How many percent of the voters listen to teachers or village leaders for electoral advice? Well, in our experience, it varies between villages – and therefore also within a single VDC in many cases.
In a village with a mixed ethnic composition – without one single “village leader” to turn to – more villagers will tend to vote independently. But in, say, a Tamang or Tharu village, it’s common that up to half or more follow the advice or instructions of the village leader. In some cases all the villagers do!
Meanwhile, it’s possible that fewer village voters vote that way today than in the past. IDEA, an INGO advocating democracy worldwide, conducted a follow up in 2013 on two previous surveys – from 2004 and 2007 – on the state of democracy in Nepal. They found a general decline in the percentage voting as the “community leader” suggests. The rate was down to 8 percent of the respondent voters.
It is indeed still possible to detect villages where many locals will vote according to the village leader. But at the same time, it’s possible that something might be happening with this kind of voting behaviour. In fact, observations from villages we have visited could support such an assessment:
Many voters have told us that due to disappointment with previous candidates – as well as with community leaders telling them how to vote – they have started to vote according to their “own wish”. The more elections, the more experience, they say, and the more critical they have become.
Indeed, in the 2013 CA election many voters ignored the promises of candidates not from their own constituency. Some voters accepted the electoral bribes offered, but they secretly voted for a local candidate instead: a candidate whom they believed was more likely to work for their community.
Have voters become more independent and strategic in their electoral choices? Well, the behaviour above could seem new. However, we recorded the exact same behaviour in villages as early as in 2002. So it’s not new. But it may have become more common. IDEA’s findings suggest that it has.
Which factors would be causing such change in voting behaviour to occur? Well, one could look at:
– new, young voters going to the polls in 2013 who perhaps are less inclined to follow a community leader;
– the transformation of relationships in village communities as a result of the massive out-migration of men, and remmitances of money, possibly affecting local authority patterns (the village leaders might have less control in this context);
– a still growing level of education in society: some parents, we know, have started listening more to their educated son or daughter in town than to traditional leaders;
– a more critical stance as a result of the disappointment with the post-2008 governments – meaning less inclination to trust the advice of community leaders.
These factors could affect change. We’ll try to revisit a number of Tamang and Tharu villages, as well as villages with mixed ethnic composition, later on to see how the locals voted in the 2013 election. Indeed, voting behaviour is not static but dynamic. We will update this section as we learn more!