Why UML is suddenly upbeat about the upcoming local electionsRuling coalition’s failure to maintain alliance all across the country makes the main opposition party see a better chance in the polls.
The failure of the five ruling parties to keep the electoral alliance intact in most of the local units appears to have encouraged the main opposition CPN-UML, which otherwise looked desperate—it even went ahead with forging alliances with some fringe parties.
Until a few weeks ago, UML leaders had been claiming that their party would win the local elections without partnering with others. But the party entered into electoral alliances with the Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Ek Nath Dhakal’s Nepal Pariwar Dal, after the five parties in the ruling coalition on April 12 fixed their modality on seat-sharing.
Although the ruling coalition’s modality aimed at fielding alliance candidates in all local units under an understanding, the coalition partners found the task incredibly difficult. And on April 20, after much struggle, they could decide seat-sharing only for six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities. They authorised their subordinate committees at the provincial, district and the local levels to decide on seat-sharing for chairpersons/mayors, deputy mayors/vice-chairpersons, and ward chairpersons and members. But the coalition saw “rebel” candidates who defied the instructions of the top leadership in Kathmandu to withdraw their nominations.
That the alliance across the country was easier said than done was apparent from the very beginning.
In Bharatpur Metropolitan City, Nepali Congress leader Jagannath Poudel refused to withdraw his candidacy.
Despite a circular from the Congress that Poudel, his proposer and the one who seconded his candidacy would be automatically expelled from the party, they refused to budge. The Congress has asked its members and supporters to vote for the alliance’s candidate for mayor, Renu Dahal of the CPN (Maoist Centre). But the way Congress leaders in Bharatpur have reacted, it looks like they will defy the party’s diktat.
Poudel’s candidacy could benefit UML’s mayoral candidate Bijaya Subedi.
In Pokhara Metropolitan City, two of the three Congress’ rebel candidates decided to withdraw from the race after the party’s order, but one refused.
In Pokhara, as per an understanding among the coalition partners, the CPN (Unified Socialist) has fielded the mayoral candidate. But given the low vote base of the Unified Socialist in Pokhara, the UML could benefit, according to Congress leaders.
According to the election body, only around 8,000 independent candidates among the more than 150,000 total candidates (from different parties and independents) withdrew their nominations from all over the country on Friday, the withdrawal deadline set by the Election Commission.
Despite a series of rulings from the top leadership of the five-party alliance, many of the “rebel” candidates refused to withdraw their candidacies.
While their defiance has become a headache for the five parties, it has come as good news for the UML.
UML’s Standing Committee member Surendra Pandey, who is also a former finance minister, said the five-party alliance will not be effective enough as there are fissures everywhere.
“Since there are conflicts and infighting in the alliance, we are hopeful of performing better this time,” Pandey told the Post from Chitwan. “Even in metropolitan cities like Bharatpur, we will outshine the alliance.”
The UML leaders said earlier they had assessed possible loss to the party given that the five parties appeared to have maintained a strong alliance across the nation. As the alliance couldn’t happen across the country, the UML believes the situation is turning in its favour.
“The parties at the centre might have made every attempt to maintain the alliance, but it crumbled as it was not accepted by leaders at the local level. Now the situation is not favourable for the ruling parties which obviously means we are going to fare better,” claimed Sher Bahadur Tamang, a Standing Committee member of the UML. “The number of rebel candidates is large and they are busy winning over them, while the UML is already focussed on electioneering.”
As many as 35,221 positions of the 753 local units including 753 chiefs and as many deputies, and 6,743 ward chairs will be elected on May 13.
Some parties in the five-party alliance, especially the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party, are not happy with the way they have been treated by the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre).
Maoist Centre leaders Indra Aangbo and Yubaraj Chaulagain among other central committee members complained that their party was not given a fair share by Congress in most of the local units.
“Congress leaders need the alliance but they don’t want to share any of the seats. We are not here to defeat the UML and ensure the win of Congress,” said Aangbo.
Leaders of the Unified Socialist have complaints not only against the Congress but also against the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party, whom they accused of trying to diminish their strength.
“We have fielded candidates in only around 15 percent of the local units as a commitment to the alliance,” said Vijay Poudel, deputy general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “However, in many places, the Congress and the Maoist Centre have fielded their candidates unilaterally and we were ignored.”
According to Poudel, his party leaders are not satisfied with the treatment meted out to them by other parties in the alliance, especially the Congress, Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party.
He said the Congress and the Maoist Centre forged alliance in many places including in Lalitpur, but in Itahari, Dhangadhi and Butwal, where the Unified Socialist had got the deputy mayor, Janata Samajbadi Party has fielded a whole set of candidates.
Poudel also said even if the official deadline for withdrawing the candidacy ended Friday, his party believes there is still room to maintain the alliance by persuading the “rebel” candidates to issue public statements saying they have quit the race.
“The alliance hasn’t worked in most places and that has definitely come as a good news for the UML,” Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator, told the Post. “This has increased the winning prospects of the UML in more local units.”
According to him, a series of statements from the coalition warning their local leaders with action and expulsion show their desperation while the UML could benefit from the divisions in the alliance.
“The more the division in the alliance, the more the UML and others benefit,'' he said.
Ruling party leaders say the effectiveness of the alliance will be judged by election results.
“We will evaluate our decision of forging an electoral alliance after the polls and take necessary decisions for the next polls,” said Poudel.
Maoist Centre leaders, meanwhile, complained that the coalition has proved to be an illusion. “A nationwide alliance with the Congress is nothing but a sweet illusion,” said Chaulagain, the central committee member of the Maoist Centre. “Poll results will tell if our decision to forge alliances was beneficial.”