Rohit Chandra Bhattarai
Q&A: An enumerator interviewing a respondent in Ilam last week for the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2018.
Most Nepalis are preoccupied with the state of the economy. Disillusioned with politics, they worry about education, housing rent, inflation and the lack of jobs.
Yet, according to the nationwide 2018 Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey conducted this month with support from International IDEA, Nepalis have surprisingly not given up hope for a better future.
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Nepalis feel that it is possible for politicians to change their old ways and perform better. They also feel that things have improved in the past few years and that it will get even better.
They hope that the three levels of government that has been recently elected will speed up development, generate employment opportunities and usher in an era of political stability. For this, they feel that the Constitution needs to be amended so that all political disputes are resolved.
A majority of 3,612 respondents selected to proportionately represent Nepal’s demographic and geographical diversity, pinpointed unemployment, lack of development and inflation as their top three worries. Surprisingly, political instability was the main concern of only 10% of the interviewees.
Unemployment is the most pressing problem for 66% respondents, followed by lack of development (62%) and inflation (34%). The poor state of health and education were listed as the other two main areas of concern.
Cross-tabulated results from the survey show that these concerns were highest in Province 6 which is Nepal’s poorest province according to the recent Multiple Poverty Index (MPI) report published by the National Planning Commission. Unemployment is the most pressing problem for 84% respondents in this province in the remote mid-western hills, followed by lack of development (67%) and inflation (39%).
Unemployment, inflation and lack of development mean that only 38% Nepalis are able to make a comfortable living. Nearly half the respondents said they barely manage to get by, and 16% said they are not able to take care of their families with their earnings. Majority of the people belonging to this 16% category are the illiterate, Dalits and high mountain dwellers.
Those who answered that they were unable to make a living were asked supplementary questions about what they planned to do: 57% said they were determined to work harder, 15% would switch their profession, 10% said they would look for jobs for spouses and children. Interestingly, only 8% said they would seek to migrate overseas for work, with an overwhelming majority saying they would look for jobs within Nepal.
After the provincial-parliamentary elections in November-December, Nepal is finally poised to be governed by a durable government which they hope will speed up development and create jobs.
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Only 20% of the survey respondents were pessimistic, saying things will remain the same despite the elections. More than half said they expect the pace of development to increase and that there will be more jobs.
50% Nepalis want the new government to focus on roads, education and health, while controlling inflation and corruption were the other two priorities.
During elections last year, the Left Alliance repeatedly said that there was no need for another political revolution since there had been a substantial change in the state structure. They said the elections would mark the end of the prolonged transition to a federal democratic republic and that Nepal would enter a new era of stability and prosperity.
The fact that most Nepalis want the new government to focus on the issues of economy and development suggests that they agree with their election platform. But they also think there are political disputes that still need to be sorted out by amending the constitution.
Even after participating in the election under the new Constitution, Madhesi parties insist on the need to amend the charter. Survey results show that 84% of respondents in Province 2 think the Constitution needs to be amended with 49% in Province 5. But some people are still not sure: 14% of respondents say they do not know if the Constitution needs to be amended.
Losing public trust
In the previous two Himalmedia Public Opinion Surveys of 2013 and 2015, Nepali Congress (NC) had topped the list of political parties that the people trusted the most. However in the elections to all three tiers of government in 2017, the grand old party of Nepal’s democracy trailed far behind the UML.
In the March 2013 survey, conducted just ahead of the second Constituent Assembly elections, 19% respondents viewed the NC as a party capable of creating a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Nepal — almost double the percentage of respondents who trusted the Maoists (10%). The Maoists had swept the 2013 elections and were the largest party in the CA. Of the respondents, 13% trusted the UML.The Survey was proven right as the NC went on to emerge as the largest party.
In January 2015, the NC was leading the Constitution drafting process and it performed even better in the popularity chart in a Public Opinion survey conducted that year. Over one third of the respondents (34%) chose the NC as a party capable of building a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Nepal.
But three years later, the NC has lost most of its credibility and support — proven in not just the local, provincial and parliamentary elections, but also by the latest 2018 Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey conducted in January.
The UML swept local governments in mid-2017 and emerged as the single largest party with 44% of parliamentary seats in elections under the FPTP (directly-elected) and Proportional Representation (PR) systems in November-December 2017. Relegated to the third position in the FPTP system, the NC recovered some lost ground with 22% parliamentary seats thanks to PR votes. The Maoists secured third position with 19% parliamentary seats, despite faring better than the NC under the FPTP system.
The Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey was conducted just one month after the elections. The results corresponded fairly accurately with the elections results. Of the 3,612 respondents interviewed, 28% said they didn’t want to disclose which party they voted for. But of those who opened up, 31% said they voted for the UML while 16% and 9% respondents voted for the NC and the CPN (Maoist-Centre) respectively.
If the NC had analysed the 2015 Public Opinion Survey, they would have seen that their party president Sher Bahadur Deuba was one of the less popular political personalities with only a 3% approval rate. Deuba went on to topple the KP Oli government by aligning himself with the Maoists, he tried to impeach the fearless Chief Justice Sushila Koirala, interfered in the selection of the police chief, did not support the impeachment motion against the tainted CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki in 2016 –- and most importantly, he did not oppose the Indian Blockade. All this came to him at a cost of losing his party support in that year’s elections, and the Survey too shows that the NC has shrunk further.
The UML Chair KP Oli, on the other hand, appears to have played his nationalism card astutely by opposing the blockade and signing trade and transit deals with China. He supported the impeachment of Lokman Singh Karki, but stood by Sushila Karki when Deuba wanted to hound her out.
He and the UML reaped the reward for this stance. With its electoral alliance with the Maoists, the UML now has a near two-third majority in parliament.
The NC’s top leaders do not seem to have learnt their lessons, and instead of introspection they blame it to the ‘ganging up’ of the UML and Maoists. To be sure, the NC (32%) is neck-to-neck with the UML (33%) in terms of PR votes — proof that the electorate still likes the NC, despite not liking its leaders.
The Himalmedia Survey asked respondents the criteria they considered for voting. Only 40% said they voted for the parties they have always voted for.
The combined proportion of those who said they considered the agenda of the parties (19%), the personalities and stance of top political leaders (16%) and the agenda of candidates (17%) was 52%.
No to populism
Last week, outgoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba got the Cabinet to pass a slew of populist measures including lowering the minimum age for elderly allowance, increasing the reconstruction grants for earthquake survivors and others.
The Ministry of Finance now needs to allocate an additional Rs16 billion because of the increase in the number of elderly who are eligible for allowances. Deuba was actually only emulating something the UML itself had promised during the election campaign -- to increase the elderly allowance to Rs 5,000 from Rs 2,000 per month if his party came to power. The UML proposal would have cost more than reducing the threshold age for the elderly.
The NC is clearly aiming to beat the UML in the next elections. However, analysts say this could be counter-productive because the results of the 2018 Himalmedia Opinion Poll Survey show that people nationwide have a dim view of such expensive populism.
Neearly two-thirds of the 3,612 respondents prefer a better living environment for elderly people with 41% in support of elderly allowances. Some 57% of respondents in the age group 60 and above naturally wanted more allowances while only a third of younger respondents aged 18-25 wanted the increase.
Since all three big parties in Nepal have shown in the past that they throw money at problems at election-time through populist measures, the survey results could be an important lesson that spending may not necessarily translate into more support.
After last year’s local elections, some mayors and village chiefs had arbitrarily increased social security allowances, but the survey shows that people want municipalities and village councils to efficiently deliver government services rather than increasing such allowances. Only 8% of the respondents wanted their municipalities/village councils to increase social security allowances. More than 90% respondents preferred faster and hassle-free service delivery, development and employment schemes.
Some political leaders had promised pensions for farmers if they came to power, but in answer to another survey question 83% respondents said they did not approve and would much rather have the government provide irrigation facilities and fertilisers for farmers. Rather than dole out payments for medical treatment, respondents want the government to ensure better, cheaper health care.
No amnesty for war crimes
Last week, the government issued an ordinance to extend the terms of both Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) by one year.
But 50% of the 3,612 Nepalis surveyed in the Himalmedia poll had little trust in the two bodies and predicted that the two transitional justice bodies will not be able to complete their jobs even with their extended tenures.
Two weeks ago, when the government was preparing to pass an ordinance to extend the terms of The TRC and CIEPD, 71 enumerators had fanned out across 37 districts to ask various questions, and among them was this one: will the TRC and the CIEDP complete their jobs in the extended period?
Only 27% respondents replied ‘yes’.
Respondents were also asked how conflict-era atrocities need to be dealt with, and as many as 38% said these cases must be investigated, while 17% said perpetrators must be tried in the regular courts while 9% said international law must be followed. Only 20% respondents were for compensation and amnesty while 8% were for forgiving and moving on.
Interestingly, the percentage of respondents demanding investigations into war-time atrocities hover between 30-45% in all provinces except Province 6, which has the districts most-affected by the conflict and with some of the highest numbers of disappearances. Here, as many as 72% of those surveyed demand that wartime atrocities be investigated.
Province 2 & 6 anomaly
Province 2 and 6 stood out as Nepal’s poorest states when the National Planning Commission published its Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report in December. However, the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey shows they don’t just rank lowest in human development but its inhabitants also think differently from the rest of the country on several important issues like constitution amendment, sovereignty and transitional justice.
In other provinces, only around one-fourth and one-third of Nepalis think the Constitution needs to be amended. But in Province 2, an overwhelming 84% people want the government to amend the charter.
In general, only 30% of Nepalis see a threat to the country’s sovereignty, while a majority of them (40%) think the threat comes from foreign countries. In all provinces, most people think India is a threat to Nepal’s sovereignty, but Province 2 has the lowest percentage of people who do not consider India as a threat. But even in the plains province bordering India, more than one-third of respondents saw India as a threat to Nepal’s sovereignty — indicating a lingering memory of the Blockade. A negligible proportion of respondents (1-2%) saw China as a threat in six provinces, however in Province 2 this score soared to 14%.
In Province 6, which is even poorer than Province 2, people agree with most of the other provinces on most issues but appear to have more progressive views. Majority of Province 6 respondents say they are happy that Dalits and women were elected into municipalities and village councils last year. While in other provinces some said the reservation for women and Dalit candidates was ‘meaningless’, in Province 6 only a negligible proportion thought this way.
On the issue of transitional justice, nearly three-fourth (72%) people of Province 6 think war-time atrocities must be investigated, much higher than percentages of peoples who think so in other provinces. People here are also more satisfied with local governments. While 62% people here believe that municipalities and village councils are delivering faster services, this percentage does not exceed 50 in any other provinces.
Himalmedia- the publisher of Nepali Times and Himal Khabarpatrika- in partnership with various development agencies, has been conducting Public Opinion surveys almost annually since 2004 . This year’s Survey was supported by International IDEA.
FACTS Nepal was involved in data collection, which was then analysed by statistician Balkrishna Khadka.
This year’s Survey was conducted from 8th-21st January. There were 3,612 respondents from 37 districts who answered 43 pre-tested questions by 71 enumerators.
Enumerators were pre-trained to study whether the questions would be clear to the respondents or not.
In order to accurately represent the country’s geographical and demographic diversity, respondents were selected through probability and non-probability sampling methods. The 2011 census report was used as the basis to determine the sample size of each district.
The survey results have been cross-tabulated with province-wise results and disaggregated by age, gender, profession and region. The complete and detailed set of responses will be posted online in English and Nepali.
Infographics: Sahina Shrestha
Detailed Cross-tabulated Results of Himal Media Public Opinion Survey 2018
2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001