‘Back-to-back elections also led to low voter turnout’‘People say why give the same old parties another chance when they have failed to perform, repeatedly.’
Nepal, on Sunday, voted to elect members to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies. The second general elections after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal have been held amid wide discontentment among people with the mainstream political parties. As the country was voting, Binod Ghimire from the Post caught up with Sanjeev Humagain, a faculty member of the PhD programme for Political Science and International Relations at the Tribhuvan University, to discuss public mood and post-election scenario. Here are excerpts.
Preliminary reports suggest low voter turnout. What could be the reasons?
I broadly see three reasons. First, there was no enthusiasm among the general public as they were frustrated with the non-performance of the governments and old political parties. Second, it’s back-to-back elections. The voters had to visit their home towns in May, and for Dashain and Tihar. It wasn’t feasible economically for them to travel to their home districts for a third or the fourth time, within six months. Lastly, alliance politics too is responsible. For instance, the Nepali Congress cadres didn’t travel to places where their party didn’t field candidates. The same applied to the cadres of other parties in the alliance.
You visited different places after the elections were declared, including on the voting day. How did you find the public mood?
There is huge frustration among the public. They were questioning the logic of voting if nothing was going to change because mostly the same old faces were in the race again. The frustration with party leaders is nothing new, but this time, they are frustrated with the system, which is a more serious issue. People were told that the present federal republican system would bring transformation in their lives. However, the political parties and their leaders could not build trust among the people.
Who will benefit from this public frustration?
The new parties, definitely. The Rastriya Swatantra Party and other new parties are going to get votes from the frustrated sections which want to try out new faces. People say why give the same old parties another chance when they have failed to perform, repeatedly. The younger generation largely contributed to Balen Shah’s victory in the Kathmandu metropolis. We saw the same pattern in Sunday’s election as well.
How do you evaluate the performance of the previous House of Representatives and provincial assemblies? What should be their focus in the next five years?
The House of Representatives and provincial assemblies have largely failed to perform what they were supposed to do. Lawmaking, monitoring and facilitation are the three broad responsibilities of the lower house. However, in its five-year term, it couldn’t even promulgate the laws needed for the implementation of federalism. While the governments—led by KP Sharma Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba—ran the country through ordinances, the House was a spectator. Oli blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, while Deuba pointed fingers at Oli to cover up his government’s misdeeds.
The new parliament must focus on making laws necessary for the implementation of federalism. The federal civil service and federal education law must be promulgated without delay. Similarly, it must effectively perform its monitoring role. The parliamentary committees must work to improve public institutions through public intervention. In the 21st century, the parliaments must be research oriented. Similarly, research should be the focus of individual voters as well. Only then will a derailed parliament be back on track.
Don’t you think the provincial assembly elections were overshadowed by the House of Representatives elections?
Yes. The focus of the parties and even the general public was on the lower house. Currently, the elections to all three tiers of the governments are held in a span of six months and then, there are no other political activities for the next four and a half years. In the United States, the Presidential and House elections take place in a span of two years. In my opinion there must be a gap of at least one or more years between the provincial assembly and parliamentary elections. Only then will provincial assembly elections get priority.
Voices for the change in the electoral system are increasing in the wake of high electoral spending. Do you also see a need for a change in the electoral system?
I see things differently. There are complaints about extravagance in the elections because the parties have failed to pick the right candidates. The wrong candidates try to win the elections by spending money. Such a problem would have never occurred had there been internal democracy in the parties. The transparency in decision-making process of the political parties would result in their picking the right candidates. Such candidates don’t need to throw money around to win elections.
Who do you think will form the government?
I think the Nepali Congress-led five-party alliance will form the government. However, the nature of the government will be determined by the parliament’s composition. The present coalition will continue if the Congress becomes the largest party, maintaining a significant lead over other parties. The situation could be different if the Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) come to the parliament with similar strengths. It is difficult to project the strength of the parties amid reports that the new parties could fare very well.
Do you see the possibility of a coalition between the UML and the Maoist Centre?
It would depend on the composition of the House. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist Centre chairperson, hasn’t hidden his interest to become the prime minister. If his party gets a good share of seats in comparison to the other two parties, there will be a room for him to bargain with the Congress as well as the UML. However, I still don’t see much prospect for a left alliance. To my understanding, the five party alliance is going to remain after the polls.