.3% respondents.

The army was one of the least trusted institutions in Himalmedia Surveys conducted after the 2006 People’s Movement. But it has regained its reputation steadily, and could surpass media in future. This year, 88.8% respondents trusted the army (up from 80% in 2012) and one reason could be wide media coverage of the Nepal Army’s role in post-earthquake rescue and relief.

The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (73%), Elections Commission (86.1%), courts (78.2%) and police (76.4%) have been, by and large, able to retain the trust which people had in them during the past Himalmedia surveys.

Read also:

None of the above, Editorial

Himalmedia Nationwide Public Opinion Survey 2015, Ayesha Shakya

The people matter, Editorial

This is what we think, Om Astha Rai

Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015

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