Permutation combinationThe recently formed alliance of three major communist parties—CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Naya Shakti Party Nepal—was a festive surprise to many.
The recently formed alliance of three major communist parties—CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Naya Shakti Party Nepal—was a festive surprise to many. The three have also agreed to form a party unification coordination committee and prepare a joint election manifesto. The UML and Maoist Centre will share the seats up for grabs in the upcoming polls in the ratio of 60:40. The Nepali Congress (NC) responded instantly by moving to tie up with Madhes-based parties and other democratic forces. A leftist coalition formed to win the provincial and parliamentary elections is understandable, but unification of the three parties is a lot more complex since they have different agendas. The Maoist Centre is a major ally in the NC-led government, but at the same time, it has signed an alliance agreement with the largest opposition, the UML.
Many theories have been advanced to explain the formation of the leftist alliance. Many think that the Maoists are heading downhill and need a means to survive. The Naya Shakti Party Nepal has proved to be a failure with a dismal showing in the recently concluded local elections. The UML’s fear of being excluded by the unnatural alliance of the NC and Maoist Centre led to the formation of the communist pact. Akhilesh Upadhyay’s recent article ‘What led to the broad left electoral alliance and what next?’ in the Kathmandu Post says that the politics of psychology may have prompted leaders from all these parties to unite. He has also written that top Maoist leaders fear that they may be convicted of war crimes and this led them to come together. Irrespective of the reasons, the implications of the unification seem fearful in many aspects.
The UML has a strong organisational base and so does the Maoist Centre, albeit on a smaller scale. The Naya Shakti Party has a small base of followers who are on the lookout for alternative politics. With these parties joining forces, their cumulative organisational base will widen in two favourable ways. One, it will increase their winning margin by a huge percentage, solidifying their legitimacy. Two, it will help them win new constituencies which each party may lose to the NC or regional parties were they to contest the polls individually.
To see the matter in perspective, let’s take a look at the local election results. The UML and Maoist Centre have, between them, won 53 percent of the total municipal or metropolitan mayoral seats. And in the constituencies where they lost to the NC, it was a very close race. Suppose local elections had been conducted after the leftist unification, and provided voting patterns remained the same, the UML-Maoist Centre-Naya Shakti alliance would have grabbed nearly 76 percent of the mayoral seats. This is a scary scenario. Even in competitive authoritarianism, this would not be a possibility.
The turn of events has aroused fears that Nepal is hurtling towards a quasi-one-party system in the near future. Much depends on the NC and the alliance it manages to put together. However, the alliance formed by the NC may not be as ideologically close-knit as the left combined. The reactionary and contextual alliance may be susceptible to fragmentation. The alliance will also be weak compared to the strengthened communist alliance, which is a key factor for victory in the upcoming elections.
Leaning heavily left
The UML’s victory in the local elections with 14,097 seats has placed it in an advantageous place. A weak opposition against a spearheaded communist force with operational and tactical objectives would be a potential threat to the pillars of the state in two major ways. One, it may lead to marginalisation of the existing democratic forces. The newer national and regional parties may find themselves in a tighter spot, and their agendas blatantly sidelined by numbers that prevent them from passing amendments.
Two, the risk of exploitation of judicial bodies is high. The audacity of the executive and legislative bodies to provide blanket amnesty for wartime crimes by ignoring Supreme Court decisions showed how accountability was on the run. The impeachment case against the then chief justice Sushila Karki showed how powerful the executive has become over time. Under the UML-Maoist-Naya Shakti alliance, the judiciary is expected to further weaken.
The country has definitely taken a new path after the communist alliance, and it has created hope and fear among the people. It is clear that the communists have a majority, and realising the significance of their presence and the need of the hour, they have formed an alliance before the elections. Similar coalitions are in the making which is also a sign of the start of ideology-based polarisation. On a positive note, a majority government could be the answer to a fragile coalition like in recent years which brought about political instability and a succession of short-lived governments.
In contrast, it is to be feared if a communist alliance leads the country into a treacherous path. Its take on unresolved Madhes issues besides foreign policy is yet to be seen. Also, the age-old issue of transitional justice and grave rights violations during the Maoist conflict has become debatable and uncertain. Amid confusion and uncertainty, Nepal is set to enter a new socio-political and economic context after the elections. The changed political landscape may work in favour of the new leftist alliance. If this alliance manages to bag most of the provincial seats and sets up the government at the centre, it may lead to a unitary and centralised Nepal, which will be lethal in many ways.
-Gupta is an undergraduate student at Soka University, California, US; Thapa is a graduate of Economics from Jain University, Karnataka, India