Supreme Court set to decide today on petition on women’s representation in local governmentsDeadline given to political parties to file nominations for the May 13 local level elections ends today.
While political parties have already started nominating their candidates for the May 13 local elections, the Supreme Court has summoned representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Election Commission on Monday to discuss whether to issue an interim order in response to a petition demanding proportional representation of women in local governments.
Advocate Mohna Ansari, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, had moved the court against an earlier decision of the commission not to make it mandatory for parties to field a woman when they nominate candidates in only one of the two executive positions—mayor/chair and deputy mayor/vice chair.
Responding to the petition, a single bench of Justice Til Prasad Shrestha on Sunday called both the parties for discussions on Monday morning.
“The issue raised by the petitioner is sensitive and as tomorrow (Monday) is the deadline for filing nominations, it is necessary to conclude the hearing tomorrow itself after hearing the arguments from both sides,” reads the order. “Call both the parties to the hearing on Monday at 11am. Both sides will get half an hour each to present their arguments.”
The Election Commission has given parties contesting the local elections April 24 and 25 for registering their candidates.
The court has also directed the Prime Minister’s Office and the Election Commission to furnish their written explanations on why an interim order, demanded by the petitioner, should not be issued. They have got 15 days to furnish their explanations through the Attorney General’s Office.
The petitioner has demanded that nominations must be inclusive.
The petitioner has said giving a leeway to the parties that field candidates for only one of the two top executive positions of local bodies, could lead to reduced representation of women at the local level and this goes against the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal.
Parties, especially the five in the ruling coalition, are contesting the local elections under an electoral alliance, which means they are sharing mayoral and deputy mayoral or chair or vice chair posts. Rights activists had expressed concerns that each of the parties that field candidates for only one of the two top posts could field only male candidates.
The Local Level Election Act-2017 makes it mandatory for each political party fielding candidates for both top positions to ensure that one of them is a woman.
As the parties are contesting the elections by forming alliances, the two top positions at the local level will be divided among two parties which means they are free not to field a woman candidate in one position they are contesting.
Women leaders and legal experts have been saying the provision to give parties a leeway when they field only one candidate contradicts Article 38 (4) of the constitution which guarantees proportional representation of women in all state bodies.
“The court’s order is very encouraging,” Ansari told the Post. “One of the two candidates for mayor or deputy mayor and chairperson or vice-chairperson at the local level must be a woman. Failure to ensure that at least one of the two candidates is a woman would go against the principle of inclusion enshrined in the constitution. I will be happy if the government and the Election Commission ensure that women's representation does not decrease.” Along with Ansari, advocate Ila Sharma, a former commissioner at the Election, and advocate Pankaj Karna had presented their arguments on Sunday.
Rights activists have been demanding that the commission must direct the parties forging alliances to ensure a proportional representation of women right from the nominations process. The commission on March 30 in its 17-point directive to the parties asked them to field a woman if they contest in only one position.
However, two weeks later, on April 12 the commission said the political party fielding only one candidate between mayor and deputy mayor or chairperson and deputy chairperson of a local unit “should give priority” to women while nominating candidates for the positions. The earlier decision was revised despite a cross section of women leaders drawing attention of the Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to make sure women’s representation doesn’t decrease from the 2017’s local elections.
Of the 35,041 representatives elected from 2017 elections, close to 41 percent (14,352) were women. Similarly, women were elected in most of the vice-chair or deputy mayor positions—718 among 753 local levels though just seven women are mayors and 11 are chairpersons.
“Ansari’s petition is a priority. The court on Monday will decide whether or not to issue an interim order,” Bimal Poudel, spokesperson at the court, told the Post.