The long roadThe dominance of major parties might bring some political stability, but it has its pitfalls
The results of the first and second phase of the local elections show overwhelming dominance of the three major political parties. In the second phase, the CPN-UML has so far won the highest number of local units, around 45 percent, which is nearly as much as it did during the first phase. The Nepali Congress has won around 35 percent, and the CPN (Maoist Centre) around 15 percent.
The rightwing RPP has fared very badly. So have various smaller parties, which have won only a handful of seats. Even in areas where these parties have won, the victories were more due to the individual candidate’s popularity.
There are a number of reasons behind the poor performance of the smaller parties as compared to the general elections of 2008 and 2013. The results, in part, demonstrate that the population is keen to be represented by powerful leaders who have strong connections with the centre and are thus able to channel resources to their constituents.
The results also perhaps indicate that the phase of upheaval that the country witnessed in the early years of the peace process after 2006 is over. At that time, there was tremendous desire for rapid and major transformation and serious disillusionment with the old parties. In 2008, this led many people to vote for the Maoists and the Madhesi parties. This time, however, this impulse was not present.
Furthermore, there are technical issues that helped the larger parties. The local elections did not include a proportional representation (PR) component, which gave RPP-Nepal strong presence in Kathmandu in the second CA elections. As is well known, PR benefits smaller parties, whereas the winner-takes-all or First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system benefits the larger parties.
It might also have been the case that the electoral law, which prohibited parties that are not currently represented in Parliament from having their own electoral symbols, undermined their performance.
The dominance of the major parties might help bring some stability to Nepal’s politics. But it also has its pitfalls. The dominance of the larger parties has led to the entrenchment of patronage networks. At the local level, party supporters access state benefits while the unaffiliated do not get their share. Such a system could become even more entrenched following the local elections. This could enable senior party leaders to maintain centralised control.
This would be an unfortunate outcome, especially since the local elections were intended as a major step towards decentralising the state and making local bodies autonomous. In the days ahead, party leaders should remember the promises in the constitution and avoid taking any measures towards centralising power. Together with the bureaucracy, the emphasis should be on empowering local units to the maximum degree possible and including a wide a section of the population in governance, not just people directly affiliated with the parties.