With the changing mentality of the voters and increment in the frequency of neutral voters, the effect of negative campaigning is gradually fading. Observational research conducted by social scientists during polls in the USA reveals that negative campaigning depresses voter participation
Mahatma Gandhi is a peerless metaphor, our generation has never seen or heard him in person; neither do the people under the age of 54 years share the time-line with Martin-Luther King Jr as he was assassinated in 1968.
In addition to these two legendary leaders of the 20th century, the human civilisation, throughout, has been intermittently blessed with personalities who have hoisted the political and civic morality to a new high.
Nelson Mandela is a leader that most of us have witnessed in our lifetime.
The South African anti-apartheid revolutionary served 27 gruesome years in prison for the sake of human rights and democracy.
Upon his release in 1990, physically frail and drenched but morally stout, Mandela delivered a legendary speech, arguably the transcript of eternal political morality. Apart from acknowledging his family, countrymen, members of the African National Congress (ANC) and international friends in his speech, Mandela also showered his gratitude towards the then reigning government and the state President F. W. de Klerk, one of his main rivals during his besieged days.
There was no abuse, no opponent bashing and no words of vengeance towards his foes. In fact, de Klerk later served as vice-president in the cabinet during Mandela's tenure as the country's first black head of state and the first elected president in a fully representative democratic election. At that volatile time, one word of hatred towards the white population in Mandela's speech would have been enough to instigate the flame of irreparable social division in South Africa.
However, Mandela, the political saint, exonerated all his opponents and stretched his hands of friendship. This had always been the life-philosophy of Nelson Mandela.
In contrast, in light of the upcoming elections in Nepal, the political leaders are staging a blatant abuseshow per diem. Opposition leader K. P. Oli commands an incessant vocabulary in thrashing his adversaries.
Former prime-minister Prachanda is not far behind.
Even Prime Minister Deuba, generally a man of few words, has opened his barrels in verbally bashing his opponents. This is not the first instance of austere opponent bashing in Nepal, but is just the continuation of the political culture that we have inherited particularly since the reinstatement of multiparty democracy in 1990. The abusive language and foul words that these seasoned politicians and their aides are using against each other are disgraceful.
K. P. Oli and Madhav Nepal, the companions who nurtured the communist part of Nepal (UML) in current stature for almost five decades hand-in-hand have suddenly turned adversaries of ages. Either of them abhors seeing or even hearing the name of the other; what a malpractice in Nepali politics. Even worse is that the new generation of the politicians are aping their leaders in vocal and, in some cases, physical thrashing of the political opponents.
Ubiquitous access to social platforms and inadequate provisions of content censoring in the Nepali language in such platforms have added to the woes. In recent times, various political parties have officially launched their organised propaganda spreading and opponent bashing online tools. Experts are of the opinion that these outfits are disgraceful examples of digital mobocracy, which are deliberately propagating misinformation. This degrades the reputation of political opponents, ultimately posing a threat to democracy and must be discouraged in a democratic nation.
The strategy of opponent bashing and negative campaigning especially during elections has been consistently implemented by politicians worldwide; the prominent example being the verbally abusive and physically violent campaigning of Donald Trump during the 2020 United States presidential election.
Despite the dissipated and unethical malpractice, why do the political leaders fondly implement negative campaigning against their opponents is worth analysing.
The best explanation of this approach could be that the intransigent supporters of the political leaders tend to perceive exaggeratingly deleterious remarks against their rival beneficial.
This encourages the political leaders to intensify their attack against the rivals.
The raging applause and ramping chants of their supporters after verbally bashing the opponents escalate the adrenaline of the leaders during political congregations.
Moreover, the candidates believe that the negativity against their opponents will help them triumph.
With the changing mentality of the voters and increment in the frequency of neutral voters, the effect of negative campaigning is gradually fading. Observational research conducted by social scientist duo Ansolabehere and Iyengar during many municipal elections in the USA over the years reveals that negative campaigning generally depresses voter participation thereby reducing the general sense of civic obligation.
Hence, opponent bashing and negative campaigning need to be strictly circumvented for an unbiased and independent decision-making of the public.
Relevant to the topic, the recently concluded campaigning for the national election in Germany is worth mentioning as I had personally witnessed the daily developments in different cities. The potential chancellor candidates and aspiring members of parliament put forward their agenda through different media. The rigorous campaigning and televised debates were omnipresent throughout the nation.
With a few exceptions, the aspiring contestants mostly performed intellectually – no harsh words, no personal attacks and no direct opponent bashing. This shows that the time is changing, the people are getting conscious, and negative campaigning is no more acceptable, at least in Germany. This approach should be spread throughout the world and especially in Nepal so that the civic ethics and moral dignity of the political leaders are maintained.
Dr Joshi is a neurobiologist based in Germany
A version of this article appears in the print on April 11, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.