Do not ‘donate’ your votes, choose right candidates: Thakur
Elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies are scheduled for November 26 and December 7. The political parties are now trying hard to see their candidates through the elections. All the candidates have reached their constituency after filing their nominations. However, the political parties have fielded negligible number of women candidates for both the federal parliament and provincial assemblies under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) category. The presence of fewer women candidates is seen as a violation of the Constitution by a section of women activists. From the very beginning, women leaders and rights activists have been advocating 40 per cent seats for women candidates at the provincial level and 33 per cent in the House of Representative, as guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the political parties have picked only about 5 per cent women candidates for the first phase of the election under the FPTP category. Only 41 (18 for federal parliament and 23 for provincial assemblies) are women out of a total of 803 contestants. The political parties, which drew criticism for fielding only negligible women candidates for the first phase of the polls under the FPTP category, did not correct the shortcomings while selecting candidates for the second phase polls. The three big political parties have nominated only 15 female candidates for the 128 constituencies for the House of Representatives under the FPTP category.
In this regard, Puspa Thakur, vice-president of Inter-Party Women Alliance (IPWA), spoke with Arpana Adhikari of The Rising Nepal on diverse issues pertaining to the status of women leaders in politics and challenges facing female candidates contesting under the FPTP, among others. IPWA is a common political forum for women in Nepal. Thakur, a leader of the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, has been actively involved in politics for the past 11 years. Excerpts:
The political parties, including the three big parties, nominated minimal women candidates under the FPTP category for both the first and second phases of the elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies. How do you take this?
From a women’s perspective, what the political parties have done cannot be justified. We are completely disappointed by the nomination for both the first and second phases of the polls. In fact, it is shameful on the part of the political parties. Only 5 per cent representation of women was noticed in the nominations for the first phase polls on October 22. The major parties have failed to ensure women’s representation as guaranteed by the constitution. The number of female candidates has increased to some extent during the nomination for the second phase election. Altogether 15 women were nominated by the major parties for the second phase polls. This is not what we had been looking for. Major political parties, like the Nepali Congress that claims to be a democratic party, and the UML and Maoist-Centre which claim to be parties of the proletariat, and even my party which was formed to end exclusion of the Madhesis, have overlooked women, the most deprived population of the country. In such a situation how can we expect more from the small parties? Barring women from contesting the direct election could prevent them from developing leadership skills. The time has come to introduce new measures to increase women’s participation in politics and state mechanisms in proportion of their population. And we are working on it.
Despite pressure from the IPWA and rights activists after the nominations for the first phase polls, the political parties did not correct them in terms of increasing women’s candidates. Don’t you think that the IPWA’s movement was not enough to exert pressure on the leadership?
Looking back at the past, we can say that women’s participation cannot be secured unless the law obliges the parties to execute this right. We can take an example of the recent local polls, where the Local Body Election Act made it mandatory to field a woman either to the post of chair or vice-chair of the rural municipalities, municipalities and district coordination committees. As a result, a large number of women leaders were elected in the local bodies, although they were limited within to the deputy head of the local bodies. But this time, the election act remained silent on the issue, and this resulted in the low nomination of women candidates.
To exert pressure on the political leaders, we had been launching a collective campaign with different stakeholders. But this nomination has proved that our movement was not sufficient to ensure women’s meaningful participation in the federal and provincial assemblies. The party leadership has taken women’s peaceful movement for their rights as their weakness. How could the political leaders ignore women who occupy half the country’s population? We are planning stern protests to see this constitutional right executed in practice.
What kind of protests?
If these male-dominated political parties keep ignoring our issues, then may be the women leaders should form their own party. Or maybe we will launch a movement in which women will cast votes only for the female candidates and deprive the male candidates of their votes. There are a number of movements we can initiate.
In some districts, there is only a single female candidate. Do you see any chances of them winning?
Women are ready to struggle, they are afraid of neither failure nor victory. But the reality is that women are still not socially, economically and politically strong to compete with the male candidates. That is the reason why we have been demanding a provision of reservation along with reserved constituencies or a rotation system so that the women, Dalits and all the underprivileged groups can get elected to the helm of power. Unfortunately, we have failed to achieve this. Still we are ready to compete. Maybe we will be defeated by money and muscle power, but once we get a chance to reach the public directly, people will understand who the right candidates are. People will then honestly choose their representative.
From its inception the IPWA has been conducting capacity-building programmes to empower women leaders. But why is the ability of women leaders still questioned when it comes to assigning them any responsibility? Can it be that capable women are not in politics?
Before the local level polls, it had conducted an orientation programme for female leaders from all the 75 districts, where 35-40 leaders from each of the districts participated. The female leaders were given orientation on the operation and management of the federal system. The programme was so successful that the women leaders willingly came forward to compete in the election. Many of them were elected in the local polls.
If anyone is raising questions about the ability of female leaders, then ask them what makes them able. It is true that there are fewer numbers of women active in politics as compared to men. But since the last one decade, women’s participation has increased remarkably in politics. There are thousands of women actively working in each party. But still the parties claim they cannot find a capable candidate. This only shows the intention of the leadership. Leaders seem to be afraid of women’s aptitude. Also ask the leaders where are those female candidates whom they elected under the proportional representation in the earlier election? Why did they fail to establish leadership ability? It is all because the political parties deprive the deserving candidates of tickets by awarding them to their relatives, close ones and those who are affluent but have no political background. Instead of being progressive, the activities of the political parties look regressive when it comes to empowering the women.
As in the earlier elections, why did the election act not make women’s reservation mandatory for the provincial and federal parliamentary election? Was the IPWA unaware about this?
From the very beginning, the IPWA has been advocating to safeguard women’s representation in all spheres of the state mechanism in proportion to their population. Since the day when the proposed draft was tabled in the parliament, we have been asking the Election Commission to incorporate this constitutional right in the act. In this regard, we repeatedly hold discussions with the commission and have visited the Ministry for Home Affairs, asking them to ensure seats for women even in the FPTP category election so that the competition is solely between the women. Effective affirmative actions are necessary to improve the condition of women across the political spectrum. Only then will they develop leadership quality. Even the officials of the commission and the ministry had agreed to prepare a regulation as per our demands. However, they did not incorporate this provision. The leadership shouldn’t forget that no development is possible by ignoring and keeping half the country’s population aside. The mixed-proportional electros system is not good for women. Provision of reserved seats and rotation system must be introduced for the time being to bring social equity. This is a temporary solution and will be withdrawn once the targeted goals are achieved.
Why do you think there are few or no female leaders in the party’s parliamentary committees that finalise the candidates for the election?
To ensure equal and proportional participation of women in politics, the Election Commission should introduce a mandatory provision for the political parties to have at least 33 per cent women’s participation in the party’s statute while constituting the parliamentary board. Male dominance is high at the decision-making level of all the political parties. For maintaining gender balance in the decision-making process, women’s participation should be secured at the higher levels of the parties.
What are the challenges facing the women candidates in the upcoming election? What role will the IPWA play to get them elected?
Compared to the male candidates, women contestants face multiple challenges in terms of resource management, family and institutional support. Women candidates will win the election if they get institutional support. And the IPWA is ready to provide all possible support to them. They will either win or fail, but contesting direct election will enhance their leadership quality.
How progressive is your party when it comes to empowering women?
Unfortunately, my party RJP-N is still conventional when it comes to women’s role. I am not afraid of saying that my party’s principles are still discriminatory. This is not only my assumption. But the party’s manifesto, statute and the process of candidacy nominations are testimony to these. And I feel really bad about this.
What will be the IPWA’s roadmap ahead be?
Struggle, struggle and struggle.
Do you have anything more to tell our readers?
Yes, there is one thing that is really annoying. The term ‘Matadan’ (voting) shouldn’t be used to define one’s voting rights. The Election Commission has been using the wrong term to ask people to cast their votes. Voting is something through which the citizens choose their representatives to conduct the work of public affairs. However, both the Election Commission and the political leaders have failed to make people understand this. Through their votes, people are choosing someone for their own work, then how can the word ‘daan’ (donation) justify this process? If we can make the people realise that through their vote they can select their representatives who will work according to their desire and necessity, then the voters would choose the right candidate, rising above the personal relations. I urge everyone not to donate their votes, but to use their votes to select the right candidates.