Upcoming upper house polls could leave a weakened UML even weakerA loss may be solely the UML’s but holds the potential for affecting national understanding by deepening the divide.
The terms of as many as 20 National Assembly members expire on March 4, and elections to replace them are set to take place on January 26. Given the changed political dynamics, the CPN-UML, which currently controls a majority of seats, is going to slide into minority.
Eight members from the UML, four each from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist), three from the Nepali Congress, and one nominated—are completing their four-year terms as determined by drawing lots in June 2018.
Currently, the UML is in the opposition, even though it was the leading party after winning the 2017 elections in alliance with the Maoist Centre.
After KP Sharma Oli’s fall in mid-July, the Congress has been leading the government with the support of the Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The five parties are planning to contest the National Assembly elections as an alliance, which will mean a struggle for the UML to retain the eight upper house seats.
“I don’t think there could be any change in the existing partnership among the five parties at least until the National Assembly elections,” said Radheshyam Adhikari, an Assembly member representing the Nepali Congress. “The UML will have to bear a huge loss politically after the upcoming upper house polls.”
In the 59-member National Assembly, 23 members are from the UML and 13 from the Maoist Centre, excluding the chair and vice-chair. The Nepali Congress has seven members, CPN (Unified Socialist) 7, Janata Samajbadi Party 2 and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party has 1 member.
There is one independent member and three were nominated.
The nominated member who is going to complete his term on March 4 is Ram Narayan Bidari representing the Maoist Centre.
The National Assembly members are elected by an electoral college.
Each of the seven provinces elects eight members and the President appoints three members on the recommendation of the government.
The electoral college is made up of members of the provincial assembly and chairperson/mayor and vice-chairperson/deputy mayor of local federal units within the province.
Each provincial assembly member's vote has a weightage of 48 whereas each chairperson/mayor/vice-chairperson/deputy mayor's vote carries a weight of 18.
Except in Province 1, the ruling alliance currently controls enough weightage to beat the UML.
If the UML fails to retain its eight members, it will be reduced to 15 seats in the National Assembly. Since all the 20 members who will be elected from the January 24 elections will have a six-year term, there could be some political impacts in the aftermath of the general elections that are due next year.
As per the current composition prepared in consultation with Election Commission officials, the UML has a total weightage of 4,542 against the ruling alliance’s 4,464 in Province 1. Others control a weightage of 342.
Similarly, in Province 2, the UML’s vote weightage is 942, far less than 7,146 of the ruling alliance. Others combined have a weightage of 408. In Bagmati, the alliance has 4,956 against UML’s 4,152 while other parties combined have a weightage of 408. In Gandaki, the alliance’s weightage is 2,988 against UML’s 2,394 and the other parties have 510. In Karnali, the alliance has a weightage of 4,110 and UML has 3,324 while other parties combined have 408. In Sudurpaschim, the weightage of the alliance is 3,755, UML has 1,788 and other parties have 132.
Loss of seats in the National Assembly will come as a major setback for the UML, which has by now lost governments in all the provinces.
UML’s position is slightly better in Province 1 with the party’s weight being 78 more than that of the alliance. But the race for National Assembly seats is still tight for the party as it is still not clear where the fringe parties’ votes would go.
“We have eight more members in the provincial assembly while UML has some more voters in the local units of the province,” said Rajendra Rai, chief minister of Province 1. “As the weight of the votes of the Provincial Assembly members is higher, we will win the seats.”
This means the fringe parties’ votes could determine the outcome.
“Since the voting will be secret some votes could even go beyond the party lines so we cannot predict when there is a small difference in vote weights of parties,” said Komal Dhamala, deputy spokesperson of the Election Commission.
But the leaders of the coalition have said they could garner a majority even if the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which has four voters in the local units and one in the Provincial Assembly, sided with the UML.
If the coalition partners manage to snatch away all eight upper house seats held by the UML, they will have a comfortable two thirds majority in the Upper House as well.
In that situation, even if the UML wins the next general elections and forms a government, it could face a tough time passing bills.
All bills must be passed by both the Houses for them to become law.
If the ruling coalition manages to command a majority in the National Assembly, it may also replace the chairperson.
The current chair of the National Assembly, Ganesh Timilsina, was elected from the UML.
“A simple majority can elect the chair of the National Assembly, but a two-thirds majority is required to remove him/her,” said Ram Narayan Bidari, a member of the National Assembly.
“I don’t think the UML will win the next general elections. But even if they emerged as the largest party, they would face difficulty in endorsing the bills from the upper house.”
Since the National Assembly chair is a member of the Constitutional Council, his/her role is crucial in constitutional appointments.
The Constitutional Council, headed by the prime minister, has the chief justice, House Speaker, National Assembly chair, deputy speaker and the leader of the opposition as members.
When Oli was prime minister, he had introduced an ordinance to amend the Constitutional Council Act to ease the convening of the meeting and recommending names for constitutional bodies.
Oli was forced to do so after Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was the leader of the opposition then, and Speaker Agni Sapkota repeatedly skipped the meetings.
The ordinance was repealed after Deuba became prime minister.
In the changed scenario, for the Constitutional Council to convene, the National Assembly chair’s presence is a must. Since Timilsina was elected from the UML, it is unlikely he would attend any meeting.
In that case, if the ruling coalition commands a majority in the National Assembly, Timilsina could be replaced by anyone from the coalition parties.
Political analysts, however, say such a practice would not do good to Nepal's democratic process.
They say political parties must come up with some sort of understanding regarding the appointments in the constitutional bodies besides major constitutional positions, including the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the National Assembly and the Deputy Speaker, which is still vacant, instead of making appointments through majority.
“If the parties started changing the leadership of the constitutional bodies to suit their interests through majority, our politics would again head towards instability,” said Hari Roka, a political analyst. “UML will be the loser, there is no doubt but the question is whether to bring the unstable politics on track or not.”
Correction: This article has been updated to fix the date for National Assembly election, as per Election Commission's revised scheduled. The election has been rescheduled for January 26.