Discontent brews in Congress after allies finalise seat-sharing for 17 major citiesA section in the party and observers denounce alliance politics, saying such a practice shrinks democratic space.
After weeks of struggle, a war of words between two parties and discontent within the Nepali Congress, the leader of the current ruling coalition, partner parties on Wednesday hammered out a deal on dividing mayor and deputy mayor posts for six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities for the upcoming local elections slated for May 13.
As per the agreement, in the six metropolitan cities, the Nepali Congress will field mayoral candidates in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Biratnagar. The party will field its candidates for deputy mayor posts in Birgunj, Bharatpur and Pokhara.
Likewise, the Nepali Congress will field mayoral candidates in Dharan, Itahari, Kalaiya, Butwal, Tulsipur and Dhangadhi sub-metropolitan cities. In Jitpur-Simara, Ghorahi (Dang) and Hetauda, it will field deputy mayoral candidates.
The CPN (Maoist Centre) will field its candidate for Bharatpur mayoral post and its candidate will contest for deputy mayorship in Lalitpur. Similarly it will field its candidates for mayoral posts in Jitpur-Simara and Ghorahi and deputy posts in Dharan and Dhangadhi.
The CPN (Unified Socialist) has got the alliance’s backing in the mayoral race in Pokhara and the deputy mayoral contest in Kathmandu. In Hetauda, its candidate will be supported in the mayoral race and in Itahari, Butwal and Tulsipur the alliance partners will vote for its candidates in deputy mayoral election.
Birgunj mayoral candidacy has been allotted to the Janata Samajbadi Party, which will also field its candidate for the deputy mayor in Biratnagar. The party will also field its candidates for Janakpur mayor and deputy mayors of Kalaiya and Nepalgunj.
The fifth party in the alliance, Rastriya Janamorcha, has not been given any posts in metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities.
Though the parties have managed to divide the seats in key cities, a strong resentment has emerged in the Nepali Congress over Bharatpur of Chitwan as the Maoist Centre is fielding its candidate for mayor of the metropolis for a second time. In 2017, Renu Dahal of the Maoist party won the mayoral post with the support of the Congress. The Maoist Centre is set to field her again.
Some Congress leaders wanted Bharatpur for their party this time also because Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is Renu’s father, is likely to contest from Chitwan Constituency 3 in the federal elections. Those opposing the decision to vacate Bharatpur for Renu say the Maoist Centre cannot have a cake and eat it too.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the Congress president, sent Umesh Shrestha, the minister of state who looks after the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers portfolio, to Bharatpur on Wednesday “to douse the brewing anger” among local leaders.
“Shrestha will meet the disgruntled Congress leaders of Chitwan district and will try to iron out the differences,” said a leader close to Deuba. “He will also convince them to extend their support to the Maoist Centre’s mayoral candidate.”
Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, who is also a Congress central committee member, on Wednesday warned the disgruntled Congress leaders of action if they went against the party decision.
Several local leaders of the Congress have warned of a mutiny and said that they would defy the decision “imposed” on them from Kathmandu.
A central member told the Post that the leadership is in for a tough challenge to pacify the local level leaders.
“There is strong discontent among local leaders as they believe the top leadership in Kathmandu robbed them of their rights in the name of saving the coalition,” said the member. “The question is not whether we would have won in all places—or lost. The question is, our party members and other voters committed to our party are now being forced to vote for those parties who have a nominal political base in certain areas.”
Addressing a function in Kathmandu on Wednesday, the opposition camp in the Congress led by Shekhar Koirala and General Secretary Gagan Thapa lambasted the party’s decision of forging an electoral alliance from the centre.
“The decision of seat-sharing with other coalition partners is against the party’s official decision,” said Koirala, while addressing the function. “We will definitely assess and analyse the alliance’s performance in the elections.”
In Pokhara, Hetauda and Birgunj too, Congress leaders are not happy with the decision to give away mayoral posts to other parties, as they claim the party has a good chance of winning the posts.
In protest of the party’s decision to award the candidacy of Pokhara mayor to the Unified Socialist, Congress local leaders and cadres on Wednesday even padlocked the office of the party’s city committee.
Though the five parties had agreed to fight local elections under an alliance in an apparent bid to keep the CPN-UML at bay, they had met with a lot of difficulties to share seats among them at all local units.
As many as 35,014 representatives for six metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 276 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities will be elected from the upcoming elections.
Seat-sharing in the six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities, however, had emerged as a major bone of contention among the parties. Now that the leadership has finalised seats for these cities, the parties have asked the relevant local committees to take a decision for a possible alliance.
“In case an agreement cannot be reached, the ruling alliance can go for friendly competition within the alliance,” reads the agreement.
Some political analysts and observers have termed the alliance politics a bad idea, saying that it does not present the real strengths of individual parties and robs the voters of their right to decide.
“When political parties forge alliances in elections, they themselves miss out on assessing their real strengths on the ground,” Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam, a political commentator, told the Post. “When a political party does not know its strength, how can it chart out a strategy? If one political party understands its strength, it makes sense to forge an alliance with others.”
According to Gautam, it’s beyond his comprehension why the Nepali Congress has made an alliance with leftist political forces because it stands poles apart from the four other parties on ideological matters.
“Such an arbitrary alliance devoid of ideology between democratic and leftist forces shrinks democratic space in the country,” said Gautam.
After the five parties made public their agreement on the electoral alliance, some took to Twitter to ridicule the decision.
“Forging an alliance for local elections is an arrangement to turn democracy into kleptocracy,” tweeted Rameshore Khanal, a former finance secretary. “[They will] stall development and stall services. Let’s not favour this alliance.”