Long wait for local government

With politics at a standstill in Kathmandu, governance should be shifting to the local levels. In fact, the national is holding the local hostage.

The former Kingdom of Nepal now calls itself a federal, democratic republic. Invested in the word federal is a whole range of popular aspirations: for meaningful participation in local governance away from the chafing dictates of the Centre, and for the exercise of cultural and linguistic rights that so many of Nepal's communities have been historically denied. The demand for federalism emerged and became an important part of Nepali public discourse due to the frustration that arose as a result of the state's tendency to concentrate power in Kathmandu even after promises of decentralization had been made and codified into law – a tendency caused partly because of the state's limited ability to undertake the reforms necessary for federal governance and partly because of its unwillingness to let go.

Nepal's experience with decentralisation over the past two decades can be divided in three phases. First, the 1990s was a period of experimentation and gradual acceptance of the principles of local self-governance. Contrary to some views, the political class that came to lead the state after the democratic opening of 1990 was not immediately and whole-heartedly committed to allowing local governance bodies – in Nepal's context, at the district, village and municipality levels. Such maximum autonomy would erode the powers of the central government. Nonetheless, the basic administrative units at the village level were renamed Village Development Committees (VDCs), and greater political freedom prevailed within these as compared to the time of the Panchayat regime, when VDCs were called village panchayats.

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Himal Southasian