Today nation goes for elections to the federal and provincial parliaments that will set another milestone in bolstering the federal democratic republic. The landmark polls provide a substantial credence to the constitution written by the elected Constituent Assembly in 2015. The polls have generated oodles of excitement among the youths intent on bringing progressive changes in the life of commoners. For all the flaws of governance and leadership, the people pinned their faith on the republican system as reflected in their enthusiasm for poll participation. The elections will further bolster competitive democratic polity and spirit of pluralism rooted in the consciousness of Nepalis since the dawn of democracy in 1951.
This is the second two-tier polls being held after the adoption of inclusive and secular constitution that has envisioned building a socialism-oriented economy essential to realise social justice and welfare provisions. The periodic election is the beauty of democracy, which facilitates the adjustment of disgruntled voices and anti-systematic elements to the mainstream politics and development. Today’s polls are expected to put the nation on the new political course leaving behind all nasty ruckuses that rocked the legislature and executive formed following the 2017 elections.
Altogether, 17,988,570 persons are eligible to cast their votes in federal and provincial elections. Of them, around 40 per cent are youths. A total of 2,412 candidates are contesting polls under first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and names of 2,199 candidates are in the final closed list under proportional representatives (PR) system in HoR. Similarly, total 3,224 candidates have filed their nomination under the FPTP category and 3,708 in the closed list of PR system in Provincial Assemblies. With the election of the HoR members and provincial assemblies, the federal dispensation will receive new impetus when it comes to sharing and executing the rights, powers and responsibilities among the three-tier governments more judiciously and effectively.
In Nepal, every election presents a unique trend, with a valuable lesson for the parties. Elections are often characterised by anti-incumbency sentiments but this time the parties have been contesting the polls by forming alliances, and the anti-incumbency factor is unlikely to make a big difference. Following the first three-tier elections in 2017, the country saw two governments - one led by the then CPN and another by the five-party alliance that came into existence after the country plunged into a serious constitutional crisis.
There is no dearth of critics of the alliances of parties having opposite ideological orientation but one positive side of such development is that this has significantly reduced the poll-related violence. In the past polls, the cadres of rival parties used to clash with each other. One may slam the electoral alliances as ditching the ideological integrity but this has at the same time promoted the culture of consensus and collaboration that needs to be replicated in the democratic nation-building process. The post-election administration will be well prepared to tackle the political challenges so that people’s mandate and energy of parties are not wasted unreasonably.
One of the features of periodic polls is that fresh voters participate in the election. They have different outlook, perceptions and preferences from their seniors or that of older generation of voters and leaders. Once Napoleon Bonaparte said, “To understand the man, you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” Young Nepalis have been much more influenced by the technological innovations and internet-driven social media. They want to respond to societal and global challenges through the prism of their own outlook hardwired in their formative age.
Therefore, it is imperative for the older generation leadership to sufficiently pay heed to bridge the inter-generational gap that has been a global phenomenon and often reflected in the election time. It reverberates inside and outside Nepal’s political parties at the moment. There is a clarion call for passing the baton to the young leadership to add new vigour and spirit into the parties. Some youth leaders have even claimed to be in the driving seat of government after the election. Similarly, rising number of youth candidates and their vigorous poll campaign via social sites or on the ground imply that people want reform in the system to ensure the effective delivery of services and public goods.
Political parties constitute the key elements of electoral democracy. Their roles are vital for sustenance of the system the country is currently practicing. Despite their role in ushering in an era of democracy, they are grappling with multiple challenges. Globally, they are facing existential crisis with the evolving social, economic, technological and ecological dynamisms. Most of the parties have lost the relevance of ideology created in the time of revolutions and upheavals. They have morphed into bureaucratic entity, with inner party democracy and critical discourse on public issues taking a back seat.
As the parties lose ideological and intellectual rigour, various interest groups fill the void, depriving them of serving the public. Thriving clientalism inside them has weakened their social base, allowing the non-political forces to play important roles in the affairs of the state. This has impelled the people to seek alternative channels such as civil society, social movements and small parties to articulate their concerns for security, justice and development. The outcomes of today’s nationwide polls are expected to put pressure for reform in the parties and create more enabling environment to implement the provisions of the constitution.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)