True to jest he had shown during the election campaign for the mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), Balen Shah immediately got into the work he promised he would do. As soon as he won, he started looking into the waste management issue that Kathmandu is bogged down with. Then, his first decision after taking the oath of office was to make the KMC’s meetings live so that all residents could observe it.
It was indeed a pleasure watching the youth Mayor and Deputy Mayor Sunita Dangol during their first official meeting. The room was filled by the newly-elected Chairpersons of the 32 wards of Kathmandu. Its first meeting definitely exposed the lack of women leadership, which indicates the lack of commitments by the political parties in fielding women candidates to lead the wards. It could be observed during the open meeting that most of the chairs expressed their interest in supporting the Mayor with his educational knowledge and youthful zeal in making Kathmandu an exemplary and beautiful town.
However, there were also subtle expressions that experience and work done by previous leaders should be respected, and as he was a Mayor without political party backing he should be able to generate support from all in order to make his tenure a success. Mayor Shah, on the other hand, was seen to be cool, poised and confident. He listened but did not answer back and looked keen and committed to the work he had undertaken.
Balen Shah, an independent candidate, has written history by ending the domination of the political parties that have been ruling the roost after the country entered federal republican system. The 32- year- old Mayor has also busted the myth that only an individual from the Newar community has a chance of winning the Mayoral seat in the valley. This shows that an honest, educated and determined youth who has interest in developing his/her town is welcomed by people from cross culture, religion, ethnicity, political thinking and age. His respect of the Newari community of the valley was expressed by the fact that he took oath of office both in Newa and Nepali languages. This can be seen as an indication that the Nepali population have matured above the thinking of sticking only to their chosen communities be it political, ethnical or age criterion.
Mayor Balen Shah’s interest in running for the Mayoral seat came as a welcome breadth of fresh air by most of the citizens of Kathmandu Valley. However, it was not taken seriously by the so-called well-established political parties. Nevertheless, the result has shown that the general people definitely took him seriously and gave him a landslide victory. Selecting a person from Madhesi community, who is highly educated and has a track record of excelling in his profession as an engineer and then the unconventional trend of equally excelling as a professional rapper, is another indication that Nepal is indeed progressing towards a future where new horizons are opening up.
This trend needs to be maintained for all other upcoming elections in Nepal. The fact that the mainstream media did not give Balen’s campaign due coverage shows that when people look for change, they get information themselves. In this digital age, the social media and the active youth of the valley were able to give coverage to the young candidate that he deserved. The NC representing the coalition gave ticket to Srijana Singh, wife of leader Prakash Man Singh. There was a slight excitement among certain group of people that for the first time a woman candidate had been fielded for that post. However, the tag that she was daughter-in-law of Ganesh Man Singh and wife of Prakash Man Singh was seen as nepotism by many.
During a discussion with a group of young and senior feminists, my argument was that it was not a question of whether Srijana Singh was a deserving candidate or not; it was a question of whether the process of selecting her was right. My argument is that the process of fielding a woman based on the background of her political family and a political bartering between men leaders to retaining their power over the political parties they represent is in itself a backlash to the overall feminist value. It shows that the feudal and patriarchal system and practice is still prevalent in the political parties. Therefore, with no reservations against Srijana Singh, voting for a female leader in such a way could have been supporting the pillars against the overall feminist movement.
On the other hand, the UML party chose to field a candidate who has been accused of sexual harassment by two women. The #MeToo movement of Nepal has taken up this issue and not only that he has been accused of corruption. This choice of mayoral candidate by the UML party shows that as the political parties become strong in their people’s movement they start becoming more and more feudal and patriarchal in their behaviour. How and who advised the UML to field Sthapit?
Coming back to Balen, there are several factors that made him win. The main one being his self-determination, hard work, proper homework and zeal to do something for his town. This is the time for all Kathmanduites to support him in his endeavor. A big congratulation to Balen-Sunita team to work jointly and make Kathmandu a clean, green and organised city and prove that the youth leaders can cross party lines and work for their country.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate email@example.comTwitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP )