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VOX POPULI

NAVIN SUBEDI


The latest Himalmedia-AC Nielsen ORG Marg public opinion poll shows that Nepalis are fed up with politicians, they regard corruption and conflict as the main problems, they don't think much of the Deuba government, they are convinced democracy is in deep danger, and they see the Maoists as the main threat.

Who will you vote for?
(% of respondents in 1999, 2001, 2002)

The people have spoken. And they show maturity and an understanding of the country's crisis. They know exactly who has messed things up, and also have an idea about where possible solutions lie. This public opinion survey is based on the responses of more than 4,000 Nepalis in 22 districts carried out from 6-20 September. This is the third Himalmedia poll, and it shows growing public disillusionment with national institutions, and apathy towards politicians.

Respondents were asked to qualify the state of the country at present. Over 65% said "bad", 26.5% said it was "horrifying", and only 3.6% felt it was "like before". What did they think were the reasons for the country's sorry situation? Nearly 55% blamed corruption, 40.2% blamed the Maoists and 35% said it was because of poverty. (This question, like some of the others in the poll, was multiple-choice, so the total sometimes adds up to more than 100%.)

In the 1999 poll most respondents saw no danger to democracy, but by April 2001 over 61% said democracy was endangered. In the present poll, 70.6% see threats to democracy.
Asked where they thought the threats stemmed from, more than 70% of the respondents in the current poll blamed the Maoists. Last year, only 8% percent blamed the Maoists and 82% said it was because of the activities of political parties.

This time, a surprising 37% cited Prime Minister Deuba as a threat to democracy while 35.4% blamed the Nepali Congress-the party that has been struggling for democracy for the past 50 years. Nearly 25% said Nepali democracy was threatened by "outside powers" while 17.6 % saw the royal palace as a threat.
Asked about the Maoist problem, 66% felt it had got worse during Deuba's tenure, 16.6% felt it was same as before, while 11.8% said the problem had become less serious.

So, do the people see a way out? A full 80% of the respondents felt talks were the only way to resolve the insurgency, while only 5.5% believed in a military solution. An all-party government was seen as a solution by 42.2%, while 20.6% opted for constitutional reform. Some 15% said a surrender by the Maoists was the way, and 14.5% wanted a referendum. Nearly 7% of the respondents felt India's help was an important factor in resolving the Maoist problem.

The Himalmedia poll tried to gauge the people\'s enthusiasm for general elections, and more than half the respondents felt it was "inappropriate" for the prime minister to call elections during an emergency, while 29.4% agreed with the decision. Asked who they would vote for if the elections were held, most of the respondents (38.6%) said they didn't know or couldn't say. The proportion of those who didn't know was 30.09% in April 2001 and 14.5% just before the 1999 elections. Most of the undecided are respondents who voted for the Nepali Congress in the last elections.

The UML was the party with the most support (22.3%, down from 23.7 in 2001) while the Nepali Congress was favoured by 20.4% of respondents (up from 17.3 in 2001). Nearly 7% said they would not vote, while the RPP had 5.2% support among those surveyed. Only 0.3 percent of the respondents said they would vote for the Maoists if elections were held. One reason for this unusually low figure could be because genuine Maoist supporters may have chosen not to admit it to our interviewers.

The polls were taken before the Election Commission decided on the tree symbol, and respondents favoring the Congress were asked to choose between the two factions: 39.1% favoured the Deuba Congress, while 31.3% were for the Koirala Congress. Nearly 20% said they would vote for whoever got the tree, and many of these may now have cast their lot with the Girija faction. Just over 10% said they were undecided. Not surprisingly, 70% of the pro-Congress respondents in the far-west districts supported the Deuba Congress.

Nationwide, the Deuba Congress is seen to have about eight percent of the total popular vote, while the Koirala faction has about 10%. But the final outcome on who will form the next government will depend on which way the large proportion of undecided votes. This is clear indication that the biggest beneficiary of the Congress split is the UML.

Another dramatic shift has occurred in the perception of the constitutional monarchy and the role of the army. In the poll taken in April 2001, 41.32% of respondents supported the king's authority over the Royal Nepal Army. After the army was mobilised against the Maoists in November, this figure has fallen to 29%. About 35% said the army should be under the control of the "government", up from 20.7% last year.

In another question about who is best placed to resolve the country's problems: one third of the respondents felt it was an all-party government, 23.6% felt it should be the responsibility of the Deuba government, and 18.7% said the king was a solution.

To the question "Who do you wish to see as a future prime minister?" 19.1% voted for UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, 11.5% preferred Sher Bahadur Deuba while Girija Koirala had 7.4% while Surya Bahadur Thapa of the RPP got 4.5%. Senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel got 2%. Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda got 1% between them, while "other Maoist leaders" got another 1%. Former Panchayat leader Marich Man Singh made a surprise showing: 0.8% respondents, largely in Kathmandu Valley, wanted him to be prime minister again.
More than one-third of all respondents felt the constitution should be amended, about 24.3% said the present constitution needs no changes, and the remaining had no opinion or declined to comment.

(The full details of the survey will be posted on www.nepalitimes.com on 11 October.)


Himalmedia-Nielsen ORG Marg Poll




Given Nepal's fast-paced political changes, conducting the 2002 Himalmedia-Nielsen ORG Marg public opinion poll was more challenging than the 1999 or 2001 surveys. The polls were intended to determine public perceptions ahead of the 13 November elections, but the questions also focused on the uncertain security situation, the public's views on democracy, politicians, the monarchy and the Maoists. A scientifically selected sample of 4,025 respondents all over the country from 22 districts across the high mountain, midhill and tarai regions were surveyed. Nearly 60% lived in rural areas, and the rest were urban-dwellers. Only people whose names are on voter lists were interviewed. Nearly 38% of respondents were in the 26-40 age group, 36.5% percent above 40 years and 26% between 18-25 years. There were equal numbers of women and men.

ORG Marg is a market research group owned by the Dutch firm VNU, which has just acquired the US-based AC Nielsen. Himalmedia is the publisher of Nepali Times and the Nepali fortnightly Himal Khabarpatrika.



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