What’s enticing some central and provincial leaders into local politicsAssembly members and former ministers are eyeing mayoral posts because of the lack of space at top tiers and more resources at the local level.
Asha Khanal won the 2017 elections to become a Provincial Assembly member of Gandaki from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Earlier that year, she was a minister with the federal government in Kathmandu.
For Khanal, who has invested herself in politics, the natural choice would have been to prepare for the upcoming provincial elections. But she is planning to contest for the post of mayor of Shukla Gandaki Municipality of Dulegaunda in Tanahun.
Khanal says she believes she could perform better at the local level.
“At the local level, I think I will have a better opportunity to connect to the people,” she told the Post over the phone from Pokhara.
Nepali Congress leader Bindu Kumar Thapa is also a minister in Gandaki. He has filed an application at the party’s Pokhara Metropolitan City Committee expressing his desire to run for mayor. Thapa filed his application after the committee sought applications from interested candidates.
Bijay Subedi, a member of the Bagmati Provincial Assembly from Chitwan Constituency 2(B), has been selected as the mayoral candidate of the CPN-UML. He was the social development minister in the Bagmati government when Asta Laxmi Shakya was its chief minister.
Not only Khanal, UML leader Lalbabu Pandit was also in the race for mayor of Biratnagar Metropolitan City. But the party did not list him among the mayoral candidates for the metropolis. Pandit had led the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration.
Nepali Congress leader Bhimsen Das Pradhan, who has already served as defence minister, has expressed interest to run for Kathmandu mayor. Similarly, Rambir Manandhar, a former minister of state, is eying the Kathmandu mayoral run from the UML, besides former Physical Infrastructure and Development minister of Bagmati provincial government and former Kathmandu mayor Keshav Sthapit.
There seems to be a growing trend among provincial assembly members and even ministers to run for local level posts, particularly mayor, as local elections are approaching. The country will hold local elections on May 13 in a single phase to elect 35,014 representatives for six metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities.
Experts say one of the reasons for some politicians’ growing interest in local government posts could be their failure to perform at the provincial level. The three tiers of election held in 2017, the first such set of polls after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, elected governments at three levels—federal, provincial and local.
While it was business as usual for the federal government, provincial governments found themselves struggling for space. Local governments, however, by and large were able to perform to some extent.
There are multiple reasons the provinces could not perform up to the mark. These include the Kathmandu leadership’s centralised mindset that refused to devolve power. But local governments, according to experts, could carry out their functions because of some exclusive rights bestowed upon them by the constitution.
Observers say provincial leaders may have been eying the local government positions because they see a scope of doing some substantial work.
“It’s quite heartening to learn that some provincial and central level leaders are showing interest to continue their politics at the local level,” said Khimlal Devkota, an expert on fiscal federalism and local governance. “This is how federalism gets strengthened.”
According to Devkota, resources could be a major cause to entice central and provincial level politicians into local level politics.
Devkota, however, says some politicians’ interest in fighting in the local polls does not mean provinces have lost their significance.
“This is provinces’ first term. They were trying to find space. They did not have infrastructure and legal frameworks,” sid Devkota. Now gradually, provinces will also pick up their pace.”
UML leader Subedi, who has decided to contest for the mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City, shares his bitter experience as a provincial minister.
“I could not implement my plans even when I was a provincial minister,” Subedi told the Post from Bharatpur. “I always wanted to work directly with people. After being a minister of the provincial government, what I felt is that I can work better for the people from the local level.”
According to him, his experience shows what local governments can do to the people, but provincials and federal governments cannot.
Subedi concurs with Devkota, the federal expert, when it comes to the significance of the provinces.
“Provinces need some time to stand on their own feet,” he said.
Some experts, however, see some ulterior motives at play when provincial and central level leaders eye local level politics.
Hari Roka, a political commentator, says resources are the main reason.
“They have seen some big budgets at the local level. A mayor gets to exercise more authority than a minister of a provincial government,” said Roka. “That’s why some politicians might have been interested in running for mayor.”
According to him, if some ministers failed to implement their plans at the provincial level, expecting them to perform outstandingly at the local level is a pipedream.
“It needs planning for someone to perform,” said Roka. “Have you seen any of such aspirants making public what exactly they will do if they get to lead the local governments?”