The Nepal Democracy Survey 2007, recently completed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, sought the opinions of Nepal’s citizens, including its political elite, on a variety of issues relating to the three major components needed for restructuring the Nepali state – the end of monarchical rule, the transformation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the need for inclusive democracy.
The information was gathered through a cross-sectional citizen survey of 20 percent of the total 205 constituencies in the country, across the three ecological zones (mountain, hill and Tarai), in all of the five development regions. In addition to the 4089 questionnaires, and additional in-depth interviews, a ‘booster survey’ in one hill and one Tarai district was conducted to specifically ascertain the rise in ethnicity among hill janajatis and Madhesis.
The respondents’ perceptions of democracy, their trust in political institutions and leaders, their observations of the transitional arrangement and their opinions on the proposed election of the Constituent Assembly are some of the important elements that this survey gauged. Outlined here are highlights of the ten key findings of this process (all figures given are percentages).
The process of social-capital formation, which has been exhibited in several ways, ensures the sustainability and consolidation of democracy in Nepal. People have greater media exposure and greater association/involvement with formal organisations. Many are keeping themselves informed about recent political developments, and participating in political discussions and political activities. Although the political parties and the CPN (Maoist) garnered a relatively low level of trust, the public’s trust in the overall state and political institutions is admirable. People’s political awareness and participation is on the rise. Democracy is preferred to any other kind of government at the moment, and so this system is suitable for Nepal.
- Citizens who said it is ‘easy to discuss politics openly in any situation’: 62
- Citizens who trust in the Election Commission ‘some’ or a ‘great deal’: 77.7
- Citizens who said that ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’: 66.6
The majority of Nepali voters do not understand the meaning of the Constituent Assembly, but they do have a sense of what it means. Nepalis have never experienced an election to a Constituent Assembly, so a large portion of the Nepali population does not understand its academic and technical meaning. They do, however, sense that the Constituent Assembly is somehow associated with their aspirations – ie, peace, security, governance, economic development, change, etc.
- Citizens who ‘have heard [of] but couldn’t understand’ the Constituent Assembly: 50.7
- Citizens who ‘have not heard’ of the Constituent Assembly: 31.7
The political elite are less optimistic that fair elections to the Constituent Assembly can be held without fear, but the people think otherwise. The elite doubt the security situation, but the people believe that the situation is improving. The creation of the ‘Eight Party Alliance’, which includes the CPN (Maoist), and the ‘resolution of the Maoist conflict’ were, more than any other factor, credited with contributing to the improvement of the security environment in the country. Both the MPs and commoners affirmed that supervision by the international community would ensure free and peaceful elections to the Constituent Assembly.
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who are ‘fully sure’ and ‘somewhat sure’ that the Constituent Assembly elections can be held ‘in an atmosphere without fear’: 62, 39
- Citizens who feel ‘more safe’ than a year before: 47.9
The people are more concerned with peace, political stability and economic development, whereas the elite are more concerned with the restructuring of the Nepali state. People expect that most of their aspirations, as embodied by the People’s Uprising of April 2006, will bear fruit; and that the upcoming elections to the Constituent Assembly will bring peace and political reconciliation, help in the formation of a stable and effective government, and promote economic development.
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who expect ‘state restructuring’ to result from the Jana Andolan of April 2006: 6.9, 68.0
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who see ‘economic hardship’ as one of the two most significant problems facing the country today: 70.1, 38.3
Opinion is swinging dramatically and exponentially in favour of a republic vis-à-vis monarchy. The people’s preference for a republic is on the rise, and their opinion against the institution of monarchy has been influenced by decisions taken by political parties and the government in the post-Jana Andolan II period.
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who think the monarchy ‘should be abolished’: 58.7, 84.3
- Citizens who have heard of ‘republic’, but ‘couldn’t understand’ the term: 46.6
Both the people and the elite believe in the CPN (Maoist)’s new commitment to multiparty democracy. The CPN (Maoist)’s laying down of arms, entering into a peace agreement, agreeing to the subsequent power-sharing arrangement, and its public affirmation of its commitment to multiparty democracy have made many people and the elite believe that the party is committed to multiparty democracy. Some, however, doubt its intentions.
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who ‘believe’ and ‘strongly believe’ in the CPN (Maoist)’s transition to a multi-party system: 67, 73
- Citizens who are unaware that ‘the CPN (Maoist) has changed its course from armed insurgency to peaceful politics’: 34.2
Assertion of ethnic and regional identity is rising. Nepal has witnessed a rise in ethnic consciousness, particularly after Jana Andolan I, the mass movement of the spring of 1990. In the post-Jana Andolan II period, the issue of ethnicity became more prominent after the Madhesis (in the Tarai) and the Janajatis (in the hills) took to the streets, demanding inclusive democracy. The rise of ethnicity and regionalism, however, won’t contribute to the disintegration of the country.
- Citizens who are ‘proud’ or ‘very proud’ of their ‘community identity’: 89.8
- Citizens who are ‘proud’ or ‘very proud’ to be a Nepali: 96.5
The people are in favour of affirmative action for Nepal’s excluded groups, and have a sense of who the excluded and included groups are. Both the elite and the public sympathise with the excluded groups. Generally, the hill high castes (Brahmin, Chhetri) are considered as included, and others – Dalits, Janajatis, Madhesis, Muslims and women – are considered as excluded.
- Communities that citizens feel are ‘excluded in their locality’ – respectively, Janajatis, Muslims, Madhesis, Women and Dalits: 73.6, 82.6, 84.3, 87.6, 93.9
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who feel that ‘the condition of the excluded groups’ has improved ‘during the last few years’: 55.1, 85.2
There is a gap between the parties’ formal positions and the people’s choices on key issues regarding the restructuring of the state. The interim parliament – with the consensus of the eight political parties – declared Nepal a secular state, and the interim government also proclaimed that it would adopt a federal form of government in the new constitution, which will be framed after the election of the Constituent Assembly. But the majority of the surveyed citizens want Nepal to be a Hindu and unitary state.
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who say that Nepal ‘should be a Hindu state’: 60.8, 5.6
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who say they ‘like most’ a unitary state: 57.6, 6.7
People of pahadi (hill) origin and Madhesi (plains/Tarai) origin are divided on the agenda of state restructuring. People of hill origin appear to prefer the status quo regarding a national language policy and the nature of government, whereas Madhesis want a bi/multi-lingual policy and federalism.
- Citizens who ‘know about the Jana Andolan II’ of April 2006: 66.7
- Citizens who ‘know about the Madhes Andolan’ (andolan means ‘movement’) of January 2007: 75.4
- Citizens and MPs, respectively, who ‘would like to identify’ themselves as ‘only Nepali’: 36.2, 81.4
‘Elsewhere’ is a section in which Himal features writings from other sources that the editors would like to present to our readers. This selection is an edited excerpt from Nepal in Transition: A study on the state of democracy, recently published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). Used with permission. More at www.idea.int.