Local polls more complicated now to predict with alliance politics and splitsDespite Deuba’s wish and Dahal-Nepal’s compulsion, their poll partnership did not take off well, and UML hopes gains.
Just six days are left for Nepal to vote in local elections, and political parties have already started crunching the numbers.
Unlike in the last 2017 elections, this time local polls are going to be complicated, even for psephologists, if there are any in Nepal. The May 13 local polls are all about the ruling coalition led by the Nepali Congress versus the CPN-UML. The CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha are other partners in the ruling coalition, which is contesting the polls under an electoral alliance.
Despite the five-party coalition’s utmost efforts to field candidates by dividing up seats in all 753 local units, it could not do so. The UML, which kept on repeating that it would fight the election on its own, has forged alliances with some fringe parties in several local units.
According to ruling party leaders, their electoral alliance is functional in one-third of the local units as per the decision from the top level. In some local units, according to them, there are alliances between two ruling parties.
The UML, however, is contesting elections in over 90 percent of local units on its own.
“As per our internal assessment, we will significantly increase the number of seats from the previous elections,” said Bishnu Rimal, deputy general secretary of the party.
In the last local elections of 2017, the UML won 41.5 percent of the local government seats against 32.4 percent of the Nepali Congress. The UML has now split, with its splinter Unified Socialist fighting the polls under the coalition’s alliance.
But UML leaders say the split will have little impact on the party’s poll prospects.
“The ruling alliance is in the doldrums,” said Rimal, who is looking after the party’s election strategy. “Our projection is that we will win more seats this time.”
While the UML appears confident, ruling alliance leaders say they have not done the maths yet.
A Nepali Congress leader said this time the results will be hugely guided by the alliance and new voters.
As per the Election Commission, an additional 3.6 million new voters have enrolled themselves for the local polls.
The total number of voters for local elections is 17,733,723
“Local elections have local dynamics. Due to the alliance and nature of the candidacies driven by local demands, we cannot say what results will come out,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, spokesperson for the Nepali Congress.
“We have not calculated how many seats we will win and what percentage of seats the alliance will win. But we can say that the alliance will win a majority of the seats. Reports are surfacing that the Unified Socialist is tying up with the UML after not getting enough election tickets. But we will try to win the majority seats.”
Even some Congress leaders have forged alliances with the UML in some areas, including Dadeldhura, the home district of party President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The coalition has even failed to run campaigns in many places, with its excessive focus on Bharatpur Metropolitan City.
The infighting in the ruling coalition over the electoral alliance has encouraged the UML.
“Out of six metropolitan cities, we are likely to win five. There, however, will be a tough competition in Biratnagar. Due to some technical reasons, we lost Lalitpur and Birgunj last time but we will win there.”
Bijaya Sarawagi, who won the mayoral post in Birgunj in 2017 from Sanghiya Samajbadi Party, has joined the UML and is seeking a next term.
There are at least 14 mayors who won from different parties and have joined the UML in Madhesh Province, according to party leaders.
Security agencies are also watching the developments closely even though making predictions is not within their mandate.
A security official who is analysing the situation said elections this time are more complicated than in 2017.
“The ruling alliance seems to be on a shaky ground but the UML too will face some challenges,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to share information with the media. “The UML might be able to maintain the number of seats it won last time, albeit after a lot of struggle. High chances, however, are that it could lose some seats.”
The official’s statement stems from the fact that even if the Unified Socialist may not win in many places, it could steal some UML votes as a splinter party, raising the odds for other parties like the Congress and the Maoist Centre.
A Congress central member confessed that the party could lose some seats because of alliance politics.
“Out of compulsion, we have conceded some local units to those parties which hardly have votes in hundreds,” said the member who wished not to be named.
Those in the Congress opposing Deuba’s plan to fight elections under an alliance have consistently warned of a possible loss to the party. They have maintained that more than the Congress, it’s the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist that wanted the electoral alliance because the former is devoid of agendas and the latter lacks the vote base.
Deuba, however, insisted on an alliance fearing the two communists forces could join hands with the UML. In 2017, the Congress faced a drubbing not only because of its complacency but largely because of a UML-Maoist Centre alliance.
Despite Deuba’s wish and Dahal and Madhav Nepal’s compulsion, the electoral alliance plan, however, did not take off as they had wanted.
Jagannath Kahatiwada, spokesperson for the Unified Socialist, summed it up well.
“The Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre left us out of the alliance,” Khatiwada told the Post. “Basically, the Maoists terrorised us and the Nepali Congress tried to show itself as superior during seat-sharing negotiations. Since we are a new force, we were forced to compromise with the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.”
He, however, painted an optimistic picture of his party’s poll prospects.
“Reports we are receiving from the ground are encouraging,” said Khatiwada. “Our position is not bad compared to alliance partners or the UML.”