Left in orderWith left alliance looking to have absolute control, Nepal urgently needs strong opposition
A strong showing for the left alliance had been expected before the election, but the magnitude of their emerging victory has still come as a major surprise. Emerging trends indicate the CPN-UML will by itself win around 48 percent of the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) seats and the CPN-Maoist Centre seems set to win around 20 percent of the FPTP seats. The Nepali Congress (NC), meanwhile, will bag 14 percent of the 165 FPTP seats.
While the Proportional Representation (PR) results are yet to come out, it is possible
that the left alliance will gain around two-thirds of seats (a ‘supermajority’) in the new federal parliament.
This is an unprecedented outcome in Nepali politics. For the first time in the country’s democratic history, two major parties were able to forge an electoral alliance that remained strong from the highest echelons of the party, and by all accounts, down to the grassroots. This clearly appealed to a wide swathe of the population. The campaign promises that the left alliance would bring an end to the instability that has plagued the country and bring development clearly resonated far and wide among the Nepali voters, who are sick of frequent changes in government, and political shenanigans that have been on ugly display in recent years.
In a few weeks, there will be a new parliament and a new government. The new government, in likelihood to be headed by UML Chairman K P Oli, will focus on bringing about economic growth, as focused on the left manifesto, with ‘stability for prosperity’ being their most repeated election pitch.
But the UML and the Maoist Centre (MC) should be cautioned to focus not just on growth but on issues related to social justice and inclusion as well. The UML in particular might be tempted to interpret the election results as a total rejection of demands for recognition of identity and inclusion. But this would be a mistake.
As the results in the Tarai region demonstrate, demands for social justice continue to resonate with the voters. All Madhesi leaders who campaigned for a constitution amendment have won seats, including Mahanta Thakur, Upendra Yadav, and Rajendra Mahato. Similarly, Tharu leaders who participated in the Tharuhat movement have also performed well—Resham Chudhary in Kailai, for example. The government should adopt an open and flexible approach towards these groups so as to ensure social harmony and justice in the long term.
As for the NC, its performance has been far worse than expected. To a large extent, this is a reflection of the extremely poor leadership of the party. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the NC president, was unable to forge strong electoral alliances and think outside the box, as Oli was able to do in aligning with the MC.
Deuba is also a very ordinary orator, a skill you need in abundance during the campaign. His ‘Kitchen Cabinet’, not least his wife Arzu Deuba, seemed intent on sidelining crowd-pullers with broad public appeal. Deuba dismissed suggestions to ask Gagan Thapa, arguably the most popular Nepali Congress leader, to accompany him to big rallies. Paranoid, his close aides thought that such a move would only help buttress Gagan Thapa’s leadership credentials.
Unsurprisingly, Deuba ended up antagonising large sections of his own party by indulging in rampant nepotism. Arzu Deuba’s nomination in Kailali was ill-thought out: the Province 7 district has a strong Tharu population and there are credible reports that traditional NC supporters didn’t vote for her.
The NC now has to learn lessons from this debacle. The UML-MC government could even enjoy a ‘super majority’ and there’s talk that at least one major Madhes-based party, Upendra Yadav’s SSF-N could also join the new ruling coalition. A government with such strength will need to have a strong opposition in the House. While the NC doesn’t have numbers on its side, it could offer quality and coherent opposition.
As a first and fundamental step, the NC will have to overhaul its party organisation and make it more democratic. Leadership will have to be handed over to a younger and more dynamic generation. The party needs to revive its links with various sections of the population. Such measures are essential if the party is to remain relevant in the future. Never has the need been so urgent in recent times as now, both for the party and Nepali democracy.