Nepal: bi/multi-language policy endorsed by over half of respondents to a survey

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jun 9 14:41:23 UTC 2007

The state of Nepali democracy
Wanted: comprehensive change, community identity, economic progress,
better governance


>>From Issue #352 (2007-06-08 - 2007-06-14)

An April 2007 poll conducted by the Nepali team of the South Asia
Democracy Study Group in collaboration with International Institute
for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) explores the state of
democracy in Nepal. The first round of the survey was conducted in
2004. The survey shows that the 250-year-old Shah dynasty is likely to
become a victim of the popular aspiration for change— 59 percent of
respondents chose a republic over retaining the monarchy. In the 2004
survey, only 15 percent did so. And this increase is not because of
the royal massacre, the royal takeovers, or the tarnished image of
royalty, but on principle. Two-thirds of the republican respondents
wanted a government 'ruled by the people' or believed 'monarchy is not
necessary in the modern era'. People buy the Maoists' agenda, but
trust other state and political institutions more.

Two-thirds of the respondents 'believe' the changing ideological
position of the CPN-M to varying degrees. This change in popular
perception is reflected in responses to other questions too. Only 7
percent of those surveyed consider the Maoists as a source of
insecurity, compared with 42 percent in 2004. The CPN-M topped the
list of those sympathetic to the cause of excluded groups. Respondents
were on board with the Maoist proposals to integrate the two armies
(74 percent) and impose a land ceiling (61 percent). Still, Nepalis
trust the other seven political institutions more. Of the 934
respondents (from a total of 4,089) who identified themselves as close
to a party, only 15 percent named the CPN-M, while 34 percent allied
themselves with the NC and 32 percent with the UML. Over half said
they would either decide later for whom they would vote or did not
want to tell.

Popular aspirations for change have been manifesting in different
forms. The janajati and madhesi movements appear to be genuinely
mass-based. Respondents identifying with just national identity
dropped sharply to 43 percent from 59 percent in 2004. Instead, there
has been a shift in favour of equal weight to both national and ethnic
or regional identity, from 19 percent in 2004 to 31.5 percent. It's
different in the tarai, though. Across caste, ethnicity, and religion,
madhesis favoured an ethnic or regional identity (30 percent on
average) over a national identity (18 percent). The figures were
reversed in 2004. But identity politics do not threaten national
integration—over 90 percent of respondents, including madhesis, said
they 'are proud' to belong of their own community and also Nepali.

The 'New Nepal' project aims to make fundamental changes to the
state—secularism, federalism, and multilingualism. The survey
discovered a paradox: support for a secular state, bi/multi-language
policy, and federalism has increased by 6. 4 and 9.5 percent
respectively since 2004. Yet 61 percent of respondents favoured
retaining the Hindu state and a little less than that wanted a unitary
form of government. A bi/multi-language policy, however, is endorsed
by over half the respondents. Hill origin respondents wanted a status
quo on language and the nature of government, while most madhesis
wanted alternatives. Hill ethnic groups and Muslims wanted a secular
state, in contrast to a majority of caste and dalit hill and tarai

All these issues will be settled by the new constitution. A large
majority of the respondents (62 percent) felt the CA elections could
be held in a safe atmosphere and 84 percent said international
supervision would ensure free and fair elections. The surveyed
citizens credited the eight-party alliance and resolution of the
conflict for the improved security environment.

These are the messages from the findings of the State of Democracy 2007 survey:

• Civic education is essential, given the high percentage of 'don't
know' responses on key issues such as the meaning of democracy and
what the CA is
• Not politics, but economic hardship is at the top of the list of
problems and challenges facing Nepalis (70 percent)
• Uncivil agitation—bandas and chakka jams—are not the way to get
people's support
• People expect results from the April Uprising and CA elections,
notably peace though political reconciliation and stability through
• The democratic transition must be linked to the voices of the people.

Krishna Hachhethu is country coordinator of the South Asia Democracy
Study Network, affiliated with CNAS at Tribhuvan University, and
associated with NCCS. This survey was conducted in collaboration with
International  Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

How the survey was done

The survey was conducted from 28 March to 27 April 2007 in 162 polling
stations (23 in urban and 139 in rural areas) spread over 41
parliamentary constituencies in 40 districts. A structured
questionnaire was administered through face-to-face interviews with a
nationwide sample of 4,089 respondents. The gender, rural/urban, and
caste/ethnic make up of the sample size largely, if not absolutely,
reflected the characteristics of the national population.

All figures are in percent

How satisfied are you with the functioning of the government since
Jana Andolan II?

 What is the best way to address demands of backward communities?

What do you think is the main cause for marginalisation/backwardness?

What are the two major problems facing the country today? (percentage
based on multiple responses)

How would you like to identify yourself?

How familiar are you with the following?

To what extent do you trust the following political party leaders?
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