UML feels the heat as nomination filing dates draw closerThe opposition party, which was putting on a brave face, is now seeking support from several fringe parties.
The CPN-UML, the main opposition and the largest party, may have been putting on a brave face, but its concerns about the upcoming local polls are apparent from some of its recent moves. As the five parties in the ruling coalition have finalised seat-sharing in six metropolitan and 11 sub-metropolitan cities, albeit with difficulty amid discontent within the Nepali Congress, the UML is also weighing options of forging an electoral alliance with other parties.
On April 13, the UML decided to join hands with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and the Nepal Pariwar Dal. On Thursday, the party decided to share top posts in Birgunj with the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, which was formed after splitting from the Janata Samajbadi Party, which is a partner in the current ruling coalition.
In the presence of UML’s secretary Raghubir Mahasheth and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party’s Laxman Lal Karna, the two parties announced the electoral alliance at Birgunj metropolis at a press meet on Thursday morning.
Mayor Vijay Sarawagi, who was elected from the Sanghiya Samajbadi Party which later turned into the Janata Samajbadi Party, defected to the CPN-UML. The UML has already selected him as its mayoral candidate and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party will field its deputy mayor.
“We have made an electoral alliance with the UML in Birgunj and have allowed the local committees to take decisions according to their needs,” said Laxman Lal Karna, a senior leader of the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. “We are holding discussions with the UML for an alliance in other places also.”
The local polls are slated for May 13.
The UML had won 294 local units—out of 753—in the 2017 elections.
If the five parties manage to keep their electoral alliance intact, according to party insiders, the UML could face a tough time.
And there are some valid reasons.
In 2017, the UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) had fought the second and third phases of local polls under an alliance. The Maoist Centre is currently in the coalition led by the Nepali Congress. The UML has now split, with Madhav Kumar Nepal leading the CPN (Unified Socialist), which is also a partner in the Congress-led coalition.
UML leaders believe that the Nepal-led Unified Socialist does not have a strong voter base “to win” but they appear well aware of the fact that the splinter group could steal away some of the UML’s votes—which could be in the range of a few hundreds to thousands. These numbers may look small, but they are vital in local elections.
UML general secretary Shankar Pokhrel issued a circular directing its lower committees on Wednesday that they could forge electoral alliances with the Nepal Pariwar Dal and the Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and the Rastriya Janamorcha Central Coordination Committee.
A meeting of the party’s Secretariat failed on Thursday to finalise the candidates for the metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities. The party is likely to decide the candidates on Saturday, a day ahead of nomination filing. The Election Commission has set Sunday and Monday aside for candidacy filing.
Party’s Publicity Department chief Prithvi Subba Gurung told reporters after the meeting that the party has received recommendations to field Bijay Subedi as mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City, Vijay Sarawagi as mayor of Birgunj and Hari Krishna Byanjankar as the mayor of Lalitpur Metropolitan City.
The UML’s decision to forge alliances with parties like Loktantrik Samajbadi, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Nepal Pariwar Dal apparently shows the urgency it feels to tackle the challenge it could face from the coalition.
But the UML’s decision to forge alliance with even fringe parties including the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, Nepal Pariwar Dal and the one formed after the split in Rastriya Janamorcha—the Rastriya Janamorcha Central Coordination Committee—indicates that the party leaders are desperate.
“Now the only thing the UML can do is keep its votes intact and seek support from others who can boost its winning prospects,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst who has followed left politics for decades. “The ruling party alliance has posed a serious challenge to the UML.”
However, things would be clearer after the candidate nomination process concludes on Monday, according to him.
“The success of the alliance will also depend on whether or how many local leaders of the alliance-member parties file their nominations revolting against their common candidates,” said Subedi.
During the previous local polls, the Congress candidate lost mayoral race in Pokhara Metropolitan City because the party decided to field its own candidate for deputy mayor, which it had committed to the Maoist Centre. Therefore, the Congress and Maoist Centre had lost both mayor and deputy mayor posts to the UML due to the trouble in alliance.
For parties, local elections are crucial also because they get a chance to assess their strength so that they can prepare for the two other elections—provincial and federal—due later this year.
While the five parties in the coalition are also likely to decide on whether to continue the alliance for the two more polls depending on how they fare in local elections, the results will offer an opportunity for the UML to make its further strategy. Nepal’s political course is expected to be decided largely by how the parties, including the UML, perform in the local elections.
Despite an understanding among the coalition partners to make an electoral alliance for all local units, it became apparent to them that it was a tough nut to crack. Now that seat-sharing has been decided only for 17 major cities, complications are likely to arise when it comes to dividing the posts in other local units.
As many as 35,014 representatives will be elected from the May 13 elections for six metropolitan cities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities, 274 municipalities and 460 rural municipalities.
At least four UML leaders including Raghubir Mahaseth, Mani Thapa, Sher Bahadur Tamang besides Gurung have openly admitted that their party will have to face a tough challenge from the alliance this time.
Though the five-party alliance of ruling parties has decided not to forge electoral alliances with any other party outside the coalition and has strictly restricted any alliance with the UML, Gurung said his party could go for electoral alliances with the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party in some areas.
“Since young and neutral voters would be decisive in these local polls, we are working to attract them,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of the UML. “But it all depends on how smoothly the five-party alliance of the ruling parties goes. Things will be clearer after the nominations.”