The first-phase of the local elections in Nepal took place on 14 May 2017, with enthusiastic voter turnout of around 71 per cent. These elections are considered as an important step towards implementing the newly drafted Constitution of Nepal; the new Constitution stipulates all three elections namely local, provincial and national need to be held within February 2018.
Around 300 women politicians in the seven provinces were trained to contest the local elections by the Election Commission of Nepal in partnership with the Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS) and with technical support from the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy and the UNWomen. Many of them were able to secure nomination as candidates in the elections and have contested the recent elections.
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal held local elections for the first time in 1992. Once its five-year term got over, the second local elections took place in 1997. However, the next elections could not be held as due in 2002 as a result of the ongoing protracted “People’s War” started by the Maoist party in 1996.
In effect, there has been a vacuum of elected representatives at the local level since 2002. The civil servants had to carry the burden of the responsibilities of the elected representatives. The delivery of public services at the local level was also understandably affected. People at the grass-roots could not experience democracy directly.
In the new Constitution, local elections as mentioned above were stipulated to be held within February 2018. Therefore, local elections are an important part of implementing the new Constitution of Nepal. There were many challenges to holding these elections. The notable one being insistence from the Madhesi-based parties to address their demands for the constitutional amendments before they agree to go for the elections. This was challenging because the second largest party in the Parliament was opposed to the proposal and without its support it was difficult to get a two-third majority required to pass the constitutional amendments as demanded by the Madhesi-based parties.
When the effort to pass the constitutional amendments did not seem likely to get the required votes in the Parliament, the government decided to hold the elections in the two-phases. The first-phase covering provinces 3, 4 and 6 were scheduled for 14 May 2017 and the second-phase covering provinces 1, 2, 5, and 7 are scheduled to be held on 14 June 2017.
On 14 May 2017, the first-phase of the elections have been successfully held, participated by all the major political parties of Nepal. Voters also turned up in large numbers, surpassing the turn-out in the last national elections.
DIPD’s Contribution to the Elections
When the draft of the local election bill stipulated 40 per cent women’s reservation at the local level, political parties felt that they do not have enough women willing to contest elections. Participation of women in politics in Nepal is generally low. Male dominated leadership structures and a lack of gender friendly practices inside political parties of Nepal deter many women from joining politics. Women who join politics are perceived negatively in most places in Nepal which equally discourage women. Hence, it was difficult for political parties in Nepal to find enough women willing to contest elections.
In this context, the platform of Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (DIPD’s partner in Nepal) conceived of a local level orientation programme for women essentially to inspire them to contest local elections and also provide them with necessary technical knowledge related to standing in the elections.
JOMPOPS chose a different modality of implementation for this orientation programme. Instead of implementing directly, it decided to request the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) to implement the programme. The ECN is the constitutionally mandated body to implement such programmes. Equally importantly, ECN has fully functioning local offices in all the 75 districts of Nepal which meant that the local level orientation programmes could be smoothly implemented in all the 75 districts.
Once the ECN agreed to the request, JOMPOPS requested DIPD to provide technical assistance to the planned orientation programme. Following the request from JOMPOPS, DIPD secured the partnership from other relevant international organizations namely the Governance Facility and UNWomen on the project and moved ahead with contributing technical support to the potential women candidates for the elections.
Multi-Party Training for Women at the Local Level
As the first-phase of this programme, the Election Commission of Nepal conducted an Orientation Programme for its district election staff in Kathmandu in January 2017. The main objective of this programme was to sensitize the ECN staff on gender and also to provide them with the necessary training skills so that they are willing and competent to implement training programmes for women at the local level.
Around 30 ECN staff participated in this Orientation Programme with 21 from seven districts representing the seven provinces. In addition to attending sessions on gender and facilitation skills, the district level ECN staff also formulated action plans for the local level training with inputs from the Gender Coordinators of the JOMPOPS platform.
In the run up to the elections, the district election staff trained in Kathmandu implemented multi-party training for women at the local level in the seven districts (Panchthar, Bara, Nuwakot, Palpa, Syangja, Kalikot, and Bajhang) representing all the seven provinces of Nepal. Around 300 potential women candidates were oriented on various crucial information about the local elections such as the local level structure (the legislative and executive branches of the rural municipality and municipality, and the functions of district assembly and district coordination committee), roles and responsibilities of the elected officials who will be exercise 22 powers at the local level unlike the mandate exercised by previous local bodies, how to file a candidacy; the training not only provided them with necessary understanding but also all the necessary reference materials that could be used to further enhance their understanding.
What was most remarkable about the programme was that women turned up investing their own money on the logistics costs such as transportation. Equally remarkably, the majority of training participants were from remote villages, not just from the district headquarters, and many of them had to travel long distance, by bus or foot, to reach the training venue. In many cases, the participants had to juggle with their house work and political party work in order to be away for the training for nearly two days. Despite these challenges, local women politicians came for the training and committed themselves to both the days because, as they shared, this was the first training that offered them knowledge about contesting in the upcoming local elections. No such training had been earlier conducted either by the Election Commission or any international or national organization in all the seven districts.
The following conclusions can be made drawing from the evaluation forms, direct interviews with the participants as well as comments from the participants during the training sessions: 1) Most of the nearly 300 local women trainees felt inspired to contest the upcoming local elections, even to stake their claims over important leadership positions at the local level 2) Almost all of the participants – most of whom were at least a member of the district committee – did not have any knowledge about the crucial information related to the local elections 3) Nearly 300 women got trained to file their candidacy in the local elections and felt confident about tackling all the necessary technical processes related to the local elections.
Currently, the counting of the votes is going on and the preparation for the second-phase elections have started. The Prime Minister of the current government representing the third largest party in Parliament has already announced his plans for resignation to make a way for the new government. This has been part of the agreement among the major political parties before the new elections. Once the new government comes into power, the main challenge would be to conduct the next-phase of the elections with broader participation of all the political forces in the country. DIPD will continue to support multiparty dialogue and promotion of women in politics through JOMPOPS in this given political context.