I encouraged my mother to vote during the 2008 Constituent Assembly election. I convinced her that the Constituent Assembly election was historic in Nepal and it was different from earlier elections that would write the supreme law to shape the nation we live in tomorrow. Over a cup of tea with her, my mother then realized that it was her right and responsibility to vote in making her opinion count in the important issue.
On the voting day, she walked in the sun, voted and returned happily. My proud mother also encouraged close relatives to participate in the voting. I also had an opportunity to observe elections in Kathmandu and Dhading districts as an election observer. The people that I met at the polls had expectations for better and safer lives with a new constitution.
The Constituent Assembly dissolved in 4 years without the Constitution. I had no courage to encourage my mother to vote in 2013. She asked, “Does my vote matter?” This is rather a question to the key political parties to respond to thousands of our mothers whether their votes mattered
Clearly, my mother was not convinced that the politics had changed our lives for better. My interactions with many people in the rural areas suggest this seems a true reflection of the citizens that political leaders are not responsive and accountable to the citizens. What they care for is that democracy should deliver for their livelihoods.
Periodic and genuine elections are essential of functioning democracy. Along with the respect for human rights and fundamental freedom, the principle of holding elections provide a formal basis for effective participation of citizens in decision making and exercise of power in society.
But, democracy is more than just elections. In real terms, what happens between the elections is much more important than the election itself. The elected parties and leaders are expected to deliver what people expect under democracy with knowledge, skills and resources.
When I quickly scanned what the key political parties had promised through their manifestoes in the past elections, I am not surprised that they could not deliver more than 30% of their promises for better and safer livelihoods. Visibly, 70% their time in practice was the evils of party politics in the name of talks and agreements for vested interests. The local self-government is absolutely necessary at this stage to rebuild livelihoods of the people affected by conflict, reduce corruptions and strengthen local democracy.
The political economy has changed in Nepal and there is a deficit of trust between the citizens and the political parties. The political parties should not take for granted that the elections would give them another license to rule on the citizens. The citizens would not just believe on what is written on the election manifestos. It is time for the political parties to correct themselves.
It’s a test for the citizens to choose between right and wrong, not between right and left. We need to find out about candidates’ vision, action and integrity. We need to rise above partisan politics in order to select the right candidates. It’s a local election for choosing candidates for local development planning and implementation. To the least, I am very clear that a corrupt person cannot and should not be a leader. Let’s choose the right candidate irrespective of caste or religion.
Sadly, my mother has passed away. Probably she is watching me while I am writing again about the elections in Nepal. Now I want to go back to all mothers and citizens, and encourage all to participate in the upcoming local elections. I sincerely hope that the citizens can proudly choose right candidates where our votes will matter and our local democracy can deliver.
Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is the Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org