Historic election leaves Nepal women in lurchMarch 8th, 2008 - 11:57 am ICT by admin
(Special, For Women’s Day March 8)
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 8 (IANS) The first historic constituent assembly election in Nepal, which will enable voters to write their own constitution and is regarded as the key to restoring peace and stability in the former Himalayan kingdom, has however left women in the lurch. Women, who form over 51 percent of Nepal’s 27-million population and played a dominant role in the street protests two years ago that saw the fall of King Gyanendra’s absolute regime, have not got the proportional representation in the April 10 polls that they had been vying for.
This election will see two prominent women contestants make their poll debut - Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s daughter Sujata Koirala, who is a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Hisila Yami, a top Maoist leader who is the physical planning and works minister.
However, none of the ruling parties have chosen 30 percent women contestants, the minimum reservation for the gender in all state organs pledged by the ruling parties. The Maoists have been the most upfront, fielding 20 percent women candidates.
Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai, who is Yami’s husband, admitted that though his party had wanted to nominate 50 percent women contestants, due to the scarcity of suitable candidates, they could not do so.
The two other biggest parties have failed miserably to promote women leaders. The prime minister’s Nepali Congress party, the biggest in parliament, has named only 26 women for the election that will see over 4,000 candidates in the direct fray for 240 seats.
Its biggest traditional rival in the polls, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has also chosen 26 women candidates for the direct election.
On Saturday, when the world celebrated International Women’s Day, a media report from Nepal pointed out that women candidates from both parties were doomed from the beginning.
“Are these candidates really fielded to win?” the Kathmandu Post daily said in a front-page report. “The parties have fielded most of their women candidates in constituencies where they have weak public support.”
The Nepali Congress, for instance, has fielded a little-known candidate, Bhim Kumari Buda, in Rolpa district, regarded as the cradle of the Maoist movement. Buda’s rival is none other than Maoist chief Prachanda himself.
In Dang, another Maoist stronghold from where Maoist minister for information and communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara is contesting, the Nepali Congress nominee is another lightweight, Anita Devkota.
There are rumours of an understanding between the ruling parties to ensure the victory of their top leaders by naming weak candidates against them and women seem to have been made the sacrificial lambs.
However, one poll fight that will grab the headlines involves a woman contestant.
Sujata Koirala is making her poll debut from Sunsari district in the Terai plains where caste, community and cash are said to be the deciding factors, not party colours.
The first daughter will face a formidable rival in the form of Upendra Yadav, chief of debutant party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum that has begun controlling Terai politics and with its allies this year shut down the plains for 16 days.