DAMBAR K SHRESTHA
Most Nepalis think a constitution by 22 January is a lost cause — they mostly blame the UCPN(M) for this — but they are willing to give the CA some more time if they can pass a genuinely inclusive constitution.
That is the message of the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015 conducted last week as we approach another deadline to pass a new constitution. This year’s annual survey was conducted in Kathmandu Valley among 1,019 respondents representing proportionally Nepal’s geographic regions, castes, ethnicities, gender and socio-economic status.
Although some political leaders say consensus on the contentious issues of the new constitution is still possible, an overwhelming majority of people think otherwise. As many as 82.2% of people have given up hope in seeing the new constitution before next Thursday’s deadline.
The national mood of pessimism pervades all age groups no matter which gender, caste and ethnicity, class or whether they are literate or not.
Only 12.6% of people say they are still hopeful about the CA coming up with a constitution. But the people were slightly more optimistic when asked if the parties could somehow reach a broad understanding on federalism, form of governance, model of judiciary and electoral system even if they couldn’t finish a constitution by 22 January.
More than 27% of the respondents thought it was possible for the political parties to come up with a rough draft of the new constitution by the deadline. Even so, 62% were skeptical of even that happening.
Should federal units be carved along ethnic lines?
Graphics: Kiran Maharjan
Who to blame for this dismal failure? Nearly 27% of the respondents spread the blame equally among all the parties, but they single out the UCPN(M) for most of the responsibility (19%).
Surprisingly, and despite the fact that the NC and the UML are in the governing coalition, the two parties are largely absolved of blame. Only 9% and 3% of the people respectively named them specifically as the guilty party. Only 2.4% said the Madhesi parties, which are currently waging crippling strikes across the Tarai, were to blame if the CA fails again.
Even though chance of consensus on the issues of federalism and state restructuring looks slim, 61% of respondents insist that political parties should try harder to write a new constitution on the basis of consensus. Still, a full one-third of the people say the new constitution must be promulgated on the basis of two-thirds majority in case political parties fail to forge a consensus.
The poll results suggest that people are losing their patience and are not willing to wait any longer. More than 41% of the respondents do not care what the new constitution is like, they just want it over and done with.
However, a slightly higher percentage of people (44.5%) say they can wait ‘a little longer’ but the CA must promulgate a constitution that addresses grievances of all castes, communities and ethnic groups. On the other hand, there are some respondents (10%) who are convinced there will never be a constitution that will satisfy everyone.
Top political leaders often say the reason behind their failure to write the new constitution is their differences over federalism and state restructuring. But, nearly half (48%) of the people don’t believe them, and are convinced that the real reason is that the political leaders are haggling over a power-sharing deal.
Nearly half the public, therefore, seem to have understood that political leaders care more about what ministries they get after the constitution is promulgated. Almost one-fourth of the respondents believe that the political leaders do not want to write the new constitution at all.
Even more surprisingly, public opinion looks sharply divided over whether Nepal should be a federal country at all. While 41% think federalism is necessary, more than 49% say it is not, and 10% don’t know. An overwhelming majority of people (81%) reject the idea of ethnicity-based federalism, and this is consistent with surveys in previous years where more than three-fourths of respondents thought ethnicity-based federalism was a bad idea.
As for system of governance, most people seem to have lost their faith in the existing Westminster parliamentary system and want it changed to a directly-elected president (25%), directly elected prime minister (27%) and 19% want the president and prime minister elected by parliament and sharing executive powers. Only 17% want the present parliamentary system to continue.
Whatever the new constitution contains, and whenever it is passed by the CA, most respondents thought the country should not wait for local elections. Nearly 59% of the people want elections to local councils right away to allow accountability and spur development. However, 27% still think local elections should be announced only after the next general elections.
More than half the respondents think Nepal’s democracy is now in danger, and all blame persistent wrangling among major political parties as the major threat. The UCPN(M) is seen as an enemy of democracy by 22%, while only 2% of the respondents feel former king Gyanendra is undermining democracy. The percentage of people believing that foreign interference has grown in Nepal is higher than 70%.
Even though most people see the NC president Koirala as the man who could play a role to break the deadlock, not many people are impressed with his performance as prime minister. Only 15% think he was better than the previous prime minister and 60% feel he is just ‘ok’.
The UCPN (M), Madhesi and other fringe parties have taken to the streets with strikes to prevent the NC and the UML gearing up to announce the new constitution by using their combined two-thirds majority. A decisive 84% of respondents think this is wrong. When asked about the chances of the breakaway faction of the Maoists under Netra Bikram Chanda ‘Biplav’ to take up arms, most respondents thought it was highly unlikely.
A more complete rundown of the public opinion survey results will be published on Sunday’s edition of Himal Khabarpatrika.
The UCPN (Maoist) is losing its pulling power among the people, while the NC is maintaining its lead as the most trustworthy political party. Altogether 34% of respondents say they would choose the NC to build a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country, followed by 16% for the UML. The UCPN(M) is down to 9%, only slightly ahead of the royalist-Hindu RPP-Nepal (5.6%). All major Madhesi parties have scored less than 1%. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is often criticised for his indecisiveness, but 24% of the respondents still thought he was the best of the lot. Baburam Bhattarai scores second (13.5%) on trust. Everyone else is in the single digits: including firebrand UML Chair KP Oli (7%), the UML’s Madhav Kumar Nepal (5%), RPP-Nepal Chair Kamal Thapa (5%), UCPN (Maoist) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal (3.5%), the NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba (3%). Madhesi leaders like Bijaya Gachchhadar, Upendra Yadav and anti-federalism leader Chitra Bahadur KC all score less than 1%.
The people matter, Editorial
Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015
Who cares about the constitution?, Om Astha Rai
A wide open field
The terrain shifts, Kunda Dixit
An extended CA and a Maoist-led government, Kunda Dixit
Sky won’t fall but that’s not the point, Damakant Jayshi
The end of the road, Om Astha Rai
Beyond the deadline, Anurag Acharya