In a 21st century democracy, as a voter, no one should be restricted from our opportunity to lead simply because we are “not old enough”
What if the constitution of our country said, you are allowed to vote but not allowed to lead? You would be outraged, wouldn’t you? What if I told you the constitution of Nepal takes away this very right from millions of Nepali voters who can only vote but cannot stand for elections in Nepal just because they are not “mature” enough.
As per Nepal’s brand new constitution, you need to be at least 45 years to become president of Nepal. And if you are under 35, you are legally debarred from being elected to the upper house of parliament. More humiliating to millions of Nepalis is the fact that if you are under 25, you can’t contest to enter the lower house of the parliament. To make matters truly terrible, if you are under 21 years, you are simply disqualified to lead your nation anywhere, not even your local ward, village or town.
This is particularly ironic considering Prithivi Narayan Shah was just 20 when he started his Nepal unification campaign with his compatriots, mostly teenagers or those in their twenties with his commander in chief, Kalu Pande, barely 28! If they can, why can’t others in the 21st century?
One might argue, so what’s the big deal if there is an age limit? Let’s consider our demographics. Do you know how many Nepalis are above 45? Just 20 percent, which means four out of five Nepalis are legally barred from becoming the president of Nepal. Similarly, only 30 percent of us are above 35, which means two out of three of us (super majority) are disqualified from the Upper house. And as only 45 percent of us are above 25, less than half of all Nepalis are allowed to enter the Nepali parliament. Last but not the least, as only half of us are above 21, our constitution deems only half of us ‘good’ enough to stand for local elections, leaving those between 18 and 20 completely high and dry!
Now let’s look at this injustice from another angle, taking into account only Nepalis between 18 and 20 who are the most discriminated of us all! We may ask, what’s the big deal when only a handful of young “inexperienced” Nepalis are affected? Let’s face the facts again. How many Nepalis are between the age of 18 and 20? Roughly 1.8 million (18 lakh) Nepalis, who are allowed to vote but not to contest any election. And if you consider all the way up to presidency, 10 million (100 lakh) Nepalis aged 18 to 45 are debarred from a democratic right in the 21st century.
Now, let’s assume that the 1.8 million (18 lakh) Nepali voters between the age of 18 and 20 was a single tribe in Nepal. They would make for the fifth biggest tribe of Nepal (out of 100+) just behind Chhetri, Hill Brahmin, Magar and Tharu. And if only Nepali adult voters (over 18) were considered from each tribe of Nepal, then this group of 18 to 20 would count as the ‘second biggest tribe of voters’ in Nepal. How could we build a 21st century democracy through such gross injustice, which restricts the ability to fight for “any” elections to a population the size of second biggest voting “group/tribe” of Nepal?
Stating that the youths between 18 and 44 are “inexperienced to lead” seems to be the only defense of this blatant discrimination of our constitution makers. So if we have a minimum age requirement to stand for elected office, then why isn’t there a “minimum education” requirement, or “minimum language skills” or “minimum tribe/location/experience/money/loyalty” criteria to lead our country?
We trust our youths to protect our nation by letting them be part of the security forces and the civil service (bureaucracy) at the age of 18 but we will not trust them to lead the nation all the way to the age of 45. Our constitution judges youths to be wise enough to choose the right leaders for the nation at the age of 18 but not wise enough to become one?
In a youthful country like Nepal, we talk much about inclusiveness. So why is ‘age’ being blatantly excluded while race, ethnicity, gender and location are addressed through ‘inclusion’? Some might argue that these young Nepalis numbering 10 million (100 lakhs), between the age of 18 and 44, are not mature enough to lead the country at various levels of office. But how do you calculate maturity? Look where we are as a country today because only a select few ‘matured’ ones were allowed to represent our nation!
Barring any adult citizen voter from running for elected office just because he or she is not old enough is a serious violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by our own 21st-century constitution. Millions of Nepalis are now denied the chance to lead the country out of the mess we are in. This doesn’t bode well as we move to build a modern state.
BibekSheel Nepali party’s inclusive central leadership represents the youthful Nepal we deserve. Its leadership has an average age of 29, from teenagers to elders, to reflect the diversity of our population. Members of the party recently elected two young women to lead their Central Committee: Ranju Darshana (a 20-year-old from Kathmandu/Morang) and Sadhana Rai (a 22-year-old from Solukhumbu). They were selected and supported by their peers: educated, exposed and experienced professionals, lawyers, entrepreneurs, farmers, activists, doctors, engineers, professors, retired security forces personnel and retired public servants, all citizens with utmost integrity. Ranju and Sadhana are at the forefront of building 21st century leadership for Nepal. These two ladies have shown their honest, accountable and transparent leadership skills through their dedication and diligence to bring positive change in the society.
They are just two of the many who led the exemplary post-disaster efforts, saving the lives of countless citizens. And they started all this, minutes after the earthquake, while the ‘elder’ leadership of the country was still scrambling for a proper response. Even though they have the right leadership skills and values to lead our society, if any elections are held in Nepal today, Ranju for one will be completely debarred by the constitution of Nepal to run for any elections while Sadhana will be disqualified to run for the parliament because our brand new constitution labels them as “too young” to lead Nepal. It seems they are old enough to choose leaders for Nepal, but not old enough to lead! Do you see any sense in this?
If Nepali voters feel that age is such an important factor for one to lead our nation, then let that be their personal choice. Why is our law forcing whom they can vote for, whom they can’t, by this age limit? Why are we afraid to respect this basic democratic choice of the citizens to vote for who they think is good for the country?
In the end, if a Nepali above the age of 18 is deemed fit by law, to vote for his/her leaders, then they should be trusted to vote judiciously whether it is for someone who is 18-year-old or 81-year-old. If our brand new constitution believes in the supremacy of its citizens it is time it stopped discriminating against tens of millions of its citizens. In a 21st century democracy, as a voter, none of us should be restricted from our opportunity to lead simply because we are “not old enough”!
After reading this, as you walk out on the streets please consider that you and the one you pass by might actually be among the millions of Nepalis who carry this message stamped right on their forehead, “I am old enough to vote but still not enough to lead!”
Are you okay with this? Are we?