Three ruling parties want seat-sharing arrangement before poll dates are setThe move appears to be aimed at building pressure on Congress so as to wrest more constituencies.
Within November, the country will hold general and provincial elections, if the government preparations and the Election Commission recent statements are anything to go by.
The current coalition of the five parties—Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha—is set to contest the polls under an electoral alliance, like in the local elections, if things do not go awry.
Seat-sharing, however, is going to become a big headache for Congress President and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Some top leaders of the Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi have conveyed to Deuba that seat-sharing arrangements should be fixed before the poll dates are announced, according to multiple people the Post spoke to.
For almost a week or so, Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, United Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal and their Janata Samajbadi counterpart Upendra Yadav have been holding meetings regularly in order to fix their common position on seat-sharing, according to a senior Congress leader.
“We have information that the three leaders have met multiple times somewhere in Lalitpur,” said the Congress leader. “They are in a bid to put pressure on the Congress to finalise the number of seats to be divided among coalition partners before the poll dates are announced.”
If the elections were to be held by November-end, the government has to announce the dates by the end of next month, so as to give the Election Commission 120 days for its preparations. In that case, the three coalition partners want an agreement on seat-sharing within July.
In the House of Representatives, there are 165 seats up for grabs while 330 will be elected to seven provincial assemblies under the first-past-the-post system.
The focus, however, is more on the House of Representatives that elects the prime minister.
The Congress plans to keep 100 seats for itself while letting the three other partners divide the remaining 64 seats among themselves, as one seat has to be given to Rastriya Janamorcha.
Ruling party leaders said coalition partners are discussing the possible seat-sharing arrangements for the upcoming two elections.
“We are of the view that some kind of agreement on how to divide seats should be reached before the announcement of the election dates,” said Haribol Gajurel, a senior Maoist leader.
Asked if his party chair has been meeting Nepal and Yadav to discuss seat divisions, Gajurel refused to provide a direct answer but said as much: “Informal discussions are taking place.”
“Before reaching any understanding, leaders will discuss the issue within their respective parties as well,” said Gajurel.
A leader close to Deuba confirmed that three key coalition partners have been putting pressure on the prime minister on reaching an agreement before the announcement of poll dates.
The Maoist Centre is looking for at least 65 seats, but it may settle for 50. If 20 seats were to be set aside for the Unified Socialist and 18 to 20 to the Janata Samajbadi, the Congress would be left with 74-75 seats for it, which the party members may not agree with.
The Maoist Centre won 36 seats under the first-past-the-post system in the last elections. Of the 24 members of the Unified Socialist who actually came from the UML after a split in August, 13 are directly elected. Of the 19 members of the Janata Samjbadi in the current House, 12 had won under the direct election system.
“During informal talks, leaders of the three coalition partners have said they want to contest elections where they had won in the 2017 elections. But we are of the view that Congress should contest in at least 100 constituencies,” said the Congress leader. “This is going to be a huge debate in the coming days within the party.”
According to the leader, Congress members won’t agree on less than 100 constituencies.
“That is our bottom line… we will have 100 constituencies and the rest 65 should be divided among the coalition partners,” the leader told the Post, wishing not to be named.
Though Congress members were against contesting the May 13 local polls under an alliance with the coalition partners, Deuba remained adamant.
While the Congress emerged as the largest party, the Maoist Centre got a new lease of life from the local elections. Buoyed by the wins, its chair Dahal now has his bargaining power increased.
Now Dahal, a seasoned player in factional politics—he had formed his own faction within the then Nepal Communist Party against KP Sharma Oli—seems to be creating a group of three coalition partners to pile pressure on Deuba.
A Unified Socialist leader said that the last-minute decision on seat-sharing during the local polls had affected results of the three parties, so leaders of his party, the Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi want a concrete arrangement before the poll dates are announced.
The Unified Socialist is miffed at the Congress and the Maoist Centre for not treating it on par during the local elections.
While presenting a political document at the party’s politburo, Unified Socalist chair Nepal said that the Congress and the Maoist Centre benefited the most from the alliance in the local elections.
“In most of the local units, only the Congress and Maoist Center forged an alliance,” Nepal notes in his political report.
And Deuba seems to be in for walking a tightrope.
If he fails to assuage the concerns of his coalition partners, especially the two communist forces, he fears a repeat of 2017 when the elections were swept by the “left alliance”.
After failing to reach an “honourable” seat-sharing arrangement, the Maoist Centre had broken the alliance with the Congress and joined hands with the CPN-UML.
A left alliance again could cost Deuba and the Congress dearly. So far, chances of Dahal and Nepal joining hands with the UML are slim, but observers say it is a little too early to predict anything.
During a meeting with the party’s members in the National Assembly, UML chair Oli said on Thursday that in 2017, the left alliance was born out of a sudden decision and that this could happen again.
“As of now, there has been no new development on forging an alliance with anyone,” said Oli. “But any sudden decision like 2017 might happen.”
Even though three of the key coalition partners are for fixing seats before poll dates are announced, the Congress does not seem to be too keen to do so.
“There are still six months for elections,” said Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior Congress leader. “The focus certainly is on going to the polls jointly.”
According to Poudel, there is no discussion among the ruling parties about reaching an agreement on sharing the seats at this time.
“An agreement of seat-sharing arrangements will be reached two to three months ahead of the elections,” he said.