Ruling alliance finds it tough to divide up six metropolis mayor positionsPrime minister’s party Nepali Congress feels pressure from within to keep at least four mayoral posts for itself.
As the local level polls are just 38 days away, the ruling coalition of four parties and the Rastriya Janamorcha are gearing up to manage their seats at the local level, but the division of leadership of the six metropolitan cities of the country is going to be the most difficult task for the alliance.
Among the five parties, three–the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party–are demanding the leadership of one metropolitan city each among the six, and this is going to be one of the toughest bargains with the Nepali Congress.
However, the five-party alliance has just formed a 10-member polls preparations and monitoring committee led by Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel on Tuesday to work out alliances at all local units after studying reports presented by the respective local mechanisms. The committee will also develop a criteria to share the leadership of the local units including the metropolitan cities.
The members of the Poudel-led committee include Gagan Thapa and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki from Congress; Dev Gurung and Barshaman Pun from the CPN (Maoist Centre); Beduram Bhusal and Vijay Poudel from the CPN (Unified Socialist); Ashok Rai and Renu Yadav from the Janata Samajbadi Party; and Himlal Puri from the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Though it would be easy for the leaders of the alliance if Congress kept for itself the mayors of three of the six metropolitan cities and ceded the rest to the three parties in the alliance, there are strong voices within Congress including the dissident Shekhar Koirala faction, which is pressuring Sher Bahadur Deuba to keep at least four metropolis mayor positions for itself. The Koirala faction argues that Congress has the largest number of voters among the parties in the alliance.
Among the six metropolises the UML had won Kathmandu and Pokhara, Congress won Lalitpur and Biratnagar, the Maoist Centre’s Renu Dahal had won Bharatpur with the support of Congress while the Janata Samajbadi Party’s Vijaya Sarawagi had won Birgunj.
Chiribabu Maharjan and Bhim Parajuli of the Nepali Congress had won mayors of Lalitpur and Biratnagar Metropolitan Cities respectively.
Maoist Centre has been demanding continuation of its chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter as mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City but local Nepali Congress leaders have been saying they would not relinquish Bharatpur mayorship this time. The local committee of the Congress party has been saying that it would rather support Dahal in the polls for the Federal Parliament but they can’t cede Bharatpur mayorship to the Maoists.
But during his recent visit to Chitwan, Dahal had told the media that his party would lay claim to Bharatpur mayorship this time also. With both the Congress and the Maoist Centre making the mayoral position a prestige issue it has become a bone of contention among the two parties. As Chitwan, where Bharatpur lies, is also Dahal’s electoral constituency, he doesn’t want to give up the city’s mayorship to other parties. Also, during the previous polls, the Maoist Centre had won the mayor’s position following a controversy and a legal battle after some party cadres had torn ballot papers.
However, the five parties in the electoral alliance are yet to finalise the criteria for sharing the mayoral positions and the leadership of other local units although central committees of the parties were allowed to take decisions on alliance for the six metropolitan cities.
The Janata Samajbadi Party is laying claim to the leadership of the Birgunj Metropolitan City arguing that the party had won its mayor during the previous polls while the CPN (Unified Socialist) has been laying claim to the local units including the metropolitan cities where the UML had won during the previous polls.
After Sarawagi, the mayor of Birgunj defected to the UML, the Janata Samajbadi Party has already brought in Rajesh Man Singh, an aspirant for mayor from the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party on March 21.
The UML had won Kathmandu and Pokhara Metropolitan Cities during previous polls but the Nepali Congress is not in a position to allow the four major metropolises– Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Pokhara and Bharatpur–to other parties.
Bidya Sundar Shakya had won mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City while Congress’s Prabha Khadgi won deputy mayor but both mayor Man Bahadur GC and deputy mayor Manju Devi Gurung of Pokhara Metropolitan City were elected from the UML.
Therefore the CPN (Unified Socialist) has been demanding the leadership of either Kathmandu or Pokhara metropolis in the upcoming local level polls.
But Maoist leaders have said Congress President Deuba will ultimately ensure that the Bharatpur mayorship goes to the Maoists because he is now more powerful in the party than during the previous polls.
“I don’t think Deuba will deny Bharatpur metropolis this time as well because he has emerged more powerful in the party than five years ago,” said Matrika Yadav, a senior Maoist Centre leader close to Dahal. “The Unified Socialist could get one of the two metropolises where the UML had won earlier.”
But Nepali Congress leaders especially Shekhar Koirala, whose faction has strong hold in Chitwan district, are against ceding the mayorship to the Maoists. Congress leaders from the district are preparing to visit the party's top leadership to exert pressure to ensure that the party retains the mayorship.
Addressing a cadres gathering in Pokhara on Monday, Koirala directed his party cadres to take decision on electoral alliances on the basis of necessity and significance.
“As many as 3.6 million new voters are casting their votes for the first time during the local polls. If we asked them to vote for sickle and hammer, how can we ask them to vote for a tree in the other polls,” Koirala said. “This is a serious issue. I don’t think alliance is a bad idea but we must consider this aspect as well.”