Main opposition harbours hope to defend pole position, through poll alliancesUML leaders put on bold faces but are looking deep for opportunities to fight upcoming local elections in collaboration with friends and foes.
The main opposition CPN-UML is currently the largest party at all levels of the federal structure. But after a significant chunk of the party splintered away last year, KP Sharma Oli’s party is seeking to forge an electoral alliance with any willing party at the local level especially since the ruling parties are in a discussion to form their own electoral alliance.
In public, all leaders have been boasting that they are prepared to fight the elections alone, even as they are making frantic efforts to convince different parties outside the government and also those within the four-party ruling coalition.
“We’ll win even if all the parties registered [with the Election Commission] are united against us in the polls,” said UML Chairman Oli, at a function organised by the party-affiliated Muslim Ettehad Organisation on Saturday.
However, the party has decided to make optimum effort to forge an electoral alliance with any party irrespective of their political ideologies so that they could win more local government positions.
“We have decided to keep the option open for forging electoral alliance with any party at the local level,” said Prithvi Subba Gurung, deputy general secretary and chief of the UML’s publicity department.
In a bid to explore the possibility of alliance with the Janata Samajbadi Party, Oli had assigned Gurung to meet with Baburam Bhattarai, chair of the party’s Federal Council, on Thursday.
“We discussed the possibility of forging an alliance for the upcoming local polls,” Gurung told the Post.
Ghanashyam Bhusal and Raghuji Pant have formally proposed unity with the CPN (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist) during the party's recent Central Committee meeting to which Oli responded that there could be a ‘tactical alliance’ with them for some time but he flatly opposed any sort of unity with them.
The main opposition has several questions to answer to voters including its failure to maintain and utilise the almost two-thirds majority given to the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) for the country’s prosperity and not handing over federal resources necessary for the local level and provincial governments.
Though the party leaders have reported to its recent Central Committee meeting that the loss the party suffered due to the split has already been recovered by the flow of people coming to join the party, many senior leaders are not convinced saying such activities could only have a little psychological effect on voters.
“During the recent Central Committee meeting, provincial leaders have reported that the party will maintain its current position in the local level polls,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “They have also said the loss caused by the party split was already filled up by new entrants to the party.”
UML leaders, according to Thapa, believe that Oli has the mass appeal so the party may not need a coalition but there were also opinions among the leaders that an independent assessment of the party’s strength was necessary.
Thapa said the party’s secretariat meeting to be held after its Standing Committee meeting scheduled for Sunday would make a careful assessment of the party’s strength at the local level.
But other leaders said there is a tendency among leaders to exaggerate the party’s status most of the time and they themselves are not convinced with what they reported as there are several places where the party has won with a few hundred votes.
“We all know that leaders exaggerate facts during reporting,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, a Standing Committee member. “The party will win more than 50 percent of the local units this time.”
He, however, said the electoral alliance of the ruling parties could diminish their prospects. Therefore, the Central Committee has left the districts open to forge electoral alliance with any parties irrespective of their ideologies to ensure as many electoral seats as possible.
All the major parties have taken the local elections scheduled for May 13 as a prestige issue because its results could influence the outcomes of the upcoming federal and provincial polls.
“The local elections preceding the general elections will show the national political scenario,” Oli said in his political report presented to the recent Central Committee meeting. “Therefore, the UML must score in this election.”
Following Oli’s observation, UML leaders have reached out to various leaders with offers of electoral alliances at the local level. In the process, they are keen to break the alliance of ruling parties wherever possible.
“We are at the centre. In Sudurpaschim, Congress leaders are saying they feel comfortable to forge alliances with us while in other places Maoist Centre leaders are approaching us for alliances,” said Tamang, a former minister. “We will partner with any party to ensure our victory.”
Tamang said Gurung’s meeting with Bhattarai was a part of the party’s plan. The UML would explore possibilities for alliances even if the ruling coalition decided to go to the polls as an alliance as there could be dissatisfaction in the give and take of seats.
Some UML leaders say that the split in the party may adversely affect its electoral prospects as the leaders of its splinter CPN (Unified Socialist) would rather focus on defeating its candidates than ensuring their own victory.
Unified Socialist members agree that their priority would be to ensure the defeat of UML candidates. They would then work on winning as many local units as possible through alliance with the coalition partners.
“It’s obvious that we have been focusing on electoral alliance just to keep the UML in size and to bring as many local units as possible to our fold,” said Dilu Panta, a politburo member of the Unified Socialist.
However, the UML’s performance in the May polls will be determined by the performance of the ruling alliance in the face of the opposition party trying hard to drive a wedge between them.
“UML leaders seemed to be in discussions with leaders of other political parties and cash in on the contradictions appearing within the ruling coalition,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator who has followed left politics for decades.
“If the parties contested the polls individually, the UML could emerge first but with the ruling coalition keeping the alliance idea alive, things depend on how the party can turn their contradictions in its favour.”