This is not an endorsement.
This is an exercise in deciding whom to cast my vote for in the first local elections since the turn of the millennium. An exercise that may or may not prove useful for you.
We have one last weekend to mull over whom we would like to represent our interests, after 15 years of mulling over what our interests are.
Yes, many of us have voted before. But most of the time, in voting for parliamentary representatives, we have been considering the larger issues. Do we want to be ruled, even if only in name, by the scions of a royal dynasty? Do we want to recognize the equality of women and men and other genders? Do we care to make amends for centuries of ethnic, linguistic and religious hegemony imposed by the unitary Hindu state? Can the state adopt an economy that respects the rights of the environment as much as that of businesses and their workers? Can it negotiate a mutually beneficial, non-hierarchical relationship with other states, near and far? Do we want peace and prosperity, now and in the future?
No, we’re not quite voting for the larger picture come Sunday, not in any real, immediate sense other than that a political party may be expected to govern in much the same way from top to bottom. We’re talking about what matters in the quotidian, at the level of your neighbourhood. Roads, drains, schools, hospitals, waste disposal, security, public transport, markets, festivals, community. We’re not catapulting career politicians into the rarefied air of Singhadurbar and Parliament; those chosen to represent the hood will stay in the hood.
So who will it be? A rather complex ballot paper awaits you; you will be voting for seven individuals to run your Municipality and Ward Administration – a Mayor, a Deputy Mayor, a Ward Chairperson, and 4 Ward Members (a woman Member, a Dalit woman Member, and two ordinary Members). Barring a landslide of conviction, it seems unlikely that any one party will monopolize the vote, at least in the mostly diverse blocks across the Kathmandu Valley. Power-sharing could be the order of the day, and we have to hope that the power to lobby for and deploy resources is negotiated by the individuals we elect rather than their mother parties.
For have we not been subjected to the power-sharing of political parties at municipal level ever since the state shied away from the responsibility of holding local elections in 2002? The power-sharing that resulted ensured that the parties did very well out of not ever having to be accountable. In Tokha Municipality at least, where my parents live, I can see clearly that little has been done to ensure even something as basic as getting in and out of the place. There are half a dozen approaches to Dhapasi Heights, and as long as I can remember (I’m talking years here), all these roads have been in various states of disrepair, mostly at the same time, and it’s actually getting worse. What does this tell us about the ability of Nepali Congress, UML and the Maoists to work together – or rather their lack of interest in working for the benefit of a municipal population that hasn’t voted for them?
Indeed, without a serious study of the election manifestos that have been put into your hands and which appear in truncated, excerpted forms across the media, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the political parties vying for your swastika. Except perhaps that the Nepali Congress spends half its time on its own political history, UML enjoys raising a laugh (Nepali merchant ships!), the Maoists haven’t lost their flair for sloganeering (“Singhadurbar in villages and municipalities”), and RPP want us to vote for them so they can bring back a dullard who was voted out.
As for the independents – those brave individuals who may or may not convince you that change is coming and they are ones to deliver it – they appear to represent their own capabilities more so than their counterparts from the more established parties, because they have not (yet) been overshadowed by the misdeeds of their mother parties. It is difficult to be optimistic about their chances – particularly when one struggles to discover whether they are fielding a full complement of candidates in any municipality other than the crown jewels of core Kathmandu and Patan, combined with a wilfully dysfunctional ballot paper, a plethora of election symbols, and a moribund Election Commission website – but one can hope that the likes of Sajha and Bibeksheel will, for all that they are very much in their infancy, play some part in local government.
All the more reason, then, to examine the qualifications of those standing before you, and to vote, no matter which party is represented, on the basis of what you think individuals might accomplish in cooperation with their fellow councillors, who are likely to represent a range of political ideologies as much as aptitudes for hard graft. With the right mix, perhaps, they will learn to work together, putting aside the whims of their political masters for the needs of their democratic masters – You.