16-22 January 2015 #741

The people matter

The take-home message from the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015 is that you can’t fool all the people all the time

We have known all along that Nepalis have been increasingly disappointed, disillusioned and disenchanted with the failure of the top political leaders to agree on a new constitution. Two elections and six years later, it looks like we are headed towards another dead-end.

To gauge just how much people feel let-down by their leaders and elected representatives, Himalmedia carried out a public opinion survey in Kathmandu last week. Although the 1,019 respondents were all living in the Valley, their selection reflected their place of origin, caste and ethnicities, and all socio-economic strata of Nepali society.

The public’s perception of politicians seems to be even more negative than we thought it would be, and they are pessimistic about the top parties being able to pass a new constitution by 22 January: eight out of every 10 people polled said there was no way the leaders would meet the deadline.

Which party do you support for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country? |Create infographics

In previous Himalmedia Public Opinion Surveys conducted annually for the past 12 years, respondents used to be politically alert, opinionated and hopeful about the future. This time, let down once more, we found them to be uncharacteristically apathetic and despondent.

Asked whom they blame for the failure to write a new constitution, more than a quarter of the respondents said the political parties were collectively responsible. But nearly 19% put the onus squarely on the UCPN(M) for the lack of progress. This is also reflected in the low-standing of the main Maoists and their leaders in the popularity ratings. Except for Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist leaders are all in the single digits, with Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal at 3.5% trusted even less than the UML’s KP Oli (6.6%) and Hindu-royalist Kamal Thapa (4.9%).

Never has there been such a wide gap between what the politicians say they want and what the people are interested in. In fact, more than 40% of the people couldn’t care less what kind of constitution is passed, they just want the CA to get it over with. More shockingly, compared to previous years’ surveys, the percentage of people who think federalism is a mistake has risen to half and an overwhelming 80% reject federalism based on ethnicity.

But Nepalis have demonstrated their legendary patience and tolerance by telling us: we have wasted so much time it won’t matter if you extend the CA to get the job done. Nearly half the respondents still believe that as long as it is a constitution that adequately addresses the grievances of excluded castes, ethnicities, etc they are prepared to wait longer. They just want a mechanism other than ethnic-federalism in the constitution to make it genuinely inclusive.

If elections were to be held today, a full one-third of the people would still choose the NC despite its fecklessness and weak leadership. For lack of anyone better, they trust Sushil Koirala the most even though they don’t think much of his performance in the past year as prime minister. The UML is second with 16%, the Maoists at 9.2% and RPP-N at 5.6%. The Madhesi parties are nowhere in the picture even though people of Madhesi origin were proportionally represented in the poll sample.

Most respondents reject outright the threat by the 31-party Maoist, Madhesi and Janajati combine to take to the streets if their constitution is not written, which shows the lack of popular support for the series of nationwide strikes this week.

The take-home message from the Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015 is that you can’t fool all the people all the time: more than half the respondents said they didn’t believe disagreement over federalism was the real reason for the delay in the constitution, they were convinced it was because of a power-sharing dispute.

The people also give the politicians a way out: if you need more time on the constitution, go ahead, but announce local elections right away. Nearly 60% of the respondents said we should not wait any longer to elect VDC, DDC and municipal councils.

Most top politicians in Nepal give little credence to public opinion surveys. For them, the people don’t matter because they know they can exert pressure with hired goons on the streets to get what they want. But we still live in a democracy in which the people matter, and their message is: you will pay for ignoring us.

Read also:

Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015

This is what we think, Om Astha Rai

Who cares about the constitution?, Om Astha Rai

Beyond the deadline, Anurag Acharya

Sky won’t fall but that’s not the point, Damakant Jayshi

Taskless, Editorial

One month to go, Editorial

The end of the road, Om Astha Rai