3-9 November 2017 #882

The Jasmine Revolution

The upcoming elections provide Nepali voters with the real chance for change
Dinkar Nepal
Gopen Rai

As the Arab Spring picked up momentum in 2011, some activists in Nepal tried to engineer what they wanted to call the 'Chameli Movement' named after the Nepali word for jasmine.

There were op-eds suggesting that Nepal was ripe for another revolution and why the youth of this country should overthrow obsolete and incompetent leaders.

There were imitations of the occupy movements, social media campaigns and even some street demos. But it could not pick up critical mass, and the dark forces of corruption, selfish brinkmanship, cronyism just got stronger. After having suffered ten years of war, it looked like Nepalis did not have the appetite for another revolution.

The country was going through a nerve-wracking and prolonged political transition with demands for ethnicity-based federalism threatening to cleave the country. All Nepalis wanted was an end to the instability and turmoil. We survived chaotic times, the failure of the first Constituent Assembly, the second election for the CA, a devastating earthquake, the promulgation of the new Constitution that led to violence in the Tarai and the additional unexpected 'surcharge' in the form of the Great Indian Blockade.

Now, as we prepare to complete elections for three levels of government (local, provincial and national) under the new Constitution, the transition phase of Nepal's politics is hopefully finally coming to an end. Nepalis are now getting ready to elect provincial and national assemblies on 26 November and 7 December.

Our votes should be used to transform the system, but do we have a real choice in the forthcoming elections? Nepal's post-conflict politics has seen all pretenses of morality and ideological sanctity blown away, without any shame and regret. We have seen the Maoists forming a government with the Nepali Congress, collaborating in the local elections and now fighting each other again in the provincial and parliamentary elections. Voting for principles and ideology makes no sense anymore.

The present set of political parties has become a mockery of democratic institutions. Top leaders, most well past retirement age, run them like family-owned enterprises. Their political organisation is supported by career politicians, people who have devoted their whole life to cronyism and patronage. Thus democratic choice is rarely translated to good governance, even at the grassroots.

All that has to change now. With increasing literacy, and a youth population exposed to social media, Nepal's electoral demography is changing rapidly and it is creating a shift in voting patterns. The strong showing of 21-year-old Ranju Darshana in the Kathmandu mayoral race was a case in point.

Learning their lesson, Sajha and Bibeksheel Nepali have united because the result of local elections in Kathmandu showed that together they might be able to create some real impact in Nepali politics.

Although the new party has not been able to field candidates throughout the nation, there is a strong support base emerging if the trends in social media are any indication. A voter broke down and wept when he met Rabindra Mishra who was campaigning for Sajha Bibeksheel in Kathmandu, and the candidate has got huge approval after posting it on his Facebook page.The party represents a true alternative to the tried, tested and failed parties and their leaders, giving voters new hope.

We want change. We want this monopoly of the dark forces to end. As a genuine alternative seems to be emerging slowly and steadily, learning its lessons through trial and error, we have our fingers crosses that people will vote for change rather than vote for known non-performers. This might actually be the real Chameli Movement that we all have been waiting for. And, its even better that this is a silent one.

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