As the inter- and intra-party competition to get tickets to contest in the two houses of the Federal Parliament is ongoing, it is important for all to be alert to make sure the right candidates get the seats. In South Asian Countries like Nepal, getting political party tickets to contest in the parliamentary elections have always been a game of power struggle. The political bickering within the coalition government in selecting the candidates for the upcoming elections indicates that this election is going to be no different. In the quest of fielding candidates who are close to the power structure and who can mobilise muscle, mafia and money, the political parties usually sideline candidates who would actually be the right persons to lead and serve their constituencies.
Unfortunately, even in a democratic system, the use of money plays a big role in contesting elections. The system of candidates who spend a lot of money winning elections leads towards corruption. In the federal democratic system, individuals from the constituency who are known to have an honest and corruption-free character should be allowed to contest and win on the basis of his/her commitment to the constituency. Unfortunately, as the roots of corruption has been sown as the elements muscle, mafia and money play a role, and honest candidates who actually want to serve their communities and the nation may be sidelined as they cannot compete with the vile nature of acquiring the party tickets.
It is now time for the electorates to raise a voice to end corruption in their areas and put pressure on the political parties to give tickets to worthy and honest candidates. Unfortunately, it is a fact that certain electorates get misled into taking the money and enjoying free food and drinks that are usually distributed during election times. The brunt of this system is faced mainly by women candidates and men from marginalised communities who don’t command control over the money, muscles and mafia. Due to the power-sharing between the coalition governments, the provision envisioned in the Federal Constitution of Nepal of an inclusive parliament could be completely harmed in this election if we are not alert on time.
Due to the constitutional provision there are now 33.5 per cent women parliamentarians in the two houses of the Federal Parliament. Nepal is well above the global average of 23.8 per cent women parliamentarians. The average for countries in Asia is 19.8 per cent. In fact, following last elections, Nepal within Asia has the highest percentage of women in the National Parliament. According to the IPU 2018 data for women parliamentarians, Nepal is ranked at number 37 out of 193 countries, Afghanistan 55, Pakistan 93, Bangladesh 95, India 147, Bhutan 170, the Maldives 178 and Sri Lanka 180. The last elections also saw dramatic increases of women’s formal representation as elected representatives at both the provincial and local levels.
Looking at the historical background, women in Nepal started demanding for right to vote and run as candidates in 1945. This right was received in 1951. According to the Election Commission data, there were six women candidates in the first parliamentary elections of 1959 but all of them lost polls. Then due to compulsory provision of the 1990 Constitution there was five per cent women's candidature in the election for House of Representatives, parliamentary elections of 1991 which included 81 women (party candidate 73 and 8 independent). In 1994, there were 86 women including party candidates 74 and 12 independent. In 1999 there were 143 including party candidate 117 and 26 independent) respectively. But out of the total 205 seats only 6 (2.9 per cent), 7 (3.4 per cent), and 12 (5.8 per cent) women were elected respectively in 1991, 1994 and 1999.
During the last local elections a power change was observed all over the country with women being in one of the top-most positions in towns and villages. As per the spirit of the Constitution and the Local Level Election Act, women now have the right to contest in all bodies of the state based on their proportionate representation. Thus now there are seven women Mayors and 11 Chairpersons. The number of women Vice-chairperson and Deputy Mayors stands at 718. The patriarchal and feudal mindsets of political parties automatically decided to field women in the deputy positions. Had there been no constitutional provision of mandatory fielding of a woman in either Mayor/Chairperson or Deputy Mayor/Deputy Chair positions, this too would not have happened!
But to have one woman as the topmost governmental position has definitely been able to make an impact on the mindset of people all over the country. Many of these elected women have struggled to assert their positions. Many of them have actually shown exemplary leadership qualities and have been able to serve their constituencies very well. In spite of this, they are now facing discrimination from their parties in getting tickets to contest in the Mayor and Chair positions.
Due to the negotiations and seat-sharing between the coalition governments, there is now a worry among women politicians that they could be sidelined in such a way that the landmark global representation that Nepal has set could be skewed during the next election. It is a fact that women cannot compete in the gambit of pulling muscle, mafia and money to their side, but those who have excelled in their positions have a right to contest in higher positions and continue the good work.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP )