Congress mum as Dahal, Nepal claim coalition will forge electoral allianceNepali Congress is in a comfortable position and may not partner with others for a pre-poll alliance, observers say.
Top leaders of the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist) have continuously been claiming that the ruling five parties will contest the upcoming polls as an alliance.
At an interaction in Pokhara on Friday, CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal said the five-party alliance will continue into the next general elections and beyond. Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal made a similar statement in Chitwan on the same day. He said it was necessary to keep the progressive alliance intact to stop regressive forces from coming to power.
On Saturday, he moved a step ahead and proposed a merger between his party and the Janata Samajbadi Party, a partner in the ruling alliance. Dahal, in his political paper presented at the party’s central committee on July 14, had proposed that the five-party alliance must continue until the next elections. The committee had endorsed the proposal.
The claims from the leaders come at a time when the Election Commission has started consultations with the government to fix the dates for the National Assembly and local elections. On Monday, the commission in a meeting with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba proposed holding the National Assembly elections by the third week of January 2022 and local elections by the following March.
Although the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are talking about a pre-poll alliance, leaders of the Nepali Congress, the party which is leading the government, haven't spoken on the matter. Contrary to Dahal and Nepal, some Congress leaders have said their party will contest the general elections alone.
“It is not in our character as a party to form a pre-poll alliance. Congress will contest the elections alone,” said Gagan Thapa, a leader of the ruling party, addressing a function in Kathmandu on Saturday. “We can think about a post-election alliance for forming a government if our party fails to win majority seats in the elections.”
Those who have closely followed the Congress politics over the years say the party would not go for a broader electoral alliance. They, however, say the party might sacrifice a couple of seats to ensure that top leaders of other parties in the ruling alliance do not lose the vote, but neither the central leadership nor the cadres want a full-fledged electoral alliance.
“An electoral alliance is necessary for the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist but not for the Congress. And such an alliance would be possible only if all the parties in the ruling coalition feel the need,” Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst, told the Post. “Why would Congress form an electoral alliance when it is comfortable contesting alone?”
The Congress sees the revival of the UML and the Maoist Centre following the invalidation of their merger, and the recent split in the CPN-UML as the best opportunity for it to perform well in the elections, he said. In the last elections, the UML and the Maoist Centre had formed an alliance and contested the election as a single block. They won a total of 174 seats in the lower house. The Congress with 63 (including two suspended) seats was placed second. Now the leftist force that won the largest number of seats has split into three parties. The Maoist Centre won 53 seats and the UML 121. Recently the UML saw split after its leader Madhav Nepal launched the CPN (Unified Socialist).
Acharya says while it would be beneficial for the Congress to contest the election alone, in the event of forming an electoral alliance with other parties, the party might find it difficult to pick candidates as there are many aspirants. There are 165 first-past-the-post seats in the House of Representatives. Forming an alliance would mean it will have to sacrifice a significant number of seats to other four parties.
In July 2020, Sunil Thapa, a senior leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, joined the Nepali Congress with 29 other leaders. And this has added to the number of candidates aspiring for party tickets. Some of the leaders from the then Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik), who joined the Congress with Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar just a month before the 2017 general elections, too were dissatisfied after they did not get a party ticket. They are expecting tickets this time.
Chitra Bahadur KC, chairperson of the Rastriya Janamorcha who is in the five-party alliance, said the parties haven’t discussed an electoral alliance yet. He said it is not necessary that the poll alliance must be between the five parties. His party had forged an alliance with the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), referred to as the left alliance in the 2017 polls. “Some leaders might have made claims about electoral alliance but it has not been decided yet,” he told the Post.
Congress leaders said the claims by Dahal and Nepal that the five-party alliance will continue into the elections are their personal views as no such agreement has been reached yet among the coalition partners. “The Congress will first analyse the pros and cons of forging an alliance,” Prakash Sharan Mahat, a deputy general secretary of the party who is close to Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, told the Post. “There could be an electoral alliance for the National Assembly elections but that cannot be said about the general elections.”
The leaders from other junior coalition partners agree that the Congress is looking to fight the election alone. They say other like minded parties will form an electoral alliance if the Congress doesn’t come on board.
“At the time of forming an alliance against the KP Sharma Oli government, there had been a broad understanding among the parties to continue the partnership until the elections,” Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesperson for the CPN (Unified Socialist), told the Post. “Nothing can be done if any of the parties defies the understanding.”