Nepali youths to top political leaders: ‘Accept youth as agents of political transformation’

In a discussion organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia, youth leaders highlighted the importance of youth participation in formal political processes

NL Today

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Kathmandu: Nepali youths have underlined the need for youth participation in political and social changes in the country. 

In a recent program organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia, participants shared that the country’s top political leadership has failed to recognize youths’ potential. As a result, youth have not been able to utilize their capacity fully as agents of change, they said. 

Youths have played an important role in historic political movements in Nepal. Be it during the fight against the Rana regime or the People’s Movement in 1990 and 2006, youths have always stood on the frontline of the battle for the change, they shared. 

Youths have always been a part of democratic and political movements, and organized mass rallies and demonstrations, said Sunita Baral, President of All Nepal National Free Student Union (ANNFSU), a student wing of the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist(CPN-UML). “The number of participants of youths in politics is satisfying, but their number in leadership positions is not enough at all,” she said. “The participation of youths in party politics is increasing but we still have to fight for getting the opportunities in leadership positions both in the party and national politics.”

According to Kanchan Jha, a youth leader from Nepali Congress, the situation is not favorable for youths aspiring to enter into politics. “Political parties have failed to understand that youths not only represent the future of Nepal but are the main agents of change and progress. In Nepal, youths are marginalized and are getting limited opportunities,” he said.

Although the situation is grim, both the leaders are overwhelmed by the participation of youths in the latest local-level elections. 

“We have seen youths successfully handling big political movements. And the participation of youths in the recently-held local elections shows they [youths] can lead the party politics too. Their overwhelming participation is a brighter part, and shows youths have a bright future,” said Baral.

The number of youths filing candidacies for mayoral positions and ward chairs increased by three percent and four percent, respectively, this time compared to the previous polls. “Things are changing, and these are good signs. But the sad part is that female participation has decreased in the local-level polls,” said Jha. 

The Constitution of Nepal identifies individuals, aged between 16 and 40, as youths. The people of this age group represent about 40 percent of Nepal’s total population. But only five percent of youths have a presence in the federal parliament of Nepal against the global presence of 13.5 percent.

According to Pradip Pariyar, Executive Chairperson at Samata Foundation, youths have contributed a lot to social and political movements in Nepal. However, when it comes to the process of institutionalizing these changes, the leadership provided the least opportunities to youths. “In big movements, youths have become most effective and contributed a lot for the change, but they have also become victims. In the decade-long insurgency, young people lost their education and career,” said Pariyar, adding that those who fought to transform Nepal into a democratic country are still in leadership positions. 

“I admire the efforts of these leaders as they fought against the autocratic system. But now, these leaders need to leave the space and create new leaders. The fundamental problem with Nepali politicians is that they don’t believe others can lead. Everybody wants to be a leader themselves. This is a leadership failure,” said Pariyar.

Commenting on the election victories of independent youths in Kathmandu, Dhangadhi, and Dharan, Jha said it reflects the frustration of youths against the political parties. “Having said that, the participation of youths has increased in the rural areas in comparison to the urban areas. If youths don’t get opportunities in the urban areas, this doesn’t mean youths are not getting opportunities or participation. Things don’t change overnight, it needs time.”

Jha also presented data on the participation of youths in Nepal’s parliament. “The provincial assemblies have 550 seats, of which, 130 members are aged 25 to 40. In the lower house, only 36 out of 275 members are aged 25 to 40. And in the upper house, only seven out of 59 members are youths,” he said.

The situation, according to him, is progressing on the ground, but at the central level, youths are not getting opportunities.

According to Pariyar, youth leaders also have not been able to challenge the old generation leaders. “Young leaders–from student wings to youth wings–should ask for their space in leadership positions,” said Pariyar, adding “all the youths from marginalized, Dalit, backward communities should participate in politics.”

When asked how political parties have assured the participation of youths from all communities. “The CPN-UML has different groups and organizations that represent youths from all the communities,” said Baral. Likewise, Jha said that the Nepali Congress has a statute that ensures the participation of youths in its committees. The program was moderated by social activist Bisesh Sangat.

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