Local polls: Nepali Congress looks set to gain, and also to be saviour of MaoistsUML reacts with charges of rigging as alliance seems to have worked to give the odds in favour of ruling parties.
The odds seem to be stacked in the ruling alliance’s favour, if preliminary results, which have trickled in the last two days, of Friday’s local elections are anything to go by. If the leads as of Sunday translated into victories, the Nepali Congress is set to emerge as the biggest gainer, with the CPN (Maoist Centre) managing to cling on to maintain its relevance in Nepal’s political landscape.
As of Monday morning, the Congress has won 28 local units and maintained leads in 264 while the Maoist Centre has won 21 local units and is leading in 96. The CPN-UML, which emerged as the largest party winning 294 local units in the 2017 local elections, appears set for a setback. It has won in 29 units and is leading in 165.
Local election results hold a huge significance for parties for the upcoming national elections, and it appears the ruling coalition will keep the alliance intact.
Except in 2008, when the Maoist Centre had emerged as the largest party from the Constituent Assembly elections, it has remained a third largest force. It had won 106 local units in 2017.
“The alliance has definitely worked. Without the electoral alliance, the Maoist Centre would not be winning as many local units as it seems it is going to win based on the current trend,” Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst, told the Post. “And it appears set to win on its own some of the local units where there is no alliance.”
Along with the Congress and the Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha are in the electoral alliance. They have fielded their common candidates in all the positions in around one third of the 753 local units with partial partnership in the rest of the local units.
Bhaskar Gautam, chair at North South Collectives, an organisation focused on social and policy research, said preliminary results show the Maoist Centre got an opportunity to consolidate its strength through the alliance.
“The Congress stood as the saviour of the Maoist Centre. However, the Congress is also evolving as the largest party with the support of the Maoist Centre and other parties in the alliance,” he told the Post. “The alliance has yielded positive results even though there were differences within the Congress over fighting elections under an alliance.”
It was the Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, also the prime minister, who strongly weathered criticism from his party members and firmly stood for an electoral alliance with his partners in government. The Shekhar Koirala faction in the party had been demanding that the Congress should fight elections on its own. In some places like Bharatpur Metropolitan City, the local Congress leaders had quit en masse against the party’s decision to leave the mayoral position for the Maoist Centre to save the alliance.
Subedi said Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairperson of the Maoist Centre, played an instrumental role in forming the alliance, which he knew was necessary for his party to fare better.
The Maoist Centre had formed an alliance in the first phase of local level elections in May 2017 with the Congress. Then the party decided to form a left alliance with the UML in the provincial and federal level elections held in November 2017 with the plan for a merger between the two parties.
The communists swept the elections. One of the reasons Deuba so strongly wanted an alliance was he did not want a repeat of 2017. Once bitten, twice shy.
The two communist forces merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). But the merger lasted only until March 2020. Dahal got his party back, but he lacked the agenda for elections. The party was facing the risk of an implosion amid dissatisfaction among members whose voice Dahal quelled with an iron fist.
In Deuba’s bid to preempt a communist alliance, Dahal saw an opportunity to stay afloat. Now preliminary results show both seem to be in a win-win situation.
Khagendra Prasai, who teaches political philosophy at Nepal Open University, said the electoral alliance has always benefited partnering parties in the past and this has worked this time as well.
“It is evident that the Maoist Centre would have further strengthened its position if there was an alliance across the country, and ultimately made the UML fare worse,” he told the Post.
If the current trend continues, the UML is set to lose over 50 local units against its earlier claims that it will increase its wins from the last local polls. The party, which had boasted about emerging as the largest party in the lead up to the polls, on Sunday reacted sharply, saying that the elections were rigged.
Issuing a statement, the UML said the government used security agencies in its ploy to defeat the party.
Shankar Pokharel, the party’s general secretary, stated that the UML’s voters were deprived of voting, fake voters were allowed to vote for the parties in the alliance while there were instances where the seals in the ballot boxes were removed before they were taken to the counting centres.
Whenever they sense defeat in an election, Nepali parties often tend to make blanket claims of electoral fraud. After the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, the Maoist Centre, which was set to take a drubbing, claimed that polls were rigged.
Though the UML had continuously claimed that Madhav Kumar Nepal’s decision to split from the party would have a minimal impact on the party, it appears that the CPN (Unified Socialist) did make a dent in the largest party from the last elections. It seems to have stolen some voters. But it’s a different thing altogether, according to observers, how Madhav Nepal’s Unified Socialist fares.
Political analysts say the positive outcome of the electoral alliance would clear the path for its continuation for the provincial and federal elections.
“The results have set a positive tone for the continuation of the alliance,” Gautam told the Post.
If the electoral alliance continues during general elections, the Maoist Centre stands a fighting chance of retaining its third position in the House of Representatives, which will make its chair Dahal the kingmaker again if the Congress fails to win the majority seats. Given the electoral system the country has adopted for the general elections (direct and proportional elections), a hung parliament is quietly likely.
“If the political dynamics doesn’t change, there will be a situation where the government will be formed only when the Congress or the UML manages to secure the support of the Maoist Centre,” said Subedi. “It is going to be a prominent political force at least for the next five years or so.”
But how the Maoist Centre behaves could chart the country’s future political course, as its tendency to switch sides has been the source of a major ill the country has been trying to get rid of—political instability.