‘Parties slowly realising the need for periodic leadership change’Lawmaker-elect from CPN (Maoist Centre), Rekha Sharma, on what it took her to beat an established leader, UML general secretary Shankar Pokhrel.
The only female candidate of CPN (Maoist Centre) winning direct election, Rekha Sharma, is in the limelight after she defeated the UML general secretary Shankar Pokhrel.
The former minister and whip of the Maoist Centre’s parliamentary party, Sharma, who is also the party’s Standing Committee member, spoke to Post’s Tika R Pradhan, on her victory, her party’s prospects in the upcoming government, and the emergence of newer forces in the House of Representatives.
What was it like to beat a ‘heavyweight’ contender like the UML General Secretary?
My political experience was limited to ensuring the victory of other candidates and this was my first election experience under the first-past-the-post system. It was a challenge as I had to work hard to understand every voter and their individual concerns. But we were prepared as we knew it was going to be difficult to fight against an important and established leader. But we successfully deployed party committees and unified coalition parties.
What could be the reasons for your win?
The coalition got 4,000-5,000 more votes than the UML. This was possible also because local chapters of the parties in the alliance were more unified, compared to at the time of the local polls. We could have won with a bigger margin. But many factors determine the win or loss of candidates.
Vote transfer is not the only way to win elections. In Dang-2, our competition was strong so we put in twice the effort but other leaders seemed overconfident just because they were in an electoral alliance. Overconfidence is never good during elections. In our constituency, we focussed more on getting our votes out rather than solely depending on vote transfers. That approach helped us win.
Your party seems to be open to all sides on government formation. Is a left alliance still possible?
A left alliance is not possible anytime soon. I had a meeting with the party chairman recently. Having discussions with left parties is one thing but forging a coalition is a different ballgame. I don’t think our party will look beyond the existing coalition when it comes to forming a new government. As we contested polls under the coalition our focus will be on further strengthening it. I personally think it would be unethical to ditch the current coalition. We are always for unity among left forces but the previous left alliance unravelled not because of us but because of the other party in the alliance.
What is the prospect of the Maoist Centre leading the new government?
I feel top leaders should finalise the pre-election deal to lead the government by turns. When the relative strengths of the parties are clear, the two leaders—Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and our party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal—should finalise who should lead the government first. As the largest party in the House, it is obvious for the Congress to claim prime ministership. Meanwhile, it won’t be unethical for our chair Dahal to lay claim to leading the government in the first half of the five-year tenure. But I don’t think the debate over who will lead the government will affect the coalition in any way.
What does the emergence of the Rastriya Swatantra Party mean for traditional parties?
I understand this in two ways. There was extreme frustration among the public, which was expressed in the voting trend seen in the November polls. This is a challenge to traditional parties. However, we must not take this development as a negative one as it is the verdict of the people. Rastriya Swatantra Party’s success is a striking message to the older parties that if they don't change, people will seek alternatives. Now it is up to old parties whether to focus on eliminating the newcomers or take this opportunity to correct our own weaknesses.
It is imperative that traditional parties change. There are only two options—correct yourself or be irrelevant. It’s a question of survival. If we can run both the party and the country in a systematic way then things will gradually look up. We must stand out, not by proving others wrong, but by doing better than our competitors. We must develop a culture of competition to keep other parties on their toes.
How do you think the new and older forces should work together?
In the end it all boils down to hard work, whether you are an old or a new party. The Rastriya Swatantra Party has just entered the parliament with the people’s mandate. We will have to work together. The new generation must enter politics but they must do good work rather than focussing on disgracing the older parties and their leaders. There has to be a cohesive approach to politics and a combination of youthful energy and the experience of the older generations must be used wisely.
It’s wrong to dismiss the youth for lack of experience and the leaders of older generations for not living up to people’s expectations.
Can we expect a change in leadership in older parties?
I think parties have been gradually realising the necessity of a change in leadership. A large number of youth leaders have emerged victorious from Nepali Congress in this election. Youth leaders have been encouraged in our party for a long time. We have Pushpa Kamal Dahal as our main leader but if we can challenge him with better programmes and plans, he would accept the emergence of such leaders. More importantly, we should also have internal elections to select party leaders. We must change leadership by respecting the role of the older generation rather than dismissing them for being old.
Why do you think many of your party’s major leaders have lost?
We need to evaluate our party’s performance and make our party stand on our own feet. We must come up with specific plans and programmes to strengthen our party. We have failed to run the party systematically. The incoherence in the party system also owes to international forces—our party is under constant attack from many power centres. Internally, our party saw several splits after we joined the political mainstream. If we can win the hearts of the people we can fight against all odds, for which we have to change the way we run our party.
Your party didn't field enough women candidates under FPTP. How inclusive is CPN (Maoist Centre) as a political party?
We should see this issue in light of the party’s policies. In terms of inclusiveness in candidate selection, we are relatively better compared to other parties, even though we too failed to ensure representation of different groups in line with their population ratios. In the current Cabinet, we sent 50 percent women and a Dalit. We have 35 percent women in our committees. If we start electing party committees, the representation will be better still. Other parties, however, have been reluctant to adopt inclusiveness. I think it would be a good idea to have mandatory provisions on proportional representation in all sectors.