Who do Nepalis Trust?

Polling results published this month by Kathmandu think-tank Interdisciplinary Analysts highlight a deep lack of confidence in Nepal’s government institutions. The nationwide survey asked about the country’s direction and problems, the political environment, and the government’s performance. (Election rules prohibit questions about party or candidate preferences during the campaign.)

A key series of questions asked how much trust Nepalis placed in 12 organizations or associations. According to the results the most trusted institution is the media, with 58 percent positive opinion. Religious organizations are second, 54 percent favorable, and the Nepal Army third with 53 percent.

Ethnic organizations, human-rights activists, and “civil society,” a broad term for groups ranging from professional associations to politically-oriented groups, fill out the top half of the survey, all with favorability ratings around 50 percent.

In all categories there was a substantial “Don’t Know” response, typical of Nepali polling, where respondents may be ill-informed or unwilling to express an opinion to a stranger. But when asked about the Nepal Police, who scored seventh, all but 12 percent of those polled had an opinion, 49 percent favorable and 39 percent unfavorable.

Nepal’s judiciary and NGO organizations were next least trusted, with positive ratings of 47 and 43 percent respectively. NGOs may have polled poorly compared to other non-profits because of the Pajero Syndrome, a perception that they import expensive SUVs for their staff. The name comes from a Mitsubishi company vehicle popular among Kathmandu elites in the late 1990s.

And predictably the bottom three places in the survey went to the civil service, 36 percent, and the cabinet and legislature, 25 percent each. The cabinet also scored the highest unfavorable rating, 44 percent, and only three percent of respondents said that they trusted either the cabinet or legislature “very much.”

It might seem that Nepalis trust no one, with the top-scoring institution getting only 58 percent favorable. But factor out the non-responses, and the media gets 76 percent support of those with an opinion. Even the cabinet gets 36 percent, considerably better than President Bush at present.

Without the “don’t know” answers, the rankings change some too. The media retains number one place, followed by civil society, human-rights activists, and religious organizations, all with 70 percent or better ratings. The army and police fall to eighth and ninth place, and the main government institutions stay in the last places.

Nepalis have lost most trust in their government institutions. Traditional high regard for the army and the judiciary has slipped almost as far as faith in the police, and public trust in all three institutions is dangerously low. But Nepalis continue to trust in their religious and ethnic institutions, and in human-rights and civic leaders, all by high margins. They have faith in themselves if not in their politicians. And they trust the independent media most of all, an honor and a challenge to the fourth estate.

Interdisciplinary Analysts survey in pdf form

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.