Shape up or ship outThe major political forces must start the long process of their renewal right now. They have been adequately warned.
The November 20 federal and provincial elections send a clear message: You never take voters for granted. The preliminary Election Commission estimate of 61 percent turnout is low by Nepali standards. Just six months ago, 72 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots in the local polls. Before that, well over 70 percent had taken part in each of the two Constituent Assembly polls (in 2008 and 2013). The 2017 federal and provincial elections saw nearly 69 percent voter turnout. A drop of 10 percentage points in turnout is no trifling matter in a polity where the vote difference between the two biggest parties is 5 percent or less. There could be many reasons for the voter no-shows. One is that more than 1,700 Nepalis of voting age have been leaving the country to work abroad every single day. The other is that this election was held only six months after the local polls, which perhaps caused voter fatigue. Also, many of the respondents the Post talked to over the past few weeks had expressed disappointment at the political parties’ failure to field new faces in place of the old non-performers that they have been seeing repeatedly.
The major parties chose to ignore these obvious signs of discontent. Most of their candidates continued to be old faces who had gotten election party tickets not because of their competence, but mostly because of their loyalty to the top leaders. These parties also formed all kinds of unnatural coalitions, with the sole intent of increasing their vote share, even if they had to abandon their ideological moorings to do so. Fed up with this cynical number game, many people this time chose not to vote. A concomitant trend of greater public support for new political outfits like Rastriya Swatantra Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party as well as for independents was also evident. Whatever the final vote tally for individual parties and candidates, one thing is clear: A large segment of the population is frustrated with the current state of Nepali politics, and they want change.
Therein also lies hope. Even though a 61 percent voter turnout is low by Nepali standards, internationally, it is still a very healthy performance. Nepali voters have, over the years, shown great faith in the democratic process and in the power of periodic elections for political renewal. But, again, such public support can never be taken for granted. There is always the risk of the discontent with the established parties turning into larger suspicions of the progressive changes the same forces have helped bring about. Grave doubts are being expressed over the viability of the new federal setup just seven years after the promulgation of the new constitution. Some want to institute a presidential system; others want to bring back the Hindu state. These are ominous signs. For their own survival and for the longevity of post-2006 changes, the major political forces must start the long process of their renewal right now. They have been adequately warned this time. The next time, they could be swept aside.