Power to the People!

Our goal here at ParticipAid is to bring more decision-making power to rural people, and we’re thrilled to see that Nepal’s government stepping up for the same goal.  Until recently, there has been no local government in Nepal.  A centralized government in Kathmandu made all of the decisions about the lives and livelihoods of rural folks.  Those days are in the past.  Just a couple of weeks ago Nepal held its first local elections in 20 years!

Voting in local elections represents a major step toward stabilizing democratic rule in a country that has been beset by insurgencies, immense corruption and devastating earthquakes.  Nearly 50,000 candidates ran for more than 13,000 positions in Nepal’s 283 rural municipalities.  Each municipality has been given the responsibility for the education, healthcare, and livelihoods of their people.  For the first time in 20 years, they’ll claim their own priorities, and develop and execute their own plans.  This is a major step for a country rebuilding its infrastructure and working to establish itself as a democracy that represents a diverse and sometimes fractured populace.  These important actions undertaken by the government show a strong move to create a system that is representative of and responsive to the will of the Nepali people.

In 2006 Nepal began its transition from a Monarchy to a federal republic.  As the first part of what became a drawn out nearly 10-year process, a new constitution was written and adopted in September 2015.  This significant milestone triggered the selection of a representative body.  Local elections, which are currently being determined, will be followed by provincial and then national elections by January 2018.  This is a victory for Nepal’s underserved rural communities whose representation has been largely made up of bureaucrats installed by political parties not necessarily representing local interests.

Though it’s difficult to argue against the merits of local democracy, the transition has not been without discord or dissent.  Because of political and cultural differences, several provinces refrained from participating in the May elections, demanding an amendment to the National Constitution which the sitting government is currently reviewing.  Because of this, the election was split into two phases.  The first phase had an estimated 74% voter turnout, and the second phase will be held in late June.

Tempering this most recent democratic experience have been protests, charges of ballot tampering, and arrests. There are deep seated divisions along cultural, ethnic and economic lines.  These are age-old challenges, and are not likely going anywhere soon.  That being said, in general it was a mostly peaceful exercise for a newly formed democracy.

It’s so easy to get swept up in the scandal and pageantry of American politics, and take for granted the freedoms we have, like the simple ability to have our voice heard.  Let’s do a good job America, because nations like Nepal are following in our footsteps.  At the same time we can learn a thing or two from the Nepali people.  74% voter turnout!  They are showing up.  They also have a stated commitment to participation of all people with a focus on equal representation of genders, classes, and ethnic groups.  America didn’t start out that way, this is a Nepali twist on the democratic experiment.  Watching how this unfolds will be fascinating, so thanks for reading and stay tuned!