Who is playing spoilsport in seat-sharing? Congress or JSPWhile JSP is confident of wins in Madhes, Congress too has ample reason not to concede too many seats.
The five-party ruling alliance on August 15 had agreed on four seat-sharing criteria for the upcoming federal and provincial elections.
The ruling alliance had formed an 11-member task force on August 5 for seat-distribution for the November 20 elections. The task force had subsequently agreed on four criteria. However, the mechanism presented its final report to the top leaders on September 8 without completing the seat-allocation process.
The task force under its coordinator Krishna Prasad Sitaula of Nepali Congress had submitted a partial report to the top coalition leaders, entrusting them with working out the final seat-sharing. However, the top leaders' meeting, which was said to be ‘decisive’, could not make a substantive decision on Saturday. A big reason for their failure? Apparently, not abiding by the set criteria.
The four criteria were first-past-the-post (FPTP) seats won in the 2017 general elections, proportional seats won by the parties in the 2017 polls, performance in last May’s local elections, and priority for top leaders of the parties in the alliance.
Pramesh Hamal, a task force member and leader of the CPN (Unified Socialist), nevertheless, claims that the report submitted to the top leaders sticks to the criteria. “We have emphasised the respectable presence of the parties involved in the alliance while sharing the seats,” Hamal told the Post.
Insiders claim that dividing electoral seats in Madhesh Province is the most difficult task. The province has a total of 32 seats, and both the Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) claim big portions of them. The CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Unified Socialist also want large chunks of the electoral pie in Madhesh.
So is Madhesh at the heart of the seat-sharing delay? A task force member concedes that agreement has been elusive as neither the Congress nor the JSP is ready to budge.
Political analysts say Congress is undeniably the biggest political force in Madhesh given the votes it received in the 2017 local elections and the second local level polls held earlier this year. Its claim, therefore, is valid, they say. However, in the two following elections of 2017, the Congress’ vote share came down significantly, largely because of the alliance forged between the left parties and the other between two Madhesh-based parties. The regional force JSP is claiming a large chunk of seats citing the same.
“Madheshi politics is fragmented. If the elections are contested among individual parties, Congress will obviously be the biggest force in Madhesh,” says Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst. “But an unfavourable alliance will certainly hamper the Congress.”
The JSP has been claiming the majority of seats in Madhesh for two reasons, says Shah. One is that Madhesh-based parties do not have another fall-back province. “By claiming so many seats, the JSP is making the Congress reconsider the electoral alliance.”
The JSP leaders refute such allegations. “It is reasonable for the major Madheshi party to demand more seats there, but we are also prepared to contest the elections on our own if the alliance does not respect our concerns,” says Manish Kumar Suman, the party spokesperson.
Alliance leaders also point to the number of seats claimed by the Unified Socialist and the JSP as obstructing an agreement. The JSP has claimed 32 seats while the Unified Socialist has demanded 40 seats across the country. The Unified Socialist can settle for 25 seats, according to party leaders, while the JSP insists that 27 seats are their absolute minimum.
The Congress won 34.25 percent votes in the local election held in May. The Maoist Centre received a 13.03 percent vote share, the JSP had five percent and United Socialist Party 3.66 percent. Rastriya Janamorcha, another ally, had won 0.35 percent votes.
If the local polls votes that the five coalition parties won are extrapolated to 100 percent, the Congress gets 60.85. Similarly, the Maoist Centre gets 23.15 percent, the JSP 8.88 percent, the Unified Socialist 6.5 percent, and the Janmorcha 0.62 percent.
If the 165 seats in the House of Representatives were divided up based on the proportion of votes the five allies received in recent local elections, the Congress would get 100 seats. This, however, is only one of four criteria. Besides, other coalition partners also say that the Congress won only 23 first-past-the-post seats in the 2017 federal House elections, undercutting the Congress’ maximalist claims.
By the same token, the Maoist Centre would get 38 seats, followed by 15 for the JSP, 11 for the Unified Socialist and one for the Janamorcha.
The Congress is in a tricky position also because the party faction led by Shekhar Koirala has been warning Prime Minister and Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba to settle for no less than 100 seats.
“When the task force members could not gauge the level of compromise Congress was willing to make, we also could not agree on the final seat tally in our report,” JSP leader Rakam Chemjong, a task force member, told the Post.
Meanwhile, Congress leaders claim that even if the 2017 results are taken as the basis for seat distribution, its claim won’t come down much. “Even in that case, we will get around 100 seats.”
The task force claims to have settled 60 seats that can safely be given to the Congress. The 90 constituencies where other members of the alliance have a single claim have also been marked.