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NextGen takes on Old Guard in Nepal polls

Sobita Gautam (right) symbolises of the rise of Nepal’s young leaders (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@2Rupaiya)

Kathmandu: With just two days left for crucial federal parliament and provincial assembly polls, Sobita Gautam, a young activist from Nepal has been aggressively campaigning door-to-door in her Kathmandu-2 constituency.

Gautam, 27, is contesting elections to enter the House of Representatives, the lower house of Nepal’s 275-member federal parliament. She is competing with Onsari Gharti, a leader of the ruling CPN (Maoist center) who is also a former speaker of parliament, and Maniram Phuyal, a leader of the main opposition CPN (UML).

Although she is still an infant in Nepal’s mainstream politics and her little-known Rashtriya Swatantra Party is struggling to be established in mainstream politics, she sees her high prospects in elections.

Gautam, a lawyer and a former TV journalist, projects herself as a youth leader. She says her candidature represents all those youths who want significant reforms in national politics.

“I believe that people will vote for youths this time as they are tired of old politicians and their nasty businesses in the guise of politics,” Gautam said in a recent TV interview. She believes that youth participation in mainstream politics will hasten political transformation and social change in the country.

Gautam is among the hundreds of Nepali youths who are trying to enter mainstream politics through federal parliament and provincial assembly elections that are scheduled to be held on November 20. Although youths make up 40% of the country’s total population, their representation at the policy-making level is minimal.

Nepal is heading to federal parliament and provincial assembly elections for a second time after the country adopted a republican constitution in 2015. The upcoming elections is said to be another major step to consolidate democratic republic and federalism.

Sagar Dhakal, another young aspirant, is contesting elections against none other than the country’s incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Dhakal is running a vigorous door-to-door campaign in the far-western district of Dadeldhura, where Deuba won elections consecutively for at least five times. There are reasons why Dhakal decided to run against Deuba this time. It was in 2017, Dhakal went viral after he exchanged barbs with Deuba at a talk show hosted by the BBC Media Action. Dhakal, the guest participant, questioned Prime Minister Deuba on why Nepal lacks prime ministers or presidents who have graduated from world famous universities like UK’s Oxford.

Enraged by Dhakal’s question, Deuba showed erratic behavior. Deuba, the chief speaker of the event, gave a blunt reply “How could we get Oxford University here overnight?” Dhakal was in the national spotlight after this event.

Later on, Dhakal went to Oxford to achieve a Master’s degree and returned home.  The young man is now in the spotlight again by contesting against Prime Minister Deuba.

“This is not my constituency, but this is where I am contesting the elections from, and against a person who became the prime minister five times,” Dhakal, an independent candidate, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying.

Dhakal said that youngsters who aspire to drive national politics should continue to break the hegemony of old politicians through their noble vision. “In fact, people under 40 should run mainstream politics,” he said in another interview.

Although periodic elections are a battle between the old and the new, the conventional and alternative political forces, Nepal’s present upcoming elections suggest that people from different walks of life are too in the fray.

Local elections held in May this year might have motivated many youngsters to field candidacies in independent capacity or by representing political parties, according to observers.

For example, Balen Sah, 32, a rapper, won mayoral race in Kathmandu Metropolitan city in the independent capacity defeating his strong rival candidates from big parties–Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Likewise, Harka Rai won mayoral race in Dharan Sub-metropolitan city in eastern Nepal while Gopal Hamal became the mayor of Dhangadhi Sub-metropolis in far-western Nepal. Both Rai and Hamal were independent candidates.

The rise of independent politicians is seen as a sign that conventional parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are losing their hold over their constituencies, observers said.

“Youngsters are in the fray in these elections this time with a strong belief that people are tired of old politicians and want a political and social transformation by whittling them of mainstream politics. The recent local level polls also suggest that people are frustrated with traditional politics,” Yuba Nath Lamsal, a political commentator and a former editor-in-chief of the state-run The Rising Nepal daily newspaper, told India Narrative.

Other popular faces are also in the race by forming different political parties. For example, Ramesh Kharel, a former police officer, is contesting elections from Kathmandu-1. He founded the Nepal Sushasan Party, only last year, and is fighting on the plank of good governance and anti-corruption.

“I believe that the old guard should retire from politics and the new should get a chance to lead the country,” Kharel, who is competing elections with ruling NC’s Prakash Man Singh and Rashtriya Prajatantra Party’s Rabindra Mishra, told a TV interview last week.

Yug Pathak, another activist, is vying elections with Chairman of the CPN UML KP Sharma Oli is eastern Jhapa District in the independent capacity.

According to the Election Commission of Nepal, a total of 360 candidates have filed their candidacies for 15 seats of House of Representatives member in three districts in the Kathmandu Valley, and of them 128 are independent candidates, which is 35.55 per cent of the total candidacies. Similarly, 340 candidates have filed their candidacies for 30 seats for provincial assembly in these three districts. Of them, 119 are independent candidates, which is 35 per cent.

According to the commission, altogether 2,412 candidates – 2,187 men and just 225 women – are vying for 165 of the 275 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house, under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. The remaining 110 lawmakers will be elected through proportional representation (PR) system.

Also Read: In Nepal ‘democratic-left’ battles ‘regressive’ forces in crucial national elections

(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal correspondent based in Kathmandu)