‘Out of compulsion’: Ruling coalition’s electoral alliance easier said than doneNepali Congress needs it, but the Maoists need it more. Leaders and analysts say there are complications galore.
The ruling coalition leader Nepali Congress on Tuesday decided to forge a “need-based” alliance with coalition partners for upcoming local elections slated for May 13.
With the decision, ruling parties are now confident that not in all, but in a majority of local bodies, doors have opened for forging alliance among the four parties—the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
In order to formulate an alliance modality in the six metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities, the ruling parties are meeting on Thursday.
According to the leaders, the meeting will discuss policy-related issues regarding electoral alliance beginning from metropolitan cities.
Ruling party leaders admit that forging alliance is easier said than done, but they say they need unity among coalition partners to defeat the CPN-UML, which won 45.21 percent seats and 36.83 percent of total valid votes, in the 2017 local elections.
“Definitely it is complicated and not an easy task,” said Haribol Gajural, a senior Maoist Centre leader. “This is a test case for us and if this formula becomes successful, we can apply this in the remaining two elections.”
The government is planning to hold parliamentary and provincial elections later this year.
A Central Working Committee member of the Nepali Congress said that the main objective of forging an alliance is to stop a left unity, especially between the UML and the Maoist Centre.
An alliance between a democratic force like the Congress and communists, however, looks unnatural, which can confuse Congress voters.
“We also know how complex this issue is but this situation has emerged out of compulsion. We do not want left-leaning parties banding together,” said the leader.
In 2017, the Maoist Centre had fought the first phase of local elections under an alliance with the Congress. But it betrayed the Congress and joined hands with the UML in the remaining two phases. The alliance continued in parliamentary and provincial elections. The communists won. Congress was left to lick its wounds.
Within the Congress party, the general understanding is the UML continues to be a formidable force even after a split, which led to the formation of the CPN (Unified Socialist).
“We all know that the UML is the main challenge,” said the leader. “The reason we are seeking an alliance among coalition partners is we want to continue this partnership during the next two elections also.”
According to the leader, failure to keep the alliance intact can even result in the fall of the Deuba government, which was formed in July last year as per a Supreme Court order.
“In all local units, our party members are ready to contest the local elections from ward level to mayors, so we have to give careful consideration to their concerns and make alliance arrangements accordingly,” senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel said. “It is going to be an arduous and complicated task for the party.”
Within the Nepali Congress, it was very difficult to make a decision on electoral alliance on a needs basis.
Since Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba holds a strong majority in the party’s Central Working Committee, it made him easy to take a decision in favour of forging an alliance in the local elections.
“It is a difficult decision for the Nepali Congress because our friends [Congress members] are eager to contest elections in all 753 local bodies. Now many of them have to make compromises, so their reactions [in the event of having to give up candidacies] could be counterproductive,” said Poudel.
“It would be difficult for us to handle the negative reactions of our friends at the local level. But we have to handle them effectively in order to save the alliance, and any counterproductive measures would hamper the election results.”
A ruckus is expected over candidacies in six metropolitan cities. With both the Congress and the Maoist Centre claiming mayorship of Bharatpur, the metropolis is likely to see a bitter dispute over the candidacy between the two parties.
In the last local elections, the Congress withdrew its mayor candidate and backed Renu Dahal, the daughter of Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who had contested from the Maoist Centre.
The Maoist chair on Wednesday said in Bharatpur, Chitwan that his party will claim the post of the city mayor once again.
But whether Congress will agree is not known.
The Maoist chair had contested last parliamentary elections from Chitwan constituency 3 and wishes to contest from there this time also.
Whether the Congress will be ready to give up both the metropolitan city and constituency 3 to the Maoists is not clear yet.
Those in Congress who oppose an electoral alliance with coalition partners say the Maoists cannot have a cake and eat it too.
Similar kinds of disagreement may surface in other five metropolitan cities as well and addressing them will be a Herculean task, say Congress leaders.
Some local leaders of the Nepali Congress have already expressed their unwillingness to support the Maoist candidates this time.
“We fear Congress candidate hopefuls dissatisfied with alliance arrangements may rebel in other districts too so getting a handle on dissent is key,” added Poudel.
“We have to develop a culture of alliance,” said Gajurel, the Maoist leader. “Since no political party can secure majority seats in the elections to the federal parliament, such an alliance would ensure a majority that helps achieve political stability.”
What Gajurel is arguing, however, has fallen flat already. The communists had secured a near two-thirds majority in 2017. But the government did not last more than three and a half years.
The Maoist Centre is more desperate for an electoral alliance than the Congress as the former lacks a clear agenda for the polls, given its failure to stick to party ideology.
But Gajurel insisted that the success of the alliance during the local polls would set the tone for the next two elections.
Political experts and analysts, however, see practical and ideological difficulties while implementing the decision to forge an electoral alliance.
“One practical problem is that voters will be confused because they have to cast votes for different symbols for mayor/chair, deputy mayor/deputy chair, ward chair and members,” said Srikrishna Aniruddha Gautam, a political commentator. “Practically speaking, voters will be confused, totally. If alliance partners were contesting with one single election symbol, it would have been a different case altogether. But that’s not the case.”
Ideologically, according to Gautam, there is a trust deficit as the proposed alliance is between democrats and communists.
“There actually is no strong basis for an alliance,” said Gautam. “The alliance is being discussed because every party has its own interest.”
Uddhab Pyakurel, an assistant professor at Kathmandu University, says alliance politics is a result of leaders’ lust for power.
“We seem to be practising leader-oriented democracy,” said Pyakurel. “The basic idea behind local level elections is that elections should be contested on the basis of local requirements and necessity. And that’s not happening.”
According to Pyakurel, forging an alliance for local polls is quite complicated.
“But I don’t think this electoral alliance game will continue for long. There are serious ideological issues. Coalition partners are poles apart when it comes to their ideologies,” Pyakurel told the Post. “The idea of alliance may work for short terms, but the idea is detrimental to democracy. We should discourage such trends.”