If you are one of those who think that only in poor, underdeveloped, and immature democracies such as Nepal do people vote along the lines of ethnicity, here are some statistics from the recent election of the United States —one of the richest, most developed and mature democracies.
This statistics should make you think twice about the assumption that you have held all along. As you can see from the Figure, More than 18 out of 20 blacks voted for Obama, and almost 3 out 4 Hispanics and Asians voted for Obama.
For good reasons, a majority of the Blacks, Hispanics and Asians cannot identify with the Republican Party, and do not believe it represents their interests.
No, it’s not just about race. Obama isn’t Hispanic; and if anything other than black, he is half white.
No it isn’t income that is affecting these patterns. If that were the case, Asians who are among the highest average earners in the US would have voted for Romney.
It is quite clear, and most pundits agree, that the message of the Republican Party just isn’t resonating with the Black, Hispanic and Asian communities. Though they will not admit it, the Republican Party appears to be anti-immigration, which turns the Hispanics off. Though they will not admit it, the Republican Party appears to represent the interests of the rich more than that of the poor, turning off the Blacks and Hispanics who have disproportionate representations among the poor. The bottom line is that you cannot expect the voters to believe whatever you say. They will read between the lines. In short, voters aren’t stupid.
This is exactly what a rising star of the Republican Party is trying to convey. Chastising his party for being the “stupid party”, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and often considered to be a future Presidential candidate, said that “ we
[Republicans] need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.” In other words, don’t think you get votes from people whose interests you clearly don’t represent, just by saying you represent their interests. Voters are smarter!
This is where the most important lesson for Nepali politicians lies. The UML and NC don’t represent the interests of the Janajatis and Madhesis. They have tried to sabotage, at every step, ethnicity based federalism which the Madhesis and Janajatis believe is their only way to improve real political power and pave their way to becoming equal citizens.
These two grand old parties have also opposed redefining Nepali identity as a multi-ethnic identity where Hindi speaking Dhoti-clad prototype can co-exist with Nepali speaking daura-surwal clad prototype. Some traditional elites now believe that Nepal needs to let go of the idea that the daura-surwal clad is a real Nepali, and the rest are not-so-real Nepali. This group might have difficulty in identifying with the NC and the UML.
If you think voters aren’t noticing, the US experience says that you are probably wrong. In fact, this time around, the Madhesis and Janajatis have a much clearer indication of where these two parties stand when it comes to their interests. Together Madhesis and Janajatis represent more than fifty percent of the voters in Nepal, and going by lessons from the US election, NC and UML will be punished in the coming election.
There is also another lesson from the US election: Besides voting for their interests, voters also vote for parties that represent their values. What sometimes looks perplexing to analysts in the US is the Asians support for the Democratic Party. Asians have the highest income per capita, and going by the idea that rich vote Republican, they should be voting more for the Republicans, but instead an overwhelming majority of them vote for Democrats.
According to David Brooks, a New York Times opinion writers and political analyst, it may be because the Republican Party sends a very individualistic message—one that doesn’t resonate well with Asians who have values centered around family. Another possible explanation could be that although Asians are rich, they come from countries where they have a paternalistic view of what a government ought to be, which is in sharp contrast to what the Republican Party represents.
Of course, there is another voting block that likes what the NC and UML are doing, and wants to preserve the status-quo. They will be voting with stronger zeal this time around. It is unclear how this zeal will convert into additional votes and how that will affect the final outcome. But considering how much Madhesis and Janajatis will lose if NC and UML gain ground, the zeal is likely to be stronger in case of Madhesis and Janajatis. And therefore, there should be a stronger turnout among these groups, which will tilt the election against the NC and UML.
One hopes that NC and UML will learn from the US election and take notice of how the losing party of the recent US presidential election is trying to re-brand itself. As seasoned players of a seasoned democracy, the Republicans of the US know that they need to come up with a better message—one that resonates with all races. Given the changing demographics of the country, that is the only strategy for survival. Not surprisingly, in less than two weeks after the election, the re-branding effort has begun.