Unnatural electoral tie-upsThe ultimate price is paid by the confused voter, who cannot put two and two together.
Paban Raj Pandey
Nepal’s second federal and provincial elections post-2015 Constitution are being held on November 20. Of the 275 members of the House of Representatives, 165 seats are being contested directly. The remaining 110 will be elected on the basis of proportional representation, under which a party or an electoral alliance needs to secure at least 3 percent of the overall valid vote to be allocated a seat. As young as the constitution is, and in a reflection of the young nature of the democracy, growing pains are evident. While the top leadership of the major political parties continue to show authoritarian tendencies, there is a welcome change among the rank and file, who are raising their voices.
The leaders for the most part have acted as they typically do—centralise the power base and not give a hoot to the voices of the ordinary members. The candidate-selection process has been full of controversy, stirring up a hornet’s nest in many cases. Many established leaders quit their parties in protest as they were denied a ticket, while others filed rebel candidacies. Bhim Rawal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) failed to win a ticket from Achham-1 although he was a clear favourite of the local bodies. He was a dissident member. Nepali Congress’ Minendra Rijal had won Morang-2 in the 2017 elections; this time around, that ticket was given to Sujata Koirala.
Leaders lack discipline
The irony is that the top leaders want to discipline dissident voices but lack discipline themselves. New ideas are not encouraged, let alone opposing voices. Criticism is hardly tolerated. At times, in the newest dynamics of Nepali politics, leaders’ hands are tied. Take the case of the CPN-UML’s Ghanashyam Bhusal, who essentially fell victim to his party’s electoral alliance with the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party, as per which Dipak Bohara of the latter got the nod for Rupandehi-3. Bhusal revolted by leaving the CPN-UML and is contesting from Rupandehi-1 as an independent, with possible help from the Nepali Congress. Politics makes strange bedfellows.
KP Oli’s CPN-UML also has alliances with the Madhesh-based Janata Samajbadi Party and Kamal Thapa’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party—Nepal. Thapa, once a monarchist, champions a Hindu state and is contesting from Makwanpur-1 on a UML ticket! Imagine UML supporters casting their vote for Thapa. Similarly, Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress has forged a deal with four other parties, according to which it keeps 90 of the 165 seats for itself; Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) has been allotted 47, Madhav Nepal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist) 19, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party seven and the Rastriya Janamorcha two.
In politics, alliances are not that uncommon. Of course, in the United States, for example, where two national parties dominate, such hook-ups are redundant. But in countries where there are several small parties, they sometimes end up becoming kingmakers. In Israel, in the recently concluded November 1 election, 40 parties ran, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud secured victory with the help of four other ultranationalist allies. In the German elections in September last year, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Social Democratic Party emerged as the largest party with only 25.7 percent of the total votes; 47 parties ran. A coalition government was formed along with the Free Democratic Party and the Greens.
Viewed this way, electoral alliances in Nepal should hardly come as a surprise. Except it should. In 2017, a left alliance between the UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) swept the polls winning 63 percent of the seats; banding together was easy as both these parties adhered to communist philosophy. But gradually the leaders began to fall apart, as Oli was accused of highhandedness; Nepal formed a new party. In the end, in order to punish Oli, Nepal and Dahal joined a five-party coalition government under Deuba, who ideology-wise, is miles apart from either Dahal or Nepal. But they are all sticking together to stop Oli from coming back to power—thus the decision to contest the elections together.
The ultimate price is paid by the confused voter, who cannot put two and two together in this power-sharing melee. Communists were instrumental in abolishing the monarchy; now, Oli is urging his supporters to go vote for Bohara in Rupandehi. The problem is that these alliances are driven purely by politics, not principles or doctrines. Upendra Yadav’s Janata Samajbadi Party allied with Oli’s UML as soon as it left the five-party ruling coalition for not getting as many seats as it wanted. Mahanta Thakur’s Loktantrik Samajbadi Party used this as an opportunity to join the coalition; in return, Nepali Congress’ Bimalendra Nidhi is not contesting in Dhanusha-3, bolstering Anil Jha’s prospects.
Nidhi is eyeing a proportional representation seat. Originally, the idea was to use these seats to uplift the marginalised—to guarantee inclusive representation in the legislature. It has instead become a tool for the party president to reward the loyalists and for those that want to avoid contesting direct elections become a Member of Parliament in a roundabout way. Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand is contesting from Rupandehi-3 on a Nepali Congress ticket but in 2017 was elected using the quota; so was industrialist Moti Lal Dugar, who was picked by Oli. This year, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who resigned as speaker on allegations of sexual violence, is a controversial CPN (Maoist Centre) pick.
This only helps grow the average voter’s frustration. There is a reason why there has been a rise in the number of independent candidates. But cleansing the system takes time. We are talking about changing the culture, the attitude and the wheeling and dealing. In early October, Baburam Bhattarai decided not to defend his Gorkha-2 seat. A few days later, Dahal, who had won from Chitwan-3 in 2017, announced he would contest from Gorkha-2; this will be a shoo-in. Then, out of the blue came the announcement that Manushi Bhattarai, Baburam’s daughter, would contest on a Maoist Centre ticket from Kathmandu-7. Growing pains! The sooner primaries are held to select the candidates, the better.