11 - 24 October 2013 #677

The pulse of the people

If the November polls are truly free and independent, most of the disgraced leaders of the past should be voted out

For some mysterious reason, Nepal’s election code of conduct doesn’t allow public opinion surveys before polls. This stems for a lack of confidence of the maturity of our own democracy, some of it probably justified. But it also has to do with elections still not really being an exercise in adult franchise and an expression of the sovereignty of the people.

The November poll is looking more and more like an election for the sake of elections. Admittedly, the country had been adrift for far too long and the political uncertainty was costing our economy and development dearly. An election would have set that right if it allowed the people a choice. But this one doesn’t: in fact it is rigged before the campaign even starts because the top leaders have made sure, by standing in multiple constituencies and fielding weak candidates in each other’s voting regions, that they will not lose. The second CA is therefore going to be the same size, made up of more or less the same faces, and being seized by the same issues as the last CA. The only tangible difference we can foresee is that it will be even more fragmented and demand a spirit of maturity and compromise from the political leadership that they haven’t exhibited so far.

Himalmedia, the publisher of this paper and Himal Khabarpatrika weekly, conducts an annual nationwide public opinion survey. The 2013 survey in March showed a large majority of the nearly 4,500 respondents were apathetic. Combining all those who replied ‘don’t know’, ‘won’t say’, ‘none of the above’ totalled an astonishing 56.2 per cent, with the top leaders all trailing in a long tail of single digits.

Since then, as elections become more certain, Himalmedia Weekly Bazar Polls indicate that there is a stirring of interest in the elections. This weekly poll is supported by The Asia Foundation and is conducted every Monday afternoon in 12 urban centres around the country in which about 400 respondents are asked a few quick questions on politics, the economy, society, and social behaviour.

Interestingly, to the question ‘Among the current crop of leaders in national politics, who do you trust the most?’ the number of respondents in the Bazar Poll who replied ‘don’t know/won’t say’ has been decreasing steadily from 33% in April to 23% in August and 17% in September. Correspondingly, the popularity ratings of the political leadership has also crept up into the low teens. Sushil Koirala still maintains a surprising lead with 15.2% in September compared to 13.5% a month earlier. Baburam Bhattarai is up from 8.6% to 11.9%, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal has also gone up from 8.8% to 13.5%.

On federalism, to the question ‘Should future federal units be demarcated along ethnic lines’, Himalmedia Nationalwide Public Opinion Surveys in 2011, 2012, and 2013 consistently showed more than 70% of respondents who supported federalism saying ‘no’. The Bazar Poll conducted on 15 September showed that even though nearly half the respondents in urban areas supported federalism, only 8% of them said the provinces should be based on ethnicity. More than half the respondents preferred federal boundaries be based on geography, or current development zones.

The Himalmedia poll results are more or less corroborated by results of recent surveys by IDEA and IDA. The conclusion is that the November elections is still up for grabs. Many people will be voting for candidates from their communities, some along party lines and left to their own devices most will vote for candidates and parties that are most likely to restore stability, economic development, and equality.

Although the four party cartel has tried to ensure that it perpetuates itself, there is some leeway for voters to express their preference for the candidates that they most believe can perform. If this was a truly fair and independent election and if the surveys are the true pulse of the people, most of the disgraced leaders of the past eight years should be voted out.