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New Survey Reveals Cautious Optimism in Nepal

August 1, 2018

By Srijana Nepal

In the course of roughly two decades, the people of Nepal have weathered a prolonged civil war, confirmed a national commitment to democracy, adopted a new constitution creating a federal state, and survived two massive earthquakes that reduced large parts of the country to rubble. Amid this history of national trauma, recovery, and political upheaval, a new nationwide survey reveals a divide in public opinion of the nation’s prospects.

A Survey of the Nepali People in 2017, conducted in September and October of that year and recently released to the public, is the first of a planned series of yearly, nationwide surveys by The Asia Foundation exploring Nepali public opinion. The Survey is based on a nationally representative sample of 7,202 people from 599 wards selected from all seven provinces, and reflects public perceptions of contemporary political, economic, social, and development issues.

The Survey took place at a decisive moment in Nepal’s modern history: still recovering from the recent earthquakes, voters went to the polls in 2017 for the first local elections in almost two decades, a crucial step forward in the implementation of its hard-won 2015 constitution. A sense of cautious, postelection optimism that the country is finally on the path to stability can be read in the Survey: 43.8% percent of respondents said they are better represented since the reintroduction of local elections, and a notable 89.7% said they are satisfied with the election results.

Yet despite this evident optimism, Nepalis still have mixed views of the direction of their country. More than half (52.9%) are optimistic that the country is headed in the right direction, but 34% feel it is headed in the wrong direction, and 13% simply don’t know. Respondents identified overall progress, more power for local governments, and the new constitution as the top reasons for optimism. They cited lack of employment opportunities, economic hardship, natural disasters, and corruption as the country’s biggest problems.

Forty-four percent of respondents said that federal reform will lead to tangible improvements in their lives, and 45.6% said that the promulgation of the new constitution is a step forward. But a large percentage expressed confusion or uncertainty about the new constitution and the changes it introduced: 17% said it is too early to tell whether the constitution is a step forward; 24.6% said it is too soon to tell if federalism will lead to improvements; and 26.7% felt the same about local-level restructuring.

An overwhelming majority (93.8%) reported feeling safe, but historically disadvantaged groups such as Dalits felt less safe than other citizens. The majority of women reported feeling safe, but 12% said they take precautions when leaving the house out of fear of being assaulted, and 10% feel unsafe at home. Traditional dispute resolution and the police are the institutions that Nepalis are most likely to prefer to resolve disputes.

The majority of respondents said that their household’s financial situation remained largely unchanged in the last year; yet, 84.1% of Nepalis are hopeful or confident that their economic situation will improve in the next five years. Unsurprisingly, foreign remittances remain an important economic resource for 24.9% of Nepali people.

Better infrastructure is the reason most cited by people who think local economic conditions are improving. Among the 17.9% of respondents who feel that their local economy is improving, a plurality (31.3%) cited better infrastructure. One in five cited overall economic progress without specifying a particular reason, 17.9% said there is more investment, 13.0% mentioned better work opportunities, and 12.5% cited improvements in the water supply (presumably for irrigation).

A majority of Nepalis (58.7%) said that social relations among the different religious, caste, and ethnic groups are improving. One-quarter of respondents, however, said that they would not approve or accept the marriage of a son or daughter to someone of another caste or ethnicity. People aged 50 or older, at 65.7%, are more likely to oppose the intercaste marriage of their offspring than other demographic groups.

In general, Nepalis express progressive views of the role of women in society. In four questions about women’s role in society, 80 to 90% gave answers supporting gender equality. Interestingly, these responses do not vary significantly by gender. Better-educated Nepalis tend to express more progressive views. Just under half strongly disagreed that it is better to have a son than a daughter, 89.5% agreed that women should be encouraged to work outside the home, and 79.9% said that they should engage in politics.

Reflecting the rapid pace of technological change, just 20% of respondents overall lacked a mobile phone, the percentage slightly higher among women than men. Friends, family, and neighbors; television; and community radio are still the main sources of information for most Nepalis.

At this promising moment in Nepal’s transition to federalism, tracking public opinion on the unfolding political and social issues of the day is a powerful tool for shaping responsive public policy and evidence-based development programs, and future editions of the Survey are likely to have continued relevance for both government and nongovernment partners.

A Survey of the Nepali People in 2017 was implemented with support from the Australian Government–The Asia Foundation Partnership on Subnational Governance in Nepal.

Srijana Nepal is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Nepal. She can be reached at srijana.nepal@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Nepal
Related programs: Strengthen Governance
Related topics: Civil Society

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