‘If problems appear in some local units, alliance members will have friendly competition’Maoist Centre leader Barsha Man Pun speaks on the electoral alliance of ruling parties for local elections, and the economy.
Despite complications the five parties in the ruling coalition are struggling to make their electoral alliance a success and have developed a set of criteria for an alliance at the local level for the upcoming May 13 local polls. One of the influential leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Barshaman Pun is also the member of the alliance’s Election Preparation and Monitoring Committee led by senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel. Pun, who is also a former finance minister, spoke to the Post’s Tika R Pradhan on issues of the electoral alliance, economic crisis and action against the governor. Excerpts:
How are the preparations for the electoral alliance going?
The electoral alliance was formed in order to safeguard the constitution and democracy. After [UML chief KP] Oli dissolved the House twice we were compelled to unite against his move. Our partnership will continue until there is a guarantee that the constitution and democracy are safe. This electoral alliance will continue at least until the provincial and federal polls.
But some Congress leaders and the party’s local committees appear reluctant to cede key constituencies to alliance partners.
This time Congress leadership seems flexible and also more responsible. They seemed to have felt the necessity to continue the coalition.
We have agreed that alliance members will be allowed to keep for themselves the local constituencies where they had won in the last elections. And, the votes received during the last polls in a local unit will be the second major criteria for qualification for election ticket for that particular local unit. If candidates are selected based on this criteria then there should be no issues. The centre will intervene if there are other problems.
Now the alliance party cadres are gradually realising the importance of electoral partnership.
Do you think the local committees of the parties will obey the decision of the alliance?
We believe they all will obey the decisions of their respective party leaderships. We have, therefore, communicated the criteria to the alliance’s district-level mechanisms to make preparations accordingly. They will select the candidates for municipalities and rural municipalities but candidates for metropolitan cities and sub-metropolitan cities will be decided by the centre.
We will ensure the success of the electoral alliance through central policy and local initiation. We don’t think there won’t be problems at some places. Even a single party may face several rebel candidates, and this is an alliance of five parties.
How will the alliance campaign for the elections?
There will be both individual and joint campaigns. We plan to form a central publicity team. We need to clarify to voters why an alliance is necessary–to safeguard democracy and save the country from heading towards regression. Election win is secondary.
But many people are asking how could the parties with opposing political ideologies stand together in the polls?
This is not an alliance based on similar ideologies but a political alliance. We are different in terms of ideologies and long-term goals and strategies, but we have partnered to save the country from regressive forces, protect the constitution and institutionalise the spirit of the political change and achievements of the “people’s war” and people’s movement. We have joined hands to promote development, prosperity and good governance.
A section of Congress leaders has been saying Maoists won’t vote for Congress candidates and vice-versa. How would the leaders convince them?
There are always some people who don't even vote for their own party’s candidates, and some stand against the candidates of their own parties and some play roles to defeat their own candidates.
But such tendencies will be defeated once we create a pro-alliance wave by telling the voters that the alliance will help bring political stability, development and prosperity to the country.
How will the CPN (Unified Socialist)—a splinter of the UML–be incorporated in the alliance?
CPN (Unified Socialist) will be given priority in candidate selection in the local units currently held by the CPN-UML. Also, the party will be allocated a respectable number of seats in local units currently led by parties outside the alliance.
We worked together in the Nepal Communist Party and fought jointly against KP Sharma Oli. We may even merge our parties someday.
What about the Janata Samajbadi Party?
Their major vote base is in the Madhes Province, Lumbini and some parts of hill districts. We will ensure respectable space for coalition partners even by sharing ward chairs and ward members even in local units where all office bearer positions were won by a certain party. This is the spirit of our alliance.
Alliance leaders are saying Nepali Congress is reluctant to cede local units where they think they can win single handedly. Is there a possibility of partnering with the UML in such places?
Alliance will be forged throughout the nation. But if problems appear then we will have a friendly competition among alliance members. We have not negated friendly competition among alliance member parties.
But there is no possibility of forging an alliance with the UML this time although UML leaders have been approaching us, Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party in various constituencies.
Will the Maoist Centre be able to retain mayoral candidacy in Bharatpur given strong protests by local Congress leaders?
Since the alliance has decided to allow alliance members to keep for themselves the local constituencies where they had won in the last elections, our party will get Bharatpur. But respecting the feelings of cadres and voters, we can even swap local units if needed. As per the criteria agreed upon among alliance partners, Bharatpur will go to the Maoists, Birgunj to Janata Samajbadi, Lalitpur and Biratnagar to Congress and one among Kathmandu and Pokhara to the CPN (Unified Socialist). Probably the CPN (Unified Socialist) will get Pokhara. And if Congress is given mayoral candidacy of Kathmandu, a candidate of some other alliance member will field a deputy mayor. This is how local unit seats will be shared.
What will happen if the Maoist Centre candidate is denied Bharatpur mayoral candidacy?
I don’t think that will happen. Also, Bharatpur has a significant number of CPN (Unified Socialist) voters besides Congress supporters.
Do you believe this alliance will succeed?
We will make it a success. We have discussed possible problems thoroughly among coalition partners. In the last local elections, we had forged alliances in 107 local units but lost in many places and as a result the alliance could not continue in the provincial and federal elections. But Congress must have learnt from that experience as it got a drubbing after leftist parties united. They won fewer seats under the first-past-the-post electoral system.
You spent several months in China recently. What’s their opinion on a leftist unity and electoral alliance in Nepal?
I was there for medical treatment but I did have meetings with Chinese politicians. They naturally want to see all leftist parties united. We respect their views but the situation here is quite different.
CPN (Unified Socialist) leader Madhav Nepal had recently hinted that local polls could be delayed if Netra Bikram Chand’s party joins the polls. Is that assessment correct?
Chand has already joined mainstream politics by signing a three-point agreement with the government. But the party did not register with the Election Commission for elections due to internal differences. We will be happy if they join the elections, but I can tell you that poll postponement is unlikely.
Is the alliance concerned about the possibility of more votes getting invalid as voters could get confused by the many election symbols of alliance partner parties?
We are considering using the same election symbols for ward chairs and ward members even if the candidates are from different parties in the alliance so as to minimise confusion in voters.
How do you see the ongoing discussions on the economic crisis in the country?
The economy is in crisis but it’s not that it has reached dire straits. The situation is certainly difficult and therefore urgent steps need to be taken to prevent further deterioration. As a chief of the party's Economy and Planning Department, I have been providing feedback to the party chair and through our party we have told the finance minister and the government to urgently take steps towards policy reforms. Our chairman has already put forth the issue at the meeting of the coalition partners and the prime minister is consulting experts and working on policy reforms.
What is the dispute involving the governor and the government?
Both the Finance Minister and Prime Minister have said the governor did not cooperate with the government and a probe panel has already been formed. Things would move ahead as per the report of the panel.
Your comments on the government action against the governor have made headlines.
I have not said anything except that the timing and context of the action against the governor was not appropriate. I have also suggested the government bring the economy onto the track by taking appropriate action based on experts’ suggestions. Leaders in the government must act responsibly because the economy is a serious issue.