Local Polls And Development

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Udboddh Bhandari 

The preliminary data provided by the Election Commission, Nepal (ECN) shows that the total vote cast is only 66.86 per cent. This percentage varies with provinces: The largest percentage of votes cast is in Karnali Province (70 per cent) and the lowest percentage of votes cast was found in Bagmati Province (64.16 per cent). Further, the vote cast percentage of other provinces in descending order are Gandaki province (68.28 per cent), Madesh Province (67.69 per cent), Lumbini Province (66.79 per cent), Far-western (65.80 per cent), and province 1 (65.35 per cent). In contrast to the above figures, Kathmandu has only 52 per cent of the votes cast. This variation in the percentage of vote cast infers that the place with difficult geographical terrain and low education rate has a high rate of vote caste and vice versa. 

This further implies that a relatively better-off and well-educated population with a well-off geographical space is less interested in the election.  Moreover, six hundred thousand population left Kathmandu to cast the vote suggests that people who have permanent residence out of the Kathmandu Valley have great zeal to choose their representatives. Local units play an important role in raising people's living standards through community development programmes.

Youth candidates 

Furthermore, according to the ECN press release, 70 per cent youth candidates contested in the local polls. Around 40 per cent of candidates are between the ages of 21 and 40. Similarly, 11 per cent of candidates are between the ages of 21 and 30, and approximately 30 per cent are between the ages of 31 and 40. Youth participation as candidates in local elections sends a positive message to Nepal's politics. However, altogether 79 political parties have contested the elections at the local level. It is such that participation and contests of a large number of political parties in the local election can further affect the national economy.  

During the last five-year tenure of local bodies, it has been analysed from various quarters that corruption brewed as the people's representatives were more concerned with increasing their salary, perks, logistics, etc., and were less focused on their constituencies. Moreover, larger funds were spent on unproductive activities such as the construction of temples, mosques, and view towers.  To some extent, the locals could have controlled corruption, but they chose to remain silent. According to Transparency International, the local authorities were highly corrupt. The expensive election system was one of the primary motivators for local representatives to become involved in corruption. 

Together with election campaigning and bribing voters directly or indirectly, it proved too costly. Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope that second local bodies would mitigate and eventually eliminate the mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.  On the positive side of the local governance, the last five years have contributed to the establishment of a solid foundation for sturdy and autonomous local governance. Singha Durbar, the seat of federal government, has delegated rights to the grassroots. Furthermore, it is time to strengthen the ECN so that it can take direct action against candidates who violate the code of conduct. 

Local governments could be more effective in meeting people's aspirations for development and change if this is done. Economic policy and governance in developing countries have significantly improved as competitive elections have become more regular. In poor countries, free and fair elections discipline governments to improve economic policy. 

Not only do elections have a favorable structural effect on economic policy, but they also have a cyclical effect. To differentiate the two effects, we use variables for the structural influence of elections (frequency of elections) and the cyclical effect of elections in our estimations (the number of years that separate each year from the nearest election). Elections in developing nations have both a cyclical and structural effect on policy. The effectiveness of elections is determined by their quality. Elections of poor quality have no impact and may even exacerbate policy problems. In this sense, elections being held regularly, fair, and transparent are commonly seen as naturally desirable goals in multiparty and representative democracies. 

Rationale of polls

More importantly, elections are regarded as the main vehicle by which citizens select promising politicians and penalise underperforming or corrupt ones, according to democratic accountability theory. In addition, the democratic accountability rationale of elections is based on voters having the time and opportunity to interact with and evaluate political leaders and parties running for office. This necessitates enough time for candidates and voters to communicate and deliberate. The candidates had barely more than a month from the time they formally filed their candidacies to make themselves and their party's agenda available for public scrutiny. The relative haste with which the elections were organised calls into question whether citizens had enough time to assess and choose their representatives.

In Nepal's recent election campaign, the use of social and electronic media outlets was unparalleled. This is not a cause for concern. The issue is that many of the materials circulated through such outlets appeared to be intent on spreading (mis)information, rumours, and so-called "fake news" about politicians and candidates. Such materials compelled candidates to engage in a heated and somewhat unnecessary battle to refute what they alleged was politically driven rumour. Greater involvement of social scientists in developing our understanding of citizens’ participation in elections appears to be vital.

(The author is a freelancer in research activities and local development.) 

 
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