10-16 November 2017 #883

Flowering democracy

Either keep grumbling about bad politicians or throw them out of power by electing better ones
Om Astha Rai

Nim Dutta Subedi/rss
Man Bahadur Gurung, a UML candidate for the Province 4 assembly, campaigning on Wednesday in Sikles of Kaski District.

As Nepal braces for its landmark provincial and parliamentary elections, the first under the new Constitution, Nepalis are faced with two choices: either keep grumbling about bad politicians or throw them out of power by electing better ones.

But even if people wish to go for the second option, there do not seem to be enough candidates in the fray who are known for their integrity. Most contestants fielded by the mainstream parties have either failed to deliver or are dubious characters charged with murder, robbery and money laundering. Businessmen, bankers and contractors with vested interests are also in the race.

There are 495 MPs – 165 for the federal Parliament and 330 for state assemblies – who will be directly elected in the two phases of parliamentary and provincial elections on 27 November and 6 December. Another 330 MPs – 110 for Parliament and 220 for state assemblies – will be nominated later for seats under proportional representation. Apart from the Upper House and self-governing local councils, the country will have 825 MPs under its federal republic set-up – much more than under the constitutional monarchy or in the ensuing decade of transition.

Despite the numbers, it is far from certain that people will find the representatives they are looking for. “Having more MPs does not mean more representation of people in governance,” says sociologist Chaitanya Mishra. “With the kinds of candidates we have, it seems that most of our future MPs will not really be the authentic representatives of people.”

The alternative parties have fielded untested but genuine candidates, but Mishra says the Nepali electorate generally loves predictability, and tends to vote for those who can actually win. So what could have been a chance to elect accountable leaders has become just another way for crooks and criminals to gain legitimacy to carry on with their plunder for the next five years.

“It is a tragedy of our politics,” says analyst Shyam Shrestha. “When political parties give legitimacy to the crimes and ill-gotten wealth of gangsters what can we hope for?”

Analyst Nilamber Acharya is not so despondent, trusting on the wisdom of the people. “In a democracy, people reject the crooks even if they get tickets to contest elections. Even if a few of them are able to manipulate voters into electing them, they cannot corrupt the whole system.”