This study seeks to describe the functioning and challenges experienced by local government officials during Nepal’s efforts to transition into democracy, particularly as it relates to marginalized groups’ access to civil liberties and opportunities.

Nepal is striving to establish a democratic government in part by creating a federal structure with a three-tiered administrative system of governance (UNFPA Nepal, 2012.)  Since the end of the 30-year panchayat system of government, the multiple political parties in power have been deeply divided regarding how to draw geopolitical boundaries for representation, given the implications these decisions have regarding political and economic rights of the various groups (von Einsiedel, Malone & Pradhan, 2012.).  The rhetoric and ideals of the conflicts and the periodic steps toward democracy create hope in the people.  Yet in a context marked by a history of authoritative rule, and by economic and political privilege associated with particular caste and other groups, actualizing democracy is a difficult, incremental process.  The political process at the national level has received a great deal of attention and study, both in Nepal and abroad.  Yet the emergence of democratic practice also happens at the local level, and in Nepal, the local governmental has received much less scholarly research attention (Bhattachan, 2002.)  This study will seek to address that gap.

Despite the absence of local elections between 1999 and 2013, the local government units have continued to function, including throughout the period of the Maoist insurgency. The political and social location of state-appointed local government officials presents them with conflicts and challenges. This study explores how local officials perceive and implement their role vis à vis the central government, the national political parties, the NGOs and INGOs, and the structural and political realities in the local context.

To examine this issue, I conducted interviews with Chief Development Officers (CDOs) and Local Development Officers (LDOs) in 17 districts in fall of 2012. With a research question focusing on local government officers’ perspectives regarding conflicting interests among multiple stakeholders, I deliberately selected a sample of districts that reflects such conflicts.  Further, the sample also reflected the three geographic regions: the Terai, the Hilly Districts, and the High Mountain districts, as well as the five Development District Zones.Working with an interpreter, I conducted a total of 25 semi-structured qualitative interviews with officials in these districts (Patton, 2001).  Using inductive content analysis, the research surfaced themes related to how local government officers perceive the following: tensions between local and state agendas; the voice of marginalized groups in local decision-making processes; the role of political parties locally; the impact of INGOs; and the role of corruption.  This paper presents the findings of this study.