Alliance policy could reduce women’s representation in local government
Bhim Dhungana is the Mayor of Nilkantha Municipality in Dhading District. Man Raj Bhandari is the deputy mayor.
Article 17 (4) of the Local Elections Act 2017 makes it mandatory for a political party to present a woman as a candidate for the position of leader or deputy leader at the local level.
So how did the municipality of Nilkantha only have males as mayor and deputy mayor?
The reason is the alliance policy.
Dhungana represents the Nepali Congress and Bhandari the CPN (Maoist Centre). In 2017, the two parties fought in local elections as part of an alliance. They presented their candidates, both male. They won.
The legal provision requiring that one of the two candidates for the position of leader or deputy leader at the local level be a woman is only applicable when a party has candidates for both positions.
“The provision is not applicable where a party presents a candidate for only one of the two positions,” reads the law.
The Congress and the Maoist Center had forged an electoral alliance in the first phase of local elections held on May 14, 2017. The two parties having agreed to allocate the post of mayor to the Congress and the post of deputy mayor to the Maoist Center of Nilkantha , they were free to present only male candidates. As a result, there is no female representation in leadership positions in the municipality.
Now that ruling coalition partners and Rastriya Janamorcha are negotiating an electoral alliance for local elections scheduled for May 13, concerns are growing that municipalities and rural municipalities could be filled with men in leadership positions.
Nilkantha Municipality is just one example. At many local levels, parties that conducted elections as part of an alliance in the 2017 elections fielded male candidates for both positions.
The CPN-UML had joined forces with the Rastriya Prajatantra party in the metropolitan city of Kathmandu. Bidya Sundar Shakya of UML was candidate for mayor while Raja Ram Shrestha of Rastriya Prajatantra party was candidate for deputy mayor. Shakya won, but Shrestha was defeated by Hariprabha Khadgi, a congresswoman. Had Shrestha won, both leadership positions in the country’s largest metropolitan city would have been filled by men.
Since there was no electoral alliance between the parties in the second and third phases of the last local elections, women obtained more than 95% of the deputy leader positions and about 2% of the leader positions in local governments. .
Women leaders and activists say women’s representation could drop sharply at the local level this time around as five parties plan to go to the local polls as part of an alliance.
“In all parties, candidate selection mechanisms are male-dominated. As heads of local bodies and deputy heads hold executive positions, it is very likely that female candidates will not be selected for both positions,” Pushpa Bhusal, a member of the Congress Central Committee and party whip, told the Post. “There is a chance that we will not even retain the achievements of the previous elections. Women leaders of all parties should warn their respective party leaderships about this.
The last local elections saw women elected in large numbers. Of the 35,041 elected, nearly 41% (14,352) were women. More than a third of the women were elected in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal and the local election law. Article 38 (4) of the Constitution of Nepal gives women the right to participate in all state organs on the basis of proportional inclusion.
It also stipulates that among the four members of the parish, two must be women, including one Dalit. Although parties were reluctant to give mayor or president positions to women candidates, women were elected to most vice-president or deputy mayor positions—718 out of 753 local levels.
Currently, only seven mayors are women and 11 are presidents.
Women leaders say that although they want incumbent female deputy mayors or vice presidents to be appointed as mayors or presidents, there are chances that women will not even get the positions of vice presidents and deputy mayors during May 13 elections.
“We fear that the representation of women at the local level is plunging. Although the leadership of our party has said that the selection of candidates will be inclusive,” Rekha Sharma, whip of the Maoist Center, told the Post. “Let’s hope they join the floor. We’re here to turn up the heat.
The constitution provides for affirmative action to ensure inclusiveness in the various state mechanisms. The provision of the Local Elections Act requiring a woman to hold office if both leadership positions in a local body is in line with the spirit of the Act. However, the provision of Section 17(4) of the Act has created a loophole that allows parties to make decisions contrary to the principles of inclusion.
“When we were drafting the law, we didn’t realize the provision would have negative consequences,” Sharma said. “It needs an overhaul. However, this is not possible before the next elections. Let’s hope that the decisions of political parties are guided by ethics.
Academics say it is the moral responsibility of political parties to ensure they do not take retrogressive action.
Neeti Aryal Khanal, a lecturer in sociology at Tribhuvan University, said the candidate selection process will test the accountability of political leaders to the people and the constitution.
“In several local bodies, female deputy mayors and vice-presidents have outperformed male mayors and presidents. These deputy mayors or vice presidents deserve to be selected for mayoral and presidential candidates,” she told the Post. “There should be no excuse for parties to decrease the number of women candidates. The electoral commission should also monitor the situation.
Observers say the only reason parties form an electoral alliance is to win elections. “The alliance has nothing to do with the interest of the people, nor are the parties preoccupied with their political ideologies when forming the alliance,” Khanal said. “Politics is not just about winning elections.”