Alliance politics may trim women’s representation in local governmentsAs coalition partners plan to fight May 13 polls in alliance, observers wonder if the inclusion idea is at stake.
Bhim Dhungana is the mayor of Nilkantha Municipality in Dhading district. Man Raj Bhandari is the deputy mayor.
Section 17 (4) of the Local Level Election Act-2017 makes it mandatory for a political party to field a woman as a candidate for either chief or deputy chief at the local level.
Then how did Nilkantha Municipality have only males as mayor and deputy mayor?
The reason is alliance politics.
Dhungana represents the Nepali Congress and Bhandari the CPN (Maoist Centre). In 2017, the two parties fought local elections under an alliance. They fielded their candidates—both males. They won.
The legal provision requiring one of the two candidates for chief or deputy chief at the local level to be a woman is applicable only when a party has candidates for both the positions.
“The provision is not applicable when a party fields a candidate for just one of the two positions,” reads the law.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre had forged an electoral alliance in the first phase of local elections held on May 14, 2017. As the two parties agreed to allocate the mayor position to the Congress and deputy mayor post to the Maoist Centre at Nilkantha, they were free to field only male candidates. As a result, there is no women’s representation in the executive position in the municipality.
Now that ruling coalition partners plus Rastriya Janamorcha are negotiating an electoral alliance for the local polls scheduled for May 13, concerns have grown that municipalities and rural municipalities could be filled with males in executive positions.
Nilkantha Municipality is just an example. In many local levels, the parties that fought elections under an alliance in 2017 elections had fielded male candidates for both the positions.
The CPN-UML had partnered with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party in Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Bidya Sundar Shakya from the UML was a mayoral candidate while Raja Ram Shrestha of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party was candidate for deputy mayor. Shakya won, but Shrestha was defeated by Hariprabha Khadgi, a woman from the Congress. Had Shrestha won, both the executive positions in the country’s largest metropolitan city would have been occupied by males.
Since there was no electoral alliance among parties in the second and third phases of the last local elections, women secured over 95 percent deputy chief positions and around two percent chief positions in local governments.
Women leaders and activists say women’s representation could sharply dwindle at the local level this time as five parties are planning to go to local polls under an alliance.
“In all parties, the mechanisms that pick candidates are dominated by males. As local body chiefs and deputy chiefs are executive positions, it is very likely that women candidates are not selected as candidates for both the positions,” Pushpa Bhusal, a Congress Central Committee member and the party’s whip, told the Post. “There are chances that we might not even retain the achievements of the previous elections. Cross-party women leaders must caution their respective party leaderships on the matter.”
The last local elections saw women getting elected in huge numbers. Of the 35,041 elected representatives, close to 41 percent (14,352) were women. Over a third of women were elected as per the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal and the Local Level Election Act. Article 38 (4) of the Constitution of Nepal gives women the right to participate in all bodies of the state on the basis of proportional inclusion.
It also provisions that among the four ward members, two must be women—one of them a Dalit woman. Though the parties were reluctant to give mayor or chair positions to women candidates, women were elected in most of the vice-chair or deputy mayor positions—718 among 753 local levels.
Currently, just seven mayors are women and 11 are chairpersons.
Women leaders say although they want incumbent women deputy mayors or vice chairs to be fielded for mayors or chairs there are chances that women won’t even get the vice chair and deputy mayors positions in the May 13 elections.
“We are concerned that women's representation at the local level could plunge. Although our party leadership has said the candidacy selection would be inclusive,” Rekha Sharma, a whip of the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “Let’s hope they walk the talk. We are there to build pressure.”
The constitution envisions affirmative action to ensure inclusiveness in different state mechanisms. The Local Level Election Act’s provision requiring a woman in one if the two executive positions of a local body is in line with the spirit of the statute. However, the provision in Section 17 (4) of the Act has created a loophole that allows parties to take decisions against the principles of inclusion.
“When we were drafting the act, we didn’t realise the provision would have negative consequences,” said Sharma. “It needs a revision. However, it is not possible before the upcoming election. Let’s hope political parties’ decisions are guided by ethics.”
Academics say it is the moral responsibility of the political parties to make sure they don’t take regressive steps.
Neeti Aryal Khanal, a lecturer of sociology at the Tribhuvan University, said the candidate selection process will test how accountable the political leaderships are towards the people and the constitution.
“In several local bodies, women deputy mayors and vice-chairs have outperformed male mayors and chairs. Such deputy mayors or deputy chairs deserve to be selected for mayor and chair candidates,” she told the Post. “There should be no excuse for the parties to decrease the number of women candidates. The Election Commission should also monitor the situation.”
Observers say the only reason for the parties to form an electoral alliance is to win the elections. “The alliance doesn’t have anything to do with the interest of the people and nor are the parties concerned about their political ideologies while forming the alliance,” said Khanal. “Politics doesn’t mean just winning elections.”