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Why did Nepal see low voter turnout this time?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Why did Nepal see low voter turnout this time?

Nepal’s Nov 20 parliamentary and provincial assembly elections registered a voter turnout of 61 percent, according to the Election Commission (EC).

Speaking at a press conference, Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya said voter turnout fell below expectations.

The highest turnout (78 percent) was recorded in the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2013, while the lowest was in the parliamentary elections of 1993 (61 percent) and the first CA election in 2008 (61percent), respectively. In the 2017 parliamentary and provincial assembly elections, the turnout of voters was decent at 68.67 percent. In the local-level elections held in May this year, voter turnout was 66.86 percent.

Voter turnout this time, however, was much lower, even though there were no major security threats to the elections. In 2017, people were excited to vote because they had hoped the elections would lead the country toward political stability and prosperity. But that was not to be. Some analysts say the post-2017 political scene was the very reason why many voters did not cast their ballots this time.

Chandra Dev Bhatta, a political analyst, says lower turnout was expected right from the very beginning when major political parties country began allocating tickets. The parties distributed election tickets to their near and dear ones, as they had been doing since the 1990s. Many candidates were familiar faces who even after winning the elections had delivered little, if nothing, to their constituencies over the last three decades.

“The voters, irrespective of their age and political persuasion, this time wanted to see new candidates who could bring about real change,” says Bhatta. “But that didn’t happen when the parties announced their candidates.” Another reason for low voter turnout, says Bhatta, was the fact that the election this time was not conducted on any specific agendas, ones connected to the livelihood of the people.

“Major parties tried to trump up the rumor that if they didn’t win the election this time, the country’s democracy, sovereignty, and the constitution itself would be endangered,” says Bhatta. “Of course, the discerning voters didn’t buy this bluff.”

In fact, declining voter turnout is a global trend. According to a study carried out by IDEA International in 2016, despite the growth in the global voter population and the number of countries that hold elections, the global average voter turnout has decreased significantly since the early 1990s.

Global voter turnout, says the report, was fairly stable between the 1940s and the 1980s, falling only slightly from 78 percent to 76 percent over the entire period. “It then fell sharply in the 1990s to 70 percent and continued its decline to reach 66 percent in the period of 2011–15.” This is most definitely not because the voters are not interested in politics. Analysts say it is perhaps because voters no longer identify with their politicians.

Voter turnout in the previous elections

1991: 65.15 percent

1993: 61.86 percent

1999: 65.79 percent

2008: 61.7 percent (FPTP) and 63.3 percent (PR)

2013: 78.74 percent (FPTP), 79.82 percent (PR)

2017: 68.67 percent

2022: 61 percent

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