Year of surprisesEven with all the political changes 2017 brought, it wouldn’t be surprising if we reverted to uncertainty next year
The year 2017 will be remembered by all as being a historic year in this landlocked country. Though the much delayed constitution was promulgated in September 2015, in reality it came into being only with the completion of the elections that were held this year. The local elections that were held in three phases beginning in May and ending in September saw a tough tussle between major parties as well as small local parties. Perhaps one of the most publicised contest was in Chitwan, where the daughter of a top political leader was contesting for the post of Mayor in Bharatpur as a candidate for the CPN (Maoist Centre). Her opponent was a CPN-UML candidate. The Maoist Centre (MC) and the UML were seen to be at loggerheads with each other as bitter rivals, much to the comfort of the centralist and rightist parties. Bitter rivalry among left oriented parties can only benefit centralist and rightist parties. Though there was considerable scepticism that the local polls would ever be held, there were even more doubts about whether the elections for the federal parliament and provincial assemblies would be successful. So for most people, the parliamentary and provincial elections held in two phases in late November and early December were nothing short of an immense surprise. And so were the results.
The parliamentary and provincial election results came as a shock to the Nepali Congress (NC), the party that claims to have pioneered the western democratic system in Nepal. The direct elections to the 165 parliamentary seats left the grand old NC with just 23 seats, while the UML and the MC secured secured 80 seats and 36 seats respectively. The left alliance formed by the UML and the MC together obtained 116 seats out of the 165 at stake under the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system. Under the proportional representation (PR) system, the UML obtained 41 seats, and the MC another 17. The NC fared better under the PR system, obtaining 40 seats. This means that 121 seats have gone to the UML, 53 seats have gone to the MC, and 63 seats have gone to the NC in the 275 member Parliament. It is obvious that the left front is in a commanding position. The overall picture of the direct provincial elections were no different, with the UML and the MC leaving the NC far behind. The NC-led government now wants to hang on to power even for a comparatively short period of time because of several constitutional ambiguities. But ultimately, the left, led by the UML, will have to come to power and this could mark a turning point for the NC.
Particularly humiliating for the NC in these recent elections was the fact that many of their old time leaders were timed out by voters. It is time for soul-searching in the NC to find out why they lost in their respective bastions.
It is also time to seek the rationale behind why the left alliance won the direct elections by such a steep margin. Speculation has it that the stand taken by the KP
Oli-led UML government during the undeclared blockade when, post devastating earthquake, Nepalis suffered at the hands of powerful countries, paid dividends during the elections. Perhaps that’s why the UML leader visited Rasuwagadi and talked about a rail link connecting China with Kathmandu. (One hopes our political leaders—left, centre and right—realise the strategic consequences of establishing rail links with India and China. But while such links are necessary, it must be ensured that all control is in the hands of Nepal). Speculation also has it that the top NC leaders who lost were said to be inclined towards the very country that imposed the undeclared blockade.
New political landscape
The manner in which the youths of the country poured onto the streets to protest the blockade should have been an eye opener to all leaders irrespective of their party affiliations. No wonder the Bibeksheel Sajha party, unheard of before, garnered almost 213,000 votes in PR elections, coming in ahead of established parties like the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the highly publicised Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti. Perhaps Bibeksheel divided the voters and pulled them away from parties such as the NC and RPP. For an infant party, Bibeksheel can be said to have relatively done well, even though it won not a single parliamentary seat; it needs to build up its ideological and organisational base if it wants to do better in the future.
In the political wrangling that is taking place at present, there is a lurking fear that the so-called transition period may again be delayed. The party in power refuses to budge and the left coalition that won so many seats is adamant in their stand. The fact that, despite the win, the left alliance is still far from the seat of power point to the flaws in our system and has come as a surprise to many. In addition, the formation of a coalition by the arch rivals UML and MC for the sake of contesting the elections is difficult to understand, as the MC leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, with the support of NC, replaced KP Oli as Prime Minister just over a year ago in August 2016. The sway of our political leaders from one side to the other for the sake of power is a trend that one sincerely hopes will be a thing of the past. The past is memorable in that it saw a fragmentation of communist parties into different factions, and also saw the breakup of the Maoist party that indulged in 10 years of what they call the “People’s War” that cost the nation over 17,000 lives. There is now talk of the MC merging with the UML. While the merger, if it happens, will be yet another surprise this year, it will surprise none if after the merger, there is again a split which will lead this country to yet another round of uncertainty.