Will Majdoor Kisan Party hold bastion?Party’s narrow focus is eroding its voter base. Yet, it is expected to win Bhaktapur-1 seat.
Last Friday, a man and a woman at a grocery shop in Changunarayan-3 got talking about the elections just two weeks away. “The Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party will sweep the polls in our constituency,” the woman said. “Had the party won the local election in our ward, the face of our place would have changed.”
After listening quietly for a while, the man replied, “I agree but it’s a pity that people get carried away by offers made by the big parties’ leaders.”
As the woman above hinted, many municipality residents voted for big parties in May’s local polls. The Majdoor Kisan Party’s dominance is shrinking in the constituency as a whole as the big political parties are making inroads from the outskirts of Bhaktapur municipality, especially Changunarayan Municipality.
In the May polls, the party won a landslide in the mayor’s election in Bhaktapur and won all the wards.
In Changunarayan, however, the party did not fare so well. It came a distant fourth in the mayor’s election and could only win one of the nine wards in the municipality.
Buddhalaxmi Basukala owns a grocery shop in Changunarayan-2. She also has a house in Byasi, Bhaktapur and is yet to complete the migration process after moving to Changunarayan. “ Bhaktapur Municipality has witnessed more development works like improved roads in comparison to Changunarayan,” she said. “We need to elect the leaders who deliver.”
While talking to Basukala, a man in his fifties arrived at her shop and began saying: “Yes, development is a must.”
People from the outskirts and the neighbouring municipalities wish for development like the Bhaktapur city’s. Delivering on the promises is a major reason behind the repeated wins of the Majdoor Kisan Party over the past three decades.
The party, colloquially known as NeMaKiPa, emerged victorious in Bhaktapur-1 in the six elections that followed the reinstatement of the multi-party democracy in 1990. Locals hail party chair Narayan Man Bijukchhe as the man behind the enviable state of the city.
Bijukchhe won the five polls that followed the 1990 change and in the 2017 elections he let Prem Suwal contest from Bhaktapur-1. Suwal won with a huge margin—of around 15,000 votes. Even a strong communist alliance could not stop him.
The party holds sway in the region—which consists of Bhaktapur and Changunarayan municipalities—so much so that some major parties were said to be reluctant to field their candidates.
However, in Bhaktapur-2, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have remained dominating forces.
Bijukchhe’s party is widely lauded for its works in Bhaktapur Municipality. Locals say its works are exemplary.
Diwan Dhaubhadel, a close observer of local politics, has been running a clothes business in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square area for nearly three decades. According to him, the first reason for the party’s success is they are well organised. The second was its dedicated voters from the Newa community and the third their transparency.
“The party is also focused on preserving cultural values,” Dhaubhadel said. “And Bhaktapur Municipality has set an example in education that is worth emulating by other local governments.”
Unlike other parties, NeMaKiPa spends a lot of time and effort in educating voters—on how to vote for the party. “They ensure not a single vote gets wasted.”
The city has established a number of institutions, receiving plaudits from across the country. The municipality currently runs seven educational institutions: Khwopa College, Khwopa Engineering College, Khwopa College of Engineering, Sarada Campus (for Bachelor level), Khwopa Polytechnic Institute, Sarada Campus Secondary School (for 10+2 students) and Khwopa Secondary School.
Sundar Sitikhu, from Byasi, said the NeMaKiPa delivers what it promises, and only promises what it can deliver. According to him, party representatives have renovated the heritage sites effectively, with the locals’ participation.
They are also transparent in financial matters, so all local residents are satisfied, Sitikhu said. “For old people unable to reach medical institutions, nurses go door to door offering medical services. Public health services are also commendable.”
Gopal Koju, a carpenter from Bhaktapur Municipality, echoes Sitikhu. He believes the party holds sway because of its better delivery mechanism than other parties. “Bhaktapur is doing better than other cities because of its efforts. The party will win this time too,” he said.
Winds of change
Majdoor Kisan Party is the dominant force only in Bhaktapur Municipality—its influence has largely waned in the other municipality.
Observers say that the political landscape in Bhaktapur-1 is changing—the NeMaKiPa is losing influence in areas around Bhaktapur Municipality (more specifically the core city).
The party used to be strong in Bhaktapur-2, but now its influence has shrunk to a large extent in the region.
Ramesh Giri, a senior journalist based in Bhaktapur, said the party is strong in the constituency only because of the votes from the core city areas of the Bhaktapur municipality. The party is comparatively weaker in the provincial assembly.
“The Rastriya Prajatantra Party has, to some extent, increased the votes in constituency 1. In the rural areas, the NeMaKiPa has been losing its influence,” he said.
According to observers, the party had voters from the mixed Newar-Chhetri communities on the outskirts and Changunarayan municipality, but as it kept focusing only on the core area and as development works were also centralised, it started losing its grip. “Their votes have gone down a little, even in the Bhaktapur municipality. And in the rural areas, people are dissatisfied with the party,” Giri added.
In the Changunarayan municipality, wards 9, 7, 8, 4 were party bastions, but it has started losing polls there too. “It lost almost half the Newa voters in these wards. However, a chunk of ethnic votes still exist,” said Giri. “Giving priority to a particular community is also a reason behind the decrease in the number of its votes.”
According to Giri, even in the Bhaktapur municipality’s core city, young voters are rethinking their choices. “Others, however, have remained loyal to the party”.
“Also, if a region has diverse communities, the party struggles to garner more votes,” added Dhaubhadel. “The people who migrate from outside are already affiliated to other political parties, which adds to the party’s challenges.”
The party is not only losing its dominance in Bhaktapur, its fortunes also seem to be waning across the country, if the last major election results are anything to go by. In the 1994 elections, the party won four seats: two in Bhaktapur and one each in Jumla and Dailekh. The party shrank to two seats in the 2008 constituent assembly elections, both from Bhaktapur. In the second constituent assembly elections as well as the 2017 federal elections, the party bagged only one seat each.
Dhaubhadel foresees a decline in the party’s fortunes with Bijukchhe out of the picture. “Prem Suwal has much weaker leadership credentials.”
NeMaKiPa leaders, however, say they are confident that they will garner votes from the outskirts and surrounding areas and also win other constituencies.
Prem Suwal, the former lawmaker, said their party has, since the beginning, carried out development works with participation of the public and with economic discipline and transparency.
“Students from all over the nation, except Manang district, have received education at our education institutions,” he added. “We are also providing affordable health services in Khwopa Hospital.”
When asked about the party’s declining fortunes in Changunarayan and its outskirts, Suwal said the economically backward and the nationalists have always trusted them and hoped that they would keep doing so.
“We want to serve the nation by working for the economically backward and struggling people. I believe they will keep voting for us because of our record of delivery.”