Coalition close yet far on seat-sharing as individual claims too highCongress sticks to 100 constituencies, which partners say too many, as their demands are also big.
The ruling coalition is planning to finalise the modality for distributing 165 seats up for grabs under the direct election system for the House of Representatives based on the vote share of the parties in 2017 elections and recently concluded local elections.
After analysing the votes received by the five parties in the last elections and local polls, taking the concerns of the top leaders of the ruling coalition into account and the new situation that emerged after the formation of the CPN (Unified Socialist) that did not exist in 2017, the task force has reached close to finalise the distribution of 165 among them, according to leaders.
Though the Nepali Congress was adamant on fighting in 100 constituencies, it may settle for 90 by leaving the remaining 75 for four partners—the CPN (Maoist Centre), the Unified Socialist, the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Two more political parties, one led by former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai and another by former deputy prime minister Bamdev Gautam, will be given seats from among the 75 to be allocated for the rest of the coalition partners, according to a Congress leader.
Task force members said that the main bargaining is between the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre, which has been asking the former to not demand more than 80 seats.
The Maoist Centre itself is laying claim to at least 60 seats.
The Congress is likely to settle for 90 seats and the Maoist Centre has to make a compromise by ceding 15 seats or so from its demand whereas the rest have to work out around 20 seats, two task force members said.
On Thursday, when parties presented their claims, the total came to 234.
The Congress demanded 100, Maoist Centre 60, Unified Socialist 40, Janata Samajbadi 32 and the Rastriya Janamorcha 2.
“One formula can be splitting the seats amongst individual parties. In that case, the Congress will get around 90 seats. The Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist, Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha will get 45, 18, 12 and 2, respectively,” said a Congress leader. “Talks are going to zero in on this modality.”
But there is strong resentment inside the Nepali Congress not to compromise for less than 100 seats.
On Saturday, while speaking in Biratnagar, Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala said that there is no meaning of forging an alliance if the Congress does not get 100 seats to contest.
“It is our stated position that the Congress should not contest in less than 100 constituencies,” said Koirala who leads the rival camp in the party against Prime Minister and party president Sher Bahadur Deuba. “We accepted the alliance because of the situation the country is in. But the Nepali Congress is not weak in terms of its organizational base and is very much capable of contesting the elections alone.”
Koirala said that the individual strengths of the coalition partners need to be taken into consideration first before finalising seat distribution.
“We need to take stock of vote shares, organisational base and other various factors,” Koirala added.
At least 40 Congress leaders are set to not get listed under the proportional representation system because they have already made it to the list twice, pressure is building on the party to stake claim to 100 seats.
A leader close to Deuba said the party president is trying to convince Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal to be flexible on the number of seats for the Congress.
As task force members are working to finalise seat-sharing, top leaders of the coalition too are holding separate discussions. The task force is likely to submit its preliminary report on seat-sharing for the House of Representatives elections on Tuesday.
“After that seat-sharing arrangements for provincial elections will start,” said a member of the task force from the Unified Socialist.
Of the 275 seats in the House of Representatives, 110 will be filled through the proportional representation system.
There are 550 seats up for grabs for the seven provincial assemblies—330 under the direct election system and 220 under the proportional representation system.
“First, the task force will ascertain the seats for coalition partners for the general elections. Then it will split the seats for provincial polls. The task force has not reported its findings so there is no clarity yet,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, senior vice-chair of the Maoist Centre. “We expect the task force to submit its report in a few days.”
The 11-member task force was formed on August 5, a day after the government announced the elections for November 20. It was given until August 16 to submit its report but it could not crack the formula on seat-sharing.
Dev Gurung, general secretary of the Maoist Centre who is also a task force member, said the respective parties presented their claims during the recent meeting with a view to showing their bargaining power.
“Once the Congress settles for a certain number, rest of the work will be easy,” said Gurung.
Another task force member from the Unified Socialist also said that the Nepali Congress should come down on its claim as 100 seats for the party is not reasonable.
“Each of us has to make a compromise,” the member said.
The task force has not been able to hold its regular meetings after its coordinator Krishna Prasad Situala tested positive for the coronavirus last week.
“We have almost completed analysing the results of the 2017 elections and votes received by parties in the local elections,” said Pramesh Hamal, a task force member from the Unified Socialist. “There is a tentative picture on seat-sharing based on that analysis, but parties have come up with their own claims so we need to sort some issues out.”
The Congress emerged as the second largest party in the 2017 elections with 64 seats—23 under the direct election system and 40 under the proportional representation system. The Maoist Centre was third with 53 seats—36 under the direct election system and 17 under the proportional representation system. The Maoist Centre’s success was largely because of its alliance with the CPN-UML then.
The Unified Socialist did not exist—it was formed in August last year after splitting from the UML. Its local poll performance was poor.
Some Nepali Congress leaders believe that the entire issue of seat-sharing arrangements is unlikely to be settled by the task force alone.
“I do not think the task force will be able to sort out the seat distribution issue,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, spokesperson for the Nepali Congress. “Once the task force presents its preliminary report, it will be discussed at the top level. The top leadership will take a final call.”