Back to the basicsElection fever has returned to Province 1. Tea shops are rife with punditry and the candidates are slowly returning to their constituencies to woo voters. The upcoming provincial and federal assembly polls,
Election fever has returned to Province 1. Tea shops are rife with punditry and the candidates are slowly returning to their constituencies to woo voters. The upcoming provincial and federal assembly polls, to be held on November 26 and December 7, will be the fifth election in the country since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990.
The announcement of two levels of election has rejuvenated villages. The upcoming polls have a special meaning for the entire nation as the successful conclusion of the process will mark the institutionalisation and implementation of the newly-promulgated constitution. After a decade of transition, the possibility of long-term stability and a new wave of development have breathed new life into the political process. Voter sentiments on the ground, however, remain ambivalent at best, oftentimes downright skeptical. Four elections have come and gone, yet at least in the mid-hills of Province 1, a repetition of the same old candidates who are echoing the same old agendas have left the general public only cautiously optimistic of the direction the country is now set to take.
“Voting has become a sort of compulsion for both sides—for the ones asking it and those supplying it,” Jas Bahadur Majhi, 57, of Majhitar in Panchthar, said, “We will definitely participate in the polls and vote for a candidate. This is because we feel we need to do this. We do not carry high hopes from the candidates as no governments in the past have done anything significant for us and our community.”
For people like Majhi in the eastern hills of Province 1, basic requirements such as transportation, healthcare services, modernisation of farming methods remain an
There are many of them who feel like Majhi. It is not that the region doesn’t have optimists who are of the view that the upcoming polls will cement the position of leaders in all the three tiers of government—local level, provincial level, and central level—and that it will lead the way towards prosperity. But the number of voters who feel that there won’t be any substantial changes in their day to day lives is equally thick. For many locals at the grassroots level, elections are little more than a routine civic exercise that reaps little tangible benefits for the public.
Thakur Sunuwar, 50, of Phungling Municipality of Taplejung, for instance, points to how recently-elected representatives at the local level have not returned to their constituencies once elected as a precursor to how elected leaders will fare once voted into office. “There is a severe issue of drinking water. One needs to go all the way to Birtamod or Jhapa for getting proper health facilities. We had placed high-hopes on the local-level elections, but as of yet, prosperity is yet to trickle down to us,” Sunuwar said.
Additionally, due to rough geographic terrain, most districts in the hilly region of Province 1 face severe transportation issues. In Taplejung, a district which is rich in terms of agro-products and tourism potential, only three out of the 297 kilometres motorable roads are black topped. The condition of Panchthar and Ilam is no different.
“Our aspirations are not big. We are only seeking the basics. But that too seems too much to ask,”Phuti Sherpa of Shuketar in Taplejung says, adding proper road networks, drinking water and health facilities would have helped them draw in more tourists to the region, helping them upgrade their living standard.
Leaders in the region, who do not shy away from making tall claims, too accept the fact that much could have been done to upgrade people’s living standard in the region. Senior UML leader and former Speaker Subhash Chandra Nembang, who is contesting the federal polls from Ilam-2, informed that the elected representatives from now on will have a common agenda of development with the much-needed structure—representatives at the local level and bureaucracy in the provincial level and central level—getting proper shape.
“Firstly, there will be political stability after these provincial and federal polls. Secondly, the successful endorsement of the constitution has more or less concluded political discourse in the country, increasing the scope for development and economic prosperity,” Nembang said, blaming the decade-long insurgency and the transition thereafter as the major stumbling block that had been impeding fast-tracked development.
The general mood at the grassroots, however, is grim. While political parties’ manifestos pledge railways, rapid development and foreign investment, voters remain suspicious of tall tales. For this election cycle, they would rather the political actors stick to the basics.