Task force fails to find seat-sharing formula, will seek top leaders’ helpEach party wants a big bite but is shy of saying the number.
When the government announced general and provincial elections on August 5 for November 20 after multiple discussions among the coalition partners, it looked like they had a pretty good plan in hand on seat-sharing among them.
A day after the elections were announced, the coalition partners—the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socalist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha—on August 5 formed an 11-member task force to work out a formula for sharing seats among them.
The task force was given until Tuesday to complete its task. The deadline is over and the task force, which on Monday appeared to be close to finalising the modality, is now again groping in the dark.
The third meeting of the task force members on Monday had tentatively agreed on a four-point criteria—performance of each member party in the 2017 elections under the direct and proportional representation systems, their performance in May’s local elections, and priority to top leaders of the parties.
Task force members said they will hold more discussions with the ruling party leaders to gauge the extent of compromise each party is prepared to make on seat-sharing.
Nepal will vote on November 20 to elect 275 members for the House of Representatives—165 through direct election system and 110 under the proportional representation category. Similarly, 330 members will be elected for seven provincial assemblies under the direct system and 220 under the proportional representation category.
Coalition partners are bargaining hard for the House of Representatives seats, especially under the direct election system, because it is where a new federal government will be born.
“As the task force had failed to come up with the clear numbers of seats to be divided among the ruling parties, the convener [Krishna Prasad Sitaula] will discuss the issue with top leaders of the ruling parties to learn to what extent they are ready to compromise on seat-sharing,” said a task force member.
The Congress had been demanding at least 99 seats out of 165 under the direct election system, leaving the rest 66 for the coalition partners, but the Maoist Centre has started bargaining for more, creating confusion, according to insiders. Then there’s a dilemma over the number of seats for the Unified Socialist which was formed only in August last year after splitting from the CPN-UML.
“We have discussed the modality for seat-sharing arrangements, so we are about to complete the task given to us,” said Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, a task force member from the Nepali Congress who is also the government spokesperson. “We have reached a certain conclusion but we need to brief the top party leadership before the issue is finalised.”
The Congress had managed to become the second party from the last elections despite winning only 23 lower house seats under the direct election system. Under the proportional representation system, the party had bagged 40 seats.
The Maoist Centre, which won 36 seats under the direct election system, had collected 15 seats under the proportional representation system. The Maoist Centre had fought elections under an alliance with the UML, which had won 80 and 41 seats under the direct election system and the proportional representation category, respectively.
“Our proposal is to split the 80 constituencies won by the UML in 2017 under the direct election system among us and leave the seats won by partner parties for themselves,” Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesperson for the Unified Socialist, said. “But the Nepali Congress is reluctant.”
Unified Socialist leaders are a worried bunch because they don’t have much bargaining power, as their performance in the May local elections was also poor.
The party won just 20 units, and blames the Congress and the Maoist Centre for its dismal performance.
Party leaders say they are not facing much problem when it comes to sharing seats for provincial assemblies. The major issue is splitting the 165 lower house FPTP seats proportionately among partners, they say.
“In the 2017 elections, the Maoist Centre had an alliance with UML and won many seats. They did not contest independently. So we have urged in the meeting to make the local election results the basis for seat-sharing arrangements,” said a Nepali Congress Central Working Committee member.
The Nepali Congress has been insisting that the alliance should take into consideration the vote share of each party in the recently held local elections to split the seats for November elections.
In the May elections, Nepali Congress secured the highest 34.25 percent votes followed by 33.03 percent by the UML. The Maoist Centre received 13.03 percent and the Janata Samajbadi Party got 5 percent votes. The Unified Socialist received 3.66 percent votes and the Rastriya Janamorcha received 0.35 percent votes.
Before making the recommendation about which party will get how many seats, Sitaula will individually meet top leaders of the ruling alliance—Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal, Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav and Rastriya Janamorcha chair Chitra Bahadur KC, according to another member of the task force.
The Sitaula-led task force comprises Karki and Gagan Thapa from the Nepali Congress; Barshaman Pun and Dev Gurung from the Maoist Centre; Beduram Bhusal and Pramesh Hamal from the Unified Socialist; Janata Samajbadi Party’s Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav and Rakam Chemjong; and Rastriya Janamorcha’s Himal Puri and Anand Sharma.
While the Nepali Congress is still insisting on dividing seats on the basis of past electoral performance of the parties, the Maoist Centre has been arguing that past performance alone should not be the criteria and that a way should be found out so as to ensure that all top leaders win at any cost.
While some campaigns have been going on to vote the old faces out, calls are growing within some parties that the old guards make space for the new generation.
Dahal, who is eyeing Chitwan-3 to contest the elections, faces a tough challenge as the UML has been working hard to defeat him. For Madhav Nepal, who won from Rautahat-1, the situation does not look good either.
“No task force member has come up with—or suggested—exactly how many seats their parties are looking for under the direct election system,” Ram Shahay Yadav, a task force member from the Janata Samajbadi Party, told the Post. “As of today, we have been discussing only the modality.”
The next meeting of the task force has been called for Saturday.
“Sitaula will meet with the top party leadership and, if required, will consult us members,” Yadav said. “At Saturday’s meeting, we can come up with a concrete plan on seat-sharing.”