One of the less well known activities of the Australian Greens (AG) is supporting the development of Greens parties in our Asia Pacific region via our International Development Committee (IDC).
The IDC is the committee of the AG that manages and administers grants from the Australian Political Parties for Democracy Program (APPDP) in order to assist Greens parties and organisations, principally in developing countries, to develop their capacity to participate in democratic political processes. The Federal Government provides funds under the APPDP to a number of political Parties, including the AG, which currently gets $200,000 per year.
Currently I am the representative of the AG Office Bearers Group on the IDC and visited the Nepali Greens last year.
The Nepali Greens’ Green Camp project and election campaign
One of the projects currently funded from the APPDP grant and administered by the IDC is with the Nepali Greens (NG). We have provided funds to a project which is called “Green Camp: a grassroots community based 3 day workshop” and also to assist in being election ready for the very recent national elections.
In the words of the Nepali Greens - the Green Camp reaches out to people in some of the most remote and disadvantaged rural communities to engage them in ‘green ideologies based on the global green charter, Nepali greens political agendas, policies and programs. We hope to set up Green-Village Development Committees and run candidates in national election.’
Significantly Nepal is one of the few countries in Asia to have proportional representation in elections, which therefore increases the chance of electing Greens to the national parliament.
A brief background on Nepal
Nepal is a landlocked country lying along the southern slopes of the Himalayan mountain ranges sandwiched between the super powers of India and China – a political challenge on many levels! Nepal is divided into 7 provinces and 75 districts. It is subject to natural extremities such as severe thunderstorms, flooding, landslides and most recently a severe earthquake that destroyed much infrastructure and many homes, killing about 8,000 people and leaving about 2 million homeless. The country still has not fully recovered from this natural disaster despite significant foreign aid. Nepal contains some of the most rugged and difficult mountain terrain in the world. Roughly 75 percent of the country is mountainous. The poverty, the remoteness of many villages, mountainous terrain, landslides and the lack of adequate roads along with numerous other logistical challenges makes travel and communication to many parts of the country extremely challenging and no doubt - along with internal political conflict -continues to hamper aid and development work.
There are signs of climate change – less snow on the mountains, changing rainfall patterns, significant flooding in the lower areas and water shortages in some places – but people don’t tend to use the language of ‘climate change’.
Nepal’s population is variously given at 29 to 31 million with an estimated 4 million living and working overseas, particularly in the Gulf States. The income that these Nepalese return to the local economy is significant. There is also a significant Nepalese population in Australia. Nepali is the official language. The major religions are Hindu 81.3%, Buddhist 9%, Muslim 4.4%. Nepal is very ethnically diverse with 125 caste/ethnic groups reported in the 2011 national census. The average age is 24; the average life expectancy is 70; the literacy rate is 66%; and over 80% of the population is rural. There are areas of extreme poverty with much of the country lacking reliable electricity supply and, in the case of the village we visited, water.
As one of the world's poorest countries, Nepal's economy relies heavily on aid and tourism. In recent years many countries, including India, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Canada, and Switzerland, have provided economic assistance to Nepal.
It is worth noting that, unusually for most of Asia, Nepal was never colonised.
In 1951, the Nepali monarch ended the century-old system of rule by hereditary premiers and instituted a cabinet system that brought political parties into the government. That arrangement lasted until 1960, when political parties were again banned, but was reinstated in 1990 with the establishment of a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy.
An insurgency led by Maoists broke out in 1996. The ensuing 10-year civil war between Maoist and government forces witnessed the dissolution of the cabinet and parliament and the re-assumption of absolute power by the king in 2002. A peace accord in 2006 led to the promulgation of an interim constitution in 2007. Following a nationwide Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008, the newly formed CA declared Nepal a federal democratic republic, abolished the monarchy, and elected the country's first president. After the CA failed to draft a constitution by a May 2012 deadline set by the Supreme Court, then-Prime Minister Baburam BHATTARAI dissolved the CA. Months of negotiations ensued until March 2013 when the major political parties agreed to create an interim government headed by then-Chief Justice Khil Raj REGMI with a mandate to hold elections for a new CA. Elections were held in November 2013, in which the Nepali Congress won the largest share of seats in the CA and in February 2014 formed a coalition government with the second place Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist and with Nepali Congress President Sushil KOIRALA as prime minister. Nepal's new constitution came into effect in September 2015.
As can be seen Nepal has had, and continues to experience, great political instability. Local elections were held in May 2017 and were the source of much debate and protest. The general election was held between late November and early December and it would appear that the leftist coalition has won a considerable majority.
My visit in April 2017
In my capacity as an IDC member I spent a week as the guest of the Nepali Greens (NG) attending a ‘Green Camp’ in the SoluKhumbu district of Nepal and providing training and advice to the central committee members of the NG in Kathmandu.
The NG has approximately 3000 members and the Central Committee (NGCC) has 25 members.
I flew to Kathmandu following the Global Greens Congress in Liverpool. Fortunately I had been warned about the poor air quality in Kathmandu – the combination of dust, smoke and vehicle fumes makes Kathmandu one of the world’s top three cities for air pollution! Add to that a significant number of roads being dug up to lay the pipes for the promised new water supply and the resultant dust (or mud!) and traffic congestion is making Kathmandu pretty chaotic and unhealthy. I wore a good quality face mask for the majority of the time moving around the city!
In order to experience a Green Camp I travelled with a number of the NG to Necha village located in the foothills of Mt. Everest, an area regarded as one of the most isolated in Nepal. Most families in Necha and surroundings live off the land, earning a living from hard manual labour.
We met with about 30 villagers and they discussed social, environmental, economic and developmental issues especially focussing on their agricultural practices and livelihood. I spoke briefly saying I was from Australia and that I had an interest in sustainable agricultural practices and climate change and that people in Australia would like to assist if we could. The meeting went for a couple of hours and was followed by an auspicious light rain shower (we were sitting outside)!
The next day we had a second meeting with the farmers - the majority being women with the men attending sitting at the back. The meeting agreed to form a farmers’ cooperative and they were keen to have further contact/input from the Green Institute (a think-tank of Nepali Greens) and school of agriculture (prangarik Pathshala). It was interesting to observe that the local political chief who attended the meeting was asked to leave by the participants who ‘didn’t want any politicians there’ and that a young man who had been a child soldier with the Maoists expressed his support, at the end of the meeting, for what was being proposed.
I also did a half a day training session with the Central Committee in Kathmandu. I met with about 20 NG members, mostly from the Central Committee, and I gave some background on the AG, my background and experience. Then we discussed the Global Greens, engagement of women, election campaigning, the attributes of candidates, the challenges of building a Greens’ party in Nepal, reflections on the Green Camp, the importance of building and maintaining trust within the party and with the broader community, what assistance the AG might be able to provide and much more!
Things can change quickly in Nepali politics and the establishment of a block of left parties to contest the election greatly reduced the chance of the NG being successful with a candidate in the rural region of SoluKhumbu so the focus was shifted to running two candidates in Kathmandu. I was able to provide some training material for social media campaigning and candidate training to assist.
The Nepalese Greens reported following the election "Two young ladies contested the parliamentary election, under first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. 25 years old Ms. Rachana Shrestha contested the election from Kathmandu Election constituency no 2. Likewise, 32 years old, Ms. Smita Acharya contested from Kathmandu Election constituency no. 3. It was a symbolic gesture of Nepali Greens that 'Greens promotes youth in leadership and promotes young women in leadership'. This time, the election result has not come in our favor. In this election, we have just been able to show up to the public as 'Greens' and promote our green ideologies. We have got fewer votes than we had expected. Despite this outcome, we are further energized to move ahead. We know that 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have taken a single step'."
The core organising group was clearly motivated and enthusiastic about the task of creating the preconditions for running candidates in the 2017 elections and beyond and should be supported and congratulated for the work they are doing. I believe that the work that they are undertaking is valuable to the community and the Green movement. Plus a relatively small amount of funds from the AG IDC is being put to good use and goes a long way in a country such as Nepal.
The logistical and financial challenges of rolling out Green Camps across as many locations as proposed is huge and probably the time required to do this has been underestimated. There is also the issue of the expectations that are created for the village communities contacted, whether there is the capacity to meet these expectations and what happens if these expectations can’t be met. There is a risk that the NG, having identified that very little political engagement and support can be generated until the communities’ basic needs are met, may be seeking to do the work that numerous aid NGOs are attempting in Nepal. The NG, though, potentially have an advantage in terms of having trusted local contacts to facilitate access to communities and having good political insight. I believe the best and realistic approach (and this may already be being employed) is that the NG act as agents/facilitator to link villagers with assistance/funds from NGOs, in particular international NGOs, rather than attempting to be ‘all things to all people’.
I suggested that some thought might be given to how they increase the engagement of the Nepalese Diaspora, particularly given they are likely to be tertiary educated and may have an affinity with Greens policies/values. Also given the widespread use of mobile phone technology how social media might be used to gather support for green ideas.
As it is in a number of countries where support is being given to developing Greens parties it was observed that if and when the Greens were seen to be organised and a potential threat to existing political parties hostility was encountered. These threats need to be monitored and assessed on an ongoing basis.
Conclusion and recommendations
Thank you to the NG team (Smita, Beekay, Ballav, Kumar, Tika, Jashi) for being such wonderful hosts and being such fun to spend time with!! I acknowledge and thank them for the challenging and important party building work that they are undertaking. I observed that they were committed to undertaking a difficult outreach program into communities that are experiencing long-running, deep seated obstacles.
I am hopeful that we may be able to establish a ‘Friends of the Nepali Greens’ group in Australia to expand ideas and actions to support and possibly add additional funds to the Nepali Greens Project! Let me know if you’re interested.