(Un)easy alliancesBoth of the country’s two largest parties—the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML—have formed alliances for the upcoming elections.
Both of the country’s two largest parties—the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML—have formed alliances for the upcoming elections. But, as the process of selecting candidates for the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) polls demonstrated, the nature of the two alliances is sharply different. The UML’s alliance has a number of features that the NC has not been able to replicate as yet.
First of all, UML’s main alliance partner, the CPN-MC is not a minor party with a handful of seats in Parliament; it was the third largest party in the House and has a similar electoral base. Moreover, the alliance’s senior party leaders have been able to ensure that the candidacy distribution process is disciplined, minor grievances notwithstanding.
To this end, the UML has remained committed to giving the Maoist Centre 40 percent of seats, even though many of its members feel that the Maoists have been given more than they deserve in terms of their electoral strength. And that the alliance was forged despite resistance from the party rank and file.
The two parties also enjoy support in different parts of the country. While the first phase of the local level elections demonstrated that the UML is popular in large parts of the country, the Maoist Centre remains strong in large parts of the mid- and far western districts that were their base areas during the insurgency. This means that the alliance between the two parties could ensure complementarity.
The nature of the NC-led alliance, meanwhile, is quite different. First of all, this is not a coalition between two or more large parties. Rather, the NC stands at the centre of the alliance, and its other members are a disparate group of small parties. Their ideological underpinnings are also vastly different, including that of both the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) on the one hand and the Madhesi parties on the other.
Moreover, the interparty negotiations between NC and its potential partners have not been satisfactory, with sections of the NC even defying directions from the party leadership. For example, senior NC leader Krishna Sitaula refused to support the RPP candidate in Jhapa and insisted he would stand from the same constituency, even though Deuba had offered the RPP the seat.
This led the RPP to break its alliance with the NC. The NC has also struggled to share seats with the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) and Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal. All three parties are relatively influential in the eastern Tarai, making it difficult to choose candidates. The NC alliance does not seem to be holding together all that well.
Nonetheless, there is still some time to go before the elections, and how the two major alliances will fare in the run-up to and during the elections can’t yet be predicted. Much will depend on the campaign period and the way each party reaches out to the population, which stands strongly for elections.