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Nepali leaders look to Denmark ahead of local elections

With the 2017 Local Elections approaching, leaders of JOMPOPS member UML seek inspiration in the Danish experiences with political parties at local level.

Thirteen kilometres outside Janakpur city – one of the cultural, administrative and political hubs of Nepal’s southern plains – local-level leaders of Nepal Communist Party-Unified Marxists-Leninists (popularly known as UML) gathered on 12 January 2017 to brainstorm for the next two days on “Sambidhan Karyanwoyanma Rajya Samrachana” (State Restructuring In Implementation of Constitution) following the passage of Nepal’s new statute in September 2015. UML is the second biggest party in the parliament.

In a first such gathering since the new constitution, some 77 key leaders braving the cold winter had come from 34 districts – some of which were as far away as two days of bus travel –  from three of the seven provinces that the new constitution has laid out the federal country that the 75-district Nepal now is.

Elements from the Guide

In drawing up the agenda for the two-day event, the organising unit of the party – Federal Affairs Department – had integrated some elements of modules of the Guide on “Political Parties at the Local Level: Danish Experiences for Inspiration”. The Guide was prepared jointly by Danish local politicians and Nepalese politicians in the six-party Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS), DIPD’s partner in Nepal, with support from both Danish and Nepalese political consultants.

State restructuring in Nepal’s present context also means party restructuring because of provincial and local level geographic demarcations to be followed soon by much anticipated first elections under the new constitution; therefore, in providing inputs to the agenda of the interaction, JOMPOPS Steering Committee members of the party decided to include elements of management of a political party, election campaign and gender considerations, based on the developed modules of the Guide.

By a coincidence that JOMPOPS Steering Committee member Parshuram Meghi Gurung termed “happy”, the venue happened to be a local organisation known as Life School Centre, built by Danida in 2010 as part of a watershed and natural resources project, and which now functioned as a resource and meeting centre.

The resource persons for the Janakpur event had travelled from Dang the day before after a two-day interaction there on January 9 and 10 on the same broad theme for some 65 top local leaders from districts covering the provinces 4, 5, 6 and 7.

In Dang, Mr. Gurung, who is a politburo member of the party and Head of the Federal Affairs Department, sought to familiarise his colleagues about Nepal’s federalism which has unique specialities and about what is the way ahead for the party in making federalism successful. The form and contents of Nepal’s future local governments was the topic on which federalism expert Mr. Krishna Prasad Sapkota spoke in detail. Dr. Deepak Prakash Bhatt, a security expert, gave a presentation on international relations, including regional security. Ms. Dhan Kumari Sunar, the party’s gender focal person who works closely with DIPD on various issues around one of JOMPOPS’ key areas of work i.e. women in politics, gave participants a tour of Nepal’s constitutional provisions on women’s rights, and discussed women’s participation and representation in politics and the challenges that the party should deal with in this context.

Awaiting Local Elections

Another resource person Federal Affairs Department Secretary Mr. Shiva Gurung – who is one of the trainers trained in the contents of the Guide at the four-day Training of Trainers that JOMPOPS had organised in April 2016 with participation of a group of politicians from Danish municipalities as resource persons – talked about how to be effective in local election campaigns and presented different aspects of Danish experiences and practices that he had learnt at the ToT. With the impending local elections occupying the minds of district leaders, Mr. Gurung’s presentation struck a timely chord with them.

Participants in Janakpur, 550 kilometres east from Dang, were equally interested in how the executive and legislative branches of local level units (now called Village Body/Municipality) would function, what new powers they had compared to now, and how the party should prepare itself for the upcoming elections, expected to be announced any day. They were eager to learn from the resource persons who seemed to have prepared well for the interaction to impress upon the participants how important it is for top local-level leaders to be oriented on how the federalism is unfolding at the local level.

So, when federalism expert Mr. Krishna Prasad Sapkota gave examples of how elsewhere the local governments function, including how Denmark’s local units have the authority to spend a large share of the national budget, it was clear the participants began to appreciate the road ahead where the local level units were going to have a number of powers in diverse fields like education (up to high school), health, cooperatives, local tax and a number of other services. They also heard from Ms. Sunar how they had the onus of preparing women to be effective in local politics and run for office, after she gave a rundown on constitutional provisions on women’s representation from the bottom to the top of state structure.

For Janakpur interaction, the organisers had asked DIPD Senior Adviser Murari Shivakoti to conduct the session on “Chunabma Safal Huna” (Winning Elections), also based on his experience as a media expert. Mr. Shivakoti in his presentation drew from the Danish way of tackling local elections, as contained in the Local Guide, starting with how a systematic planning, well in advance, was vital to build a political strategy. But he focussed mostly on campaign activities and communication means as employed by the Danish parties for local elections, contextualising them where possible with Nepal’s practicalities, and giving examples from the mediascape of Janakpur municipality.

Message and Medium

In a quick feedback later, participant Mr. Sudhir Shah, a local youth leader, said the message he took away from the session was how proper planning was key. “Competitive politics require meticulous preparations, step-by-step”, he said. “There were inspirations from Danish practices on how to do it, and do it creatively.” Mr. Sabin Bahadur Thapa, another youth leader, thought the session was interesting because he learnt of the elements of a successful election campaign. “I also saw how social media tools can be useful in targeting particularly youths, and dealing with media in general”, he said.

As the interactions came to a close, top provincial-level leaders like former minister and member of parliament from the district Mr. Shatrughan Mahato and Province No. 2 Deputy Head Mr. Nagendra Chaudhary in one voice said the two-day event was very beneficial and more such training needed to be conducted in different districts. That seems to be in the cards of the party. JOMPOPS SC member Mr. Gurung had earlier at the opening of the training on the first day had announced that the interactions in Dang and Janakpur also marked the initial launch of what he called a “School of Federalism” that the party will continue to work on for a formal establishment.

More information

Contact DIPD Country Coordinator in Nepal, Shristi Rana: shrishti@dipd.org.np

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