Jhal Nath Khanal got a slap in the face when he visited Sunsari in March from a fellow-UML cadre. Last month, the Maoist CA member from Kathmandu, Jhakku Subedi, was slapped by a coffee shop owner who had voted for him in 2008.The results of this year's Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll, which we summarise in this issue, are a slap in the collective faces of Nepal's rulers since 2008.
There are no surprises here. Over 4,000 respondents interviewed last week across the country expressed huge disillusionment with the political establishment and with elected representatives.
Himalmedia polls have been held almost every year for the past 12 years. One consistent message that has come through in all these polls is that the Nepali people are traditionally moderate, they reject all forms of political violence and extremism, they yearn for peace and development.
They blame the political parties, but they also know that they have to work with them. This year is no different. It may be unfair, but a lot of the generalised blame has gone to CA members, who are seen to be a good-for-nothing lot, always absent from house sittings, just interested in collecting their allowances, or indulging in nefarious activities like selling their red passports. This is unfortunate because the little progress that was made has been in the committees who have worked on different sections of the new constitution. They got stuck on the political choices of future state structure, and there the hands of CA members have been tied because of a broader deadlock in political power-sharing between the personalities in the three parties.
The respondents pinpoint the ideological polarisation between the NC and the Maoists as the main reason for the delay, and a majority felt that if the CA term can't be extended new elections should be held.
If public opinion mattered, our leaders would by now have instinctively sensed the rising public anger and responded to them. Polls have little relevance in a country where politicians tend to disregard them, habitually whip up populist passions to cover up their inability to deliver, or take to the streets to terrorise the populace as a show of force knowing fully well how unpopular that is.
Even so, Nepal's rulers should take heed of this final warning. In a glaring departure from previous Himalmedia polls, this time there is a dramatic drop in the number of people who tick the 'Don't know/Can't say' response. The people have opinions, and they are no longer shy about expressing them loud and clear.
And the people, in their wisdom, while blaming the three main political parties for most of the ills the country faces today also see the same three parties uniting in a consensus government as the only way out of the crisis. And they don't really care who leads such a coalition of the willing.
In response to a question about which party is the main obstacle to the constitution-making process, a majority single out the Maoists, while voting the NC as runners-up. Ironically the two parties also command the most trust of the people in leading the country to peace, democracy and development (one-third of respondents weren't decided). The UML trails behind in third place. Oh yes, and there is almost a complete rejection of an active role for the former king, or of presidential rule to fix the current mess.
Although opinion is divided about a presidential or parliamentary system in the new constitution, three-fourths of respondents (from all castes and ethnic groups) are categorical in their apprehensions about ethnicity-based federalism. Asked about the preferred model, most wanted to keep the current zonal break up or have provinces that integrate the himal, pahad and tarai.
The other surprise (or maybe it's not surprising, considering Nepal's progress in meeting most Millennium Development Goal targets despite political disarray at the centre) is that the majority of those polled feel there have been major gains in education, health care and roads. The responses ring true because on a 'control question' on electricity supply, most said it was worse.
And perhaps the biggest surprise of all for the cynical citizens (as well as non-citizens) of the capital is that a majority of Nepalis know exactly what is wrong with the country today, they know what the solutions are, and despite everything they are still largely confident and hopeful about the future.