July 2023 Analysis: Gender, Human Rights & Social Inclusion


Posted by : Prashanti Poudyal

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Date : 2023-07-31





July Analysis: Gender, Human Rights

& Social Inclusion


The Election Commission of Nepal proposed a new amendment to limit candidates to two terms under the proportional representation system. The amendment would also require political parties to field at least 33% of women candidates under the first-past-the-post electoral system. This was an effort to ensure that the system does not get abused by influential patrons and that underrepresented groups get a fair chance to be elected. The government of Nepal has also passed a new bill that criminalizes loan sharking. The bill was amended at the last minute to address the concerns of lenders. A Dalit man's house was set on fire by a man from an upper caste after he eloped with the upper caste man's sister. The incident highlights the discrimination that Dalits still face today, despite laws that are supposed to protect them.
 

Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
3rd July The Election Commission registers the ‘Bill to Amend and Consolidate the Election Law’ at the Parliament.
3rd July A Dalit’s house was set on fire for eloping with an upper-caste girl.
16th July The House of Representatives endorsed a new bill to curb loan sharking; this time addressing the concerns of the lenders also.
 

Election Commission’s Bid to Ensure Inclusion, whilst Compromising Democracy

On a groundbreaking proposal, the election commission decided to register the ‘Bill to Amend and Consolidate the Election Law’ at the Parliament. Through the proposed amendment, the commission suggested that a person who has already been elected twice through the proportional representation (PR) system be barred from filing candidacy under the same electoral category. Furthermore, under the new law (if passed), the political parties would be required to field at least 33 percent of women candidates under the first-past-the-post electoral system itself. The commission also proposed to include the ‘None of the Above’ or the ‘NOTA’ sign in the ballot paper.
The provision limiting a candidate to two terms under the proportional representation system has a more immediate impact. Time and again, leaders, who are nowhere near marginalized, have taken advantage of the proportional representation system to secure their win. The same happened in the Federal Election of November 2022 and the Local Election of May 2022. In the Federal Election of November 2022, as affairs of electoral coalitions became the major priority of mainstream political parties, the agenda of inclusion, clearly took a backseat. Beginning from the nomination, parties merely followed obligatory constitutional provisions, whilst lacking in their true commitment towards inclusion.

The November 2022 election also saw the misuse and manipulation of the Proportional Representation system by influential patrons. While proportional representation is envisioned to ensure the inclusion of underrepresented groups, it was occupied by elite leaders of the likes of Arju Deuba, Bimalendra Nidhi, and Prakash Sharan Mahat, among others. Similar was also seen in other parties, such as Raghuji Pant and Eknath Dhakal from CPN UML and Pashupati SJB Rana from the RPP party.

Similarly in the local election of May 2022, the patterns were still the same. Parties’ alliance politics opened pathways for exploiting the loopholes of the terms of the proportional representation system. As allied parties would no longer be required to abide by the provision of ensuring either the mayor/deputy mayor or ward chair/vice chair to be either male or female; the female nomination was little seen, as a result.
Of recent, the Nepali Congress also called for the closure of the proportional representation system in the House of Representatives, whilst making the National Assembly fully representative of the country’s diverse groups. In their central committee meeting, some major leaders claimed that the proportional Representation system was a hindrance for any single party to command a majority in the parliament. Thus, some leaders proposed to scrap the proportional representation system in the HoR altogether, while maintaining diversity in the National Assembly.

While on one hand, Election Commission’s decision is lauded by many, its move has also been questioned for being challenging to democracy. Election Commission has in the past also introduced irrational conditions like only allowing party campaigns to last 15 days, which seems impractical. This new provision regarding Proportional Representation may also hinder inclusion in the long haul. Ensuring inclusion takes time and patience; while revision to any system is necessary, experts argue that it is not the time yet to evaluate the Proportional Representation system neither to make amends to it.

Bill Supporting Lenders

As of July 5, the ordinance that criminalized loan sharking lost its validity. Due to the opposition’s parliamentary obstructions twice this month, the government briefly failed to introduce a bill to replace the ordinance. However, as of July 16, the House of Representatives endorsed a new bill; this time with the intention of addressing the concerns of the lenders also. The last-minute tweak was brought by the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) of the ruling coalition, which had previously been obstructing the bill.

According to JSP, the law proposed earlier would discourage genuine lending too, which is vital, particularly in the Madhes Region where the poor have very limited access to institutional banking services. After some last-minute changes to the bill, the party too agreed to support it. Ultimately, the new bill was endorsed unanimously by the lower house on July 16. While the earlier bill stipulated a penalty of up to Rs. 70,000 and a jail term of up to seven years, following JSP’s suggestions, the new provision was shifted to ‘being determined based on the degree of the offense.’

Usurious lending has been a major problem in many parts of Nepal, especially in areas with low financial literacy. Loan sharks will continue to prey on the poor and vulnerable as long as policies intended to help people with little collateral get better loan terms are ineffective. The new law, with a sanction as vague as, ‘being determined based on the degree of the offense,’ leaves room for powerful and well-connected offenders to find leeways for escape. The new law is likely to bring in more protest from the victims, which may as well lead the government to square one, having to draw consensus once again.

Dalits Still Facing Issues

On July 3, Mukunda Nepali - a Dalit’s house was blazed in a fire by 21-year-old Himmat Giri, for eloping with his sister. The police then filed caste-based discrimination and criminal arson case against Himmat Giri. The incident took place in Tatopani Rural Municipality.

The case took another turn when it was discovered that the girl was only 16 years old. The girl’s family claim that they had only refused as it had been a case of child marriage, while Mukunda’s family accused them of caste discrimination. The girl and the boy apparently had been dating for two years.

Time and again, Dalits have been subjected to discrimination, despite all laws in place. The Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act was enacted in 2011; the act stipulates that depending upon the degree of offense, a person may face imprisonment term from two months to two years and a fine from twenty thousand rupees to one hundred thousand rupees. Yet the law, itself, is insufficient it seems, as it is not just Mukunda who has been facing discrimination. In March of this year, Tul Prasad Bishwokarma, a member of the National Assembly, faced difficulty finding a place to rent in Kathmandu. Following that, the National Assembly unanimously endorsed a resolution motion to end caste-based discrimination. The aim of the motion was to pressure the government towards effectively ending discrimination and oppression against Dalits. Among other things, the 19-point motion directs the government to ensure proper legal action against the culprits and report to the upper house regarding the progress it has made towards creating an equal and equitable environment for the Dalits. With such news of the subjugation of Dalits surfacing, it is yet to be seen how effective such a resolution will prove for the Dalits at large.