Coalition partners start seat-sharing negotiations for pollsTough haggling expected among taskforce members as the Nepali Congress seeks a bigger bite.
The ruling coalition has formed a task force with a mandate to recommend seat-sharing among partners by the middle of this month for the upcoming general and provincial elections set to be held on November 20.
On Friday, after deciding to contest the polls under an alliance, the five parties in the ruling coalition formed an 11-member task force.
In the Nepali Congress-led coalition, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha are partners.
“The parties in the coalition have decided to form a task force to split seats among them for the upcoming polls,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior Maoist Centre leader. “It will come up with its recommendations in two weeks.”
The government on Thursday announced general and provincial elections for November 20 (Sunday).
The task force has Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Gagan Thapa and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki from the Congress; Janardan Sharma and Barshaman Pun from the Maoist Centre; Pramesh Hamal and Beduram Bhusal from the Unified Socialist; Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav and Rakam Chemjong from the Janata Samajbadi Party; and Himlal Puri and Ananda Sharma from the Rastriya Janamorcha as members.
Friday’s meeting of the ruling coalition was attended by Poudel, Purna Bahadur Khadka and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki besides the prime minister from the Congress; Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Barshaman Pun from the Maoist Centre; Madhav Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Pramesh Hamal from the Unified Socialist; Upendra Yadav and Rakam Chemjong from the Janata Samajbadi Party; and Durga Poudel from the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Seat-sharing among the five parties, however, is not going to be easy for the coalition partners, party leaders admit. The five parties had jointly fought the May 13 local elections, but they could not agree on sharing seats in all 753 local units. They could forge agreements only for around one third of local units, saying that in other places there would be “friendly competition”.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre benefitted in the local polls, with the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi complaining that vote transfers were not as they expected, leading to their poor performance.
On November 20, Nepalis will vote to elect 275 members for the House of Representatives—165 under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) election system and 110 under the proportional representation (PR) system. Simultaneously, 550 members for the seven provincial assemblies will be elected—330 under the direct election system and 220 under the PR system.
The Congress wants to keep at least 100 seats, out of the 165 directly elected to the House, for itself while the coalition partners are seeking at least 80 for them.
Senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who is also the coordinator of the high-level political mechanism, said if his party fails to get 100 of 165 FPTP seats, it would be difficult for the coalition to defeat the CPN-UML.
After emerging as the first party from the local elections, the Nepali Congress is aiming to win a majority by keeping the current coalition intact. In 2017, the Maoist Centre had fought elections under an alliance with the UML, reducing the Congress to 23 seats under the FPTP category.
The UML had emerged as the largest party with a total of 121 seats—80 under the FPTP category and 41 under the PR system. The Congress had won 40 seats under the PR system, in an indication that their vote shares were almost equal.
The Maoist Centre had won 53 seats—36 under the FPTP category and 17 under the PR system. In 2017, the Unified Socialiast did not exist, as it was formed in August last year by Madhav Nepal after splitting from the UML. Therefore, its vote base is not clear.
“The coalition decided to form a task force because we saw some
problems in seat-sharing during the local polls,” said Beduram Bhusal, general secretary of the Unified Socialist who is also a member of the task force. “We will discuss the process, basis and modality so that seats can be shared among the partners in a fair manner.”
There is no clarity on what Babram Bhattarai, who has recently launched his Nepal Samajbadi Party after being expelled from the Janata Samajbadi, will do—whether his party will go to the polls on its own or in alliance with the ruling coalition.
Insiders say if the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist make a sub-alliance of communist forces, Bhattarai could join them.
“We are yet to give a concrete shape to our new party, so we didn’t join the coalition meeting today,” said Ganga Narayan Shrestha, a senior leader of the Nepal Samajbadi Party. “Once we form our central committee on Saturday, we will discuss other issues, including whether to be a part of the ruling coalition.”
Shrestha said his party preferred to be part of the ruling coalition but since the coalition partners have already formed a task force of their own, his party will have to think differently.
“We will discuss the issue after the formation of the central committee on Saturday,” Shrestha told the Post.
A member of the task force representing the Janata Samajbadi Party, Rakam Chemjong, also said the modality will be developed through discussions in the task force. He said it was obvious that his party would demand more than its current strength. At the moment, the party has 19 lawmakers among whom at least two—Bhattarai and Mahendra Rai Yadav—have decided to join the Nepal Samajbadi Party.
“We will first deliberate on the modality within our party before discussing it at the task force,” said Ram Sahay Yadav, a member of the task force representing the Janata Samajbadi Party.
According to leaders of the parties in the ruling coalition, member parties would be assigned the same constituencies which they had won in the 2017 elections, and the constituencies won by the UML would be shared among the partners. However, Congress leaders have said they would lay claim to a majority of the UML-won constituencies as the party had won only 23 seats under the FPTP system in 2017.
The main opposition CPN-UML has been trying to break the alliance but Maoist Centre leaders say that they could only think of forging electoral alliance with the UML if its chairman, KP Sharma Oli, apologises for dissolving the parliament twice. Since the ruling coalition is set to continue the electoral alliance even for the upcoming general elections, the party has been campaigning widely and aggressively.
“Our leaders are already on the campaign trail,” said Subas Nembang.
Some senior UML leaders have expressed dissatisfaction at the role of Oli saying that he made no effort to bring the Maoist Centre back to their fold.
“It’s the responsibility of the party chairman to make a move to ensure that the party wins maximum seats in the upcoming polls but he seems uninterested,” said an office bearer of the party asking not to be named fearing retribution. “We have no proper agenda and the chairman has not even called a meeting to discuss the party’s poll prospects.”
The UML has been reaching out to Maoist leaders and has already conveyed a message that it is ready to give 40 percent seats and prime ministership to Dahal, but the Maoist Centre chair hopes his party will win the second largest number of seats—after the Congress.
“If the Maoist Centre joins hands with us, Dahal’s premiership will be secure and they will also get a better share compared to the existing alliance,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, a Standing Committee member close to Oli. “Politics is a game of possibilities and the UML has its own strategies.”
Tamang said his party could join hands with all progressive, nationalist and democratic forces. “We have been making all-out preparations to contest the polls alone for now,” Tamang told the Post.