Albatross of an election alliance. Coalition yet to decide candidates for most placesElection offices brace for a hectic schedule today with just around 10,000 candidacies filed on Sunday.
CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli a few weeks ago expressed his ire against the Election Commission for setting two days aside for filing nominations for the local elections slated for May 13. His anger stemmed from concerns if the poll body was creating a situation favourable for the ruling coalition, which has reached a deal to fight local elections under an alliance among five parties.
While two days gave the UML also a leeway to take one more day to file nominations, this period came as a big respite for the coalition partners—Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha. The biggest beneficiary, however, is the Congress as it is struggling to share seats at various local units with its alliance partners while it is facing stiff opposition within the party, with some local leaders threatening to mutiny.
Four of the five coalition partners on April 20 reached a deal on sharing seats in six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities. But there are 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities where 552 mayoral and deputy mayoral as well as 920 chief and deputy chiefs need to be shared among the five parties. Then there are 6,743 wards where as many chairs and 26,972 office bearers need to be elected.
Given the sheer number of seats, a deal among the coalition partners to share them among themselves was an uphill task since the day they decided to forge an electoral alliance.
On Sunday, the first day of nomination filing, most of the major parties failed to provide candidates. While the coalition struggled, the UML also decided to wait until Monday.
According to the Election Commission, most of the fringe parties filed nominations.
Around 10,000 candidates have registered their candidacies for the 35,221 positions in 753 local units on the first day of nomination filing.
Though the election body has received the nominations of more than 10,000 candidates, according to Election Commission spokesperson Shaligram Sharma Poudel, they had verified around 4,000 of them as of 7:30pm and the verification process was going on.
The way the coalition continued to struggle makes one wonder if the alliance deal has become an albatross around its neck.
On Sunday, when the nomination filing time for the day—the commission has set 10am to 5pm for filing candidacies—ended, the coalition started its meeting to “further” discuss seat-sharing.
Leaders say the coalition will finalise the candidates by Monday.
“We have decided to file all the nominations for the local polls only on Monday. So no one from the five-party alliance filed their nominations today,” said Jivan Pariyar, joint general secretary of the Congress. “We will file nominations only after the alliance finalises seat-sharing on Monday.”
But in some areas, after differences surfaced, some of the coalition partners decided to walk out of the alliance and fielded their own candidates.
Despite reaching an agreement on seat-sharing, the Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi Party fielded their own mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates in Lalitpur Metropolitan City and Butwal Sub-metropolitan City, respectively. As per the deal, the two parties were supposed to get some seats at the wards of both the local units.
On Saturday, the local committee of the Maoist Centre decided to remain out of the alliance in Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City.
The Congress has formed a parliamentary committee to decide candidates for metropolitan cities and sub-metropolitan cities, but the committee has entrusted party chief and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with the task of selecting the candidates.
In some districts including Dhading, Jajarkot and Dailekh, the coalition finalised the seat-sharing on Sunday. But there are many places where they have failed to reach agreements yet.
Some leaders from the ruling coalition have said that going against the alliance agreement was wrong and that the parties concerned should address these issues but such calls were lost in the din and confusion.
“Have other partners given a thought to what would happen if the Congress starts fielding its candidates in places that we have set aside for them?” said Pariyar, the joint general secretary of the Congress.
According to Pariyar, in some of the local units where Congress had won and Maoist Centre stood second, the two parties have decided to go for a “friendly competition” as the victory of any of the two parties would ensure that the UML remains outside.
In Kathmandu, according to the Election Commission, 16 nominations were filed for the mayoral post and 17 for deputy mayor.
Some Maoist Centre leaders said things became complicated because the Congress could not handle factional politics in the party.
Dev Gurung, a senior Maoist leader, said the coalition leaders were in a rush due to the lack of time and were trying to strike a deal on chiefs and deputies as it is difficult for them to finalise candidates for ward office bearers.
“Problems have emerged in places where some strong Congress voices have been heard against the alliance,” said Gurung. “But we will try to address the issues to the extent possible.”
UML leaders have said the party has selected around 95 percent candidates and will decide the remaining ones on Monday. The party is yet to finalise candidates in places where it has forged alliances with other parties.
“We have completed selecting almost 95 percent of the candidates,” said Subas Nembang, a UML vice-chairperson. “We will file nominations on Monday.”
Meanwhile, the UML has opposed the decision of the Election Commission to print separate ballots in Bhaktapur and six metropolitan cities. Separate ballot papers, the UML believes, will give an advantage to the ruling coalition. As per the decision, for example, if a Maoist candidate is running for the mayoral post, the ballot paper will have only Maoist Centre’s election symbol, without other coalition parties’ symbols.
Issuing a statement on Sunday, Bhisma Adhikari, secretary of the UML’s central office, said that different ballot papers were being printed apparently to favour the parties in the alliance.
“We call on the Election Commission, which has the responsibility to hold free and fair elections, to ensure the same policy on ballot papers across the country,” states the release.
The Election Commission has already started printing ballot papers for various local units as per its own schedule and will continue to do so until April 30. But the ballot papers which have already been printed contain the election symbols of all parties registered for the local elections.
The election body made it clear that ballot papers for six metropolitan cities and Bhaktapur were already scheduled to be printed on April 30 and by that time the candidates will already be declared and therefore the ballots would incorporate only the symbols of those filing the nominations.
With the low number of nominations filed on Sunday, the Election Commission is bracing for a hectic day on Monday.
Given the way the coalition partners are squabbling, many wonder if most of the nominations will be filed in the last hour—just before the commission stops taking nominations at 5pm on Monday.
On the Post’s query on Saturday if the Election Commission would consider extending the deadline for nomination filing, Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya ruled it out.
“There is no possibility of giving an extra day for nomination filing after Monday,” Thapaliya told the Post. “Not possible at all… even if the world turns upside down.”