Allies set ways of candidate selection but disputes remain on the groundMembers of the ruling coalition themselves doubt the alliance’s effectiveness.
Even as the ruling coalition partners have developed a broad set of criteria for selecting candidates for the upcoming local elections, complications continue as fighting the polls under an alliance is easier said than done with their local leaders pushing their own priorities regarding candidates.
On Wednesday, in Nepalgunj Sub-metropolitan City, local leaders of the Janata Samajbadi Party walked out of a meeting of the alliance’s mechanism that was to decide on their common candidates after the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre) refused to compromise on their positions. After the Banke district mechanism failed to agree on consensus candidates, according to Mohammad Istiyak Rai, a Janata Samajbadi Party leader, his party has unilaterally announced its candidates for chiefs of the four local units including the sub-metropolis.
“As the coalition partners wanted to share the Nepalgunj seats, which we are certain to win without alliance’s support, we walked out of the meeting,” Rai told the Post over the phone. “We will contest on our own.”
After a series of meetings, the alliance partners—Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha—had on Tuesday finalised a broad set of criteria to share seats at the local level. The parties have said they will take some bases into consideration while they share the positions of mayor and deputy mayor, chairperson and vice-chairpersons, ward chairpersons and members among themselves.
As per the agreement, the representatives who won in the 2017 local elections on CPN-UML tickets but have joined the CPN (Unified Socialist) would be counted in the Unified Socialist’s fold. The number of votes received by each of the parties in the alliance in local units and wards will be another basis for candidate selection. Similarly, the parties which had contested the 2017 election yet hadn’t won any seats would also be included in seat-sharing.
In the local units where parties other than those in the alliance had won, the votes received by the alliance partner parties will be taken into consideration for sharing the seats. And in the local units currently held by the CPN-UML, candidates of its splinter, the Unified Socialist, will be given priority. Other than the share of votes, people's support for the respective parties will also be taken into consideration. The five parties have also agreed not to forge alliance with any other party.
“We have agreed on a broad criteria,” Himlal Puri, a Rastriya Janamorcha leader, told the Post. “It will take a few more days to finalise the candidates because the district level mechanisms have yet to submit their reports.”
Despite their agreement on the criteria, confusion remains. In some areas, local leaders do not want to cede their claims to local government seats. In Rolpa district, the Maoist Centre appears keen on fighting the election on its own, while the Nepali Congress has been demanding half of the local unit seats. Rolpa is a Maoist stronghold, and local Maoist leaders are unwilling to share seats with any party including the Congress. Maoist Centre’s Rolpa district leader Surendra Gharti Magar, who is the alliance’s district coordinator, said that it would take a few days to finalise the candidates.
The coalition partners have also agreed that their central-level mechanism will select the candidates for the metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities while their provincial mechanisms will decide candidates of mayor and deputy mayor and chairperson and vice-chairperson of municipalities and rural municipalities. But ward chair and ward member candidates will be selected by the alliance's local level mechanisms.
The ruling alliance has also decided to extend the deadline given to its district level mechanisms to present their assessment reports after many such mechanisms missed an earlier deadline.
Earlier, the Ram Chandra Poudel-led top mechanism of the alliance had directed the district level mechanisms of the parties to present their reports by April 9. The report would provide a basis to select candidates for the next month’s local election.
As hardly half of the district-level mechanisms have submitted their reports so far, the Poudel-led panel then passed on the responsibility of sharing seats to the top leadership of the alliance. The meeting of the top leaders from the five parties 0n Monday issued a joint appeal urging their leaders and cadres to support each other in the elections. Along with this, they also extended the report submission deadline for the district mechanisms until Sunday.
“Forming an alliance for local elections is far more complex than doing so for parliamentary polls,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, Nepali Congress spokesperson, at a press conference on Tuesday. “There are technical difficulties in candidate selection at the local level. The coalition parties are working to their best.”
As many as 35,014 representatives will be elected to 753 local units from local elections. The sheer number makes formation of an alliance quite difficult. During parliamentary elections, 165 members are elected under the first-past-the-post system, hence the parties under an alliance have an easier job as they need to divide 165 constituencies among themselves. The remaining 110 members are elected under the proportional representation system and the number of seats are allotted based on the vote received by each party.
In its appeal on Monday, the coalition partners said they are committed to supporting each other in the May 13 elections.
“We also urge all fellow members of the five parties to move ahead for an electoral alliance throughout the nation based on the local situation with mutual cooperation and support,” it said. However, the appeal seems to have failed to encourage the leaders at the local level.
“There are serious complications in sharing seats at the local level,” Prahlad Budhathoki, chairperson of the Maoist Centre’s Madhes provincial committee, told the Post.
The problem within the five-party alliance is that the Congress does not want to give much space to the communists while the Maoist Centre seems to be in a bid to drive the Unified Socialist into a corner, saying that it is a new party with no strong base and has been bargaining with the Congress saying they could even join hands with the UML.
Similar is the case in Province 1 where the Maoist Centre, one of the key constituents of the five-party alliance, has reported to its central leadership that local Congress leaders were reluctant for an electoral alliance, and therefore the Maoists should forge a poll partnership with the CPN-UML instead.
“Top leaders have made an appeal but things are different on the ground. So it's difficult to say whether the coalition parties will partner among themselves in all local units,” said Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesperson for the CPN (Unified Socialist) from Janakpur over telephone. “It’s quite complicated as the Congress talks big and the Maoist Centre underestimates the Unified Socialist.”
Another leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party also expressed doubts about the alliance’s effectiveness saying that ongoing disputes among members at the grassroots do not bode well.
“I have not seen any real signs of an alliance yet,” said Ganga Shrestha, a Central Executive Committee member of Janata Samajbadi Party.