Voting Blues

 

Kushal Pokharel

 

The fever of the first round of the local election slated for May 14 in 34 districts of three provinces has gripped the nation. With the political parties busy in garnering votes for their candidates through musical events and rallies, the environment has become euphoric and entertaining, though no substantial changes have been witnessed in the manner of campaigning.

 

The competition has become intense with the candidacy of some highly qualified independent candidates in the election race in metropolitan cities like Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Pokhara. The popularity of the candidates belonging to alternative political forces like Bibeksheel and Sajha is unprecedently growing in the social media. But only time will tell whether they will really fare better in the election booth, too.

 

While the general public also seems to be optimistic about the potential of the upcoming local government to better their lives, they are in confusion over making the right voting decision. In other words, the criteria for selecting the suitable candidate have become difficult to figure out  for the voters in the absence of adequate information and knowledge about the potential candidates. All the contenders are promising to be the best ones with attractive election manifestos leading to further public bewilderment.

 

Types of Voters

If the conventional voting habit of the Nepalese is anything to rely upon, most of the voters are likely to cast their votes based on their traditional ideological inclination, in some cases even not knowing the core of that ideology. The conviction of this category of voters is so strong that they are unlikely to vote for a deserving candidate affiliated to the other parties. Despite being aware of the incompetencies and underperformance of the party they support, they prefer sticking to their original stance.

 

This mindset is further entrenched by the lack of systemic voter awareness and a sensitisation program that disseminates comprehensive information about the work experiences, ability and academic qualifications of the candidates. The existing practice of election campaigns only acquaints the people with the party manifestos and name list of the candidates but fails to disseminate any profile-based information.

 

Having said that, the second type of voters, though small in number, are open to switching their votes based on the performance of the parties. This is an evolving group, keeping an eye on the activities of the political parties through the media and civic activism. But it’s difficult to ascertain the number of such voters in the context of a transitional society like ours.

 

The third group of voters includes a bunch of highly informed and rational people who always intend to choose the best candidates irrespective of the parties they represent. This cohort has neither any ideological affiliation nor any obsession to the parties’ manifestos, which are more idealistic than based on ground reality.

 

For example, this group of people will simply reject a utopian dream that a monorail will start in Kathmandu within five years. They often gauge the agenda of the candidates in terms of timeliness, feasibility and implementability. Unfortunately, this section seems to be far behind the mainstream voters in terms of numbers.

 

Confused Voters

Since the ballot paper is large, a voter has to vote for seven candidates who would be the elected representatives at the local level -- from the chairperson of the village assembly/town assembly to ward chairman and members, including women and dalit women. This, in turn, has created much confusion among the voters. In a bid to alleviate this problem, the Election Commission (EC) started a voters’ education for a few days, but this has not been sufficient to reach all the people in the election districts.

 

Even among educated families in a city like Kathmandu, those who are least bothered about politics aren’t aware about the voting procedures. In a typical middle class household in Kathmandu, the male members usually go through the newspapers to stay abreast of the political developments but the female members. though educated and working. have been found to be uninterested.

 

Needless to say, the situation is pathetic in the rural areas where the level of literacy is far below than in the urban areas. In such a situation, the chances of votes being void remains high, which should be a matter of grave concern for the authorities concerned. More importantly, a special targeted program for the vulnerable sections of the society, including women, dalits and indigenous communities, could have been mulled earlier by the EC to educate them better.

 

Nevertheless, the election assumes greater significance in promoting local democracy. Hence, there is no option but to vote for the most suitable candidate instead of opting out of the election process. Proper use of the adult franchise will shape the destiny of the local level units.

 

There is a historic opportunity ahead of us to elect a person with knowledge, skill, ability and integrity to transform the village or city we are living in. With multiple parties, including newly established political forces, an option is available for the people to choose the best one. Instead of repenting on electing a wrong leader for the next 5 years, let’s commit ourselves to cast our precious ballot for the most deserving candidate.

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