The political parties have chosen few Dalit candidates to head municipal and village councils, despite the constitutional principle of proportional inclusion and provisions in the parties’ own manifestos. It is mandatory that the municipal or village council includes at least one Dalit woman, but data on party nominations show few Dalits have been nominated for the top jobs—that of mayor in municipal councils and chairperson in village councils, and their deputies.
The Nepali Congress has fielded 515 candidates in this phase of the election. Among them, 1 Dalit is running for the post of mayor in Tripura Sundari municipality in Dolpa, and 5 for the post of deputy mayor or deputy chairperson. This means only 1 percent of Nepali Congress candidates running for top posts are Dalits.
According to the 2011 census, Dalits make up 6, 18, and 23 percent of the total population in Province 3, 4, and 6 respectively.
Kul Bahadur Gurung, former general secretary of the Nepali Congress, claimed that his party had encouraged Dalit leaders to run.
“Whether or not they will contest elections depends on their own abilities,” he said. “No one has barred them from holding any position in the party.”
Another major party, the CPN-UML, has fielded 525 candidates for the top posts. Among them, 4 Dalits are contesting for the post of mayor or chairperson, and 5 are contesting for deputy positions. This adds up to less than 2 percent of the candidates.
Despite such near-zero figures on Dalit nominations, Yogesh Bhattarai, chief of the UML’s communications division, claimed that his party would ensure that the level of participation of the Dalit community is higher than that required by the constitution.
The Maoist Centre has fielded 455 candidates for the top jobs. Of them, only 3 Dalits are fighting for the mayor or chairperson’s position, and 9 for the post of deputy. These add up to about 3 percent of the total candidates.
Table: Dalit candidates in Province 3, 4, and 6 for mayor and chairperson of village council
Why do Dalits have such low representation despite their enormous contribution in the Maoist’s People’s War? Pampha Bhusal, spokesperson for the Maoist-Centre, said her party is “determined to increase Dalit participation above and beyond the inclusive principle, and to bring more Dalits on board compared to other political parties.”
Dalits make up more than 13 percent of Nepal’s population, according to the census, but Dalit NGOs claim they are undercounted.
Table: Dalit candidates for mayor, chairperson and their deputies in Province 4 and 6 only, where Dalits make up over 20 percent of the total population.
Explaining the lack of Dalit candidates, Ramlakhan Harijan, chairperson of the Dalit NGOs Federation, accused the parties of not fielding Dalit candidates under false pretexts.
“They assumed a Dalit candidate might lose the election, or that Dalit candidates don’t have the ability to spend money during elections, or that other communities might not vote for a Dalit candidate,” Harijan said.
Smaller and newer parties are no better when it comes to including Dalits. Among the 218 candidates for mayor, chairperson, and deputy positions, 1 Dalit candidate is running for mayor and 6 for deputy positions. The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal and Naya Shakti Party have fielded a total of 59 candidates for top jobs, including 33 candidates in Province 3, and 25 candidates in Province 4, and 1 candidate in Province 6. Of these, only 1 Dalit candidate is running for the mayor’s position and another for a deputy position.
Cover photo: Man casts vote in Panchayat election. 1964. Bhojpur. Voting was formalized, and each man walked to the table alone to cast his vote under the eye of local police. Very few lower caste people seemed to be voting. Larry Daloz.