Ruling Nepal Communist Party stares at tough by-electionGovernment’s poor show and controversies surrounding some leaders could affect performance during polls, analysts say.
The ruling Nepal Communist Party with 174 lawmakers is just a little shy of commanding a two-thirds majority in the 275-member federal parliament. The party also runs majority governments in six out of seven provinces. The 2017 elections certainly installed the Communist Party as the biggest political force in the country. But as the by-election approaches, things are not looking too good for the ruling party.
By-elections for 52 positions, including a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, is set to be held on November 30.
By-polls will also be held to elect three provincial assembly members, one mayor, three rural municipality chairmen, one rural municipality vice-chair and 43 ward chairs.
While all posts are equally important for the parties, the one position all of them will be vying for is Kaski Constituency 2. After the death of Rabindra Adhikari in a helicopter crash in February, a House of Representatives seat is vacant.
Analysts say the poor performance of the government, despite having such a huge electoral mandate, and some scandals involving ruling party leaders can have a massive impact during by-elections.
If elections of the Trekking Agency Association of Nepal, Thamel Tourism Development Council, Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies and the Jhapa and Chitwan chapters of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries are anything to go by, things do not look bright for the Nepal Communist Party. The party-affiliated panels have faced defeats in these elections.
Jhapa and Chitwan are Oli and Dahals constituencies, respectively.
“There are two reasons for the defeat of NCP candidates in these elections. First, the business community is not satisfied with the economic policy of the government. Second, the two communist parties are yet to unify in a true sense,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst who has closely followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades.
Even more than a year and a half after the merger of CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), party members are yet to internalise the unification, as wrangling has continued over various issues.
“It’s worrisome and shameful for the unified communist party to have lost such minor elections,” said Subedi.
Besides the recent mini-elections and poor performance of the government, the ruling party has been dealing with some major scandals involving its leaders.
Party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel has been embroiled in controversy in an illegal land purchase deal. In the most recent case, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, one of the key leaders of the party, had to step down as the House Speaker following rape allegations against him.
“The Mahara case has put the ruling party on the defensive,” said Subedi. “Such scandals could also have implications during the by-elections.”
Oli had ensured a victory for his party in 2017 elections on the nationalistic plank, as the country was crippled by an Indian border blockade in 2015 just after the devastating earthquakes.
The two communist parties had jointly fought elections promising prosperity.
But the government’s performance in the last one and a half years has not been up to the mark, with even party insiders expressing their dissatisfaction at the Oli administration.
Some of the controversial bills the Oli administration has introduced too have courted controversy.
In this scenario, a political commentator says, independent voters’ response will be crucial for the ruling party.
“Earlier Oli’s nationalist posturing had attracted swing votes, but the government’s popularity has been fading fast,” said Shyam Shrestha. “The government and the party have been embroiled in controversies one after the other. The party may have to pay a price for that during the upcoming elections.”
According to Shrestha, organisational votes alone won’t be sufficient to win elections, as around 40 percent of the independent voters play a crucial role.
Party leaders, however, are optimistic.
“We are not a mass-based party, we are a cadre-based mass party,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member. “For a party like ours, there is always a chance of positive results even during the time of crisis.”
Chaulagain, however, agrees that the ruling party is not going through encouraging times.
“It’s unfortunate that a party leading nearly a two-thirds majority government is going through such a rough patch,” said Chaulagain.