Vote transfer among alliance partners is a tricky businessRealising the challenges of supporters switching votes, ruling alliance decides to organise joint poll campaigns.
After the results of May local polls were out, the CPN (Unified Socialist) lashed out at other parties of the ruling alliance. Its leaders accused other alliance partners of betraying them by not sincerely asking their traditional voters to this time vote for the candidates of the Unified Socialist.
The party got only 20 top seats in the local level elections—and poor vote transfer was to blame, according to party leaders.
In poll partnerships, it is crucial for the supporters of one party to vote for the candidate of its partner party. The May polls clearly showed that this is easier said than done.
With the approaching federal and provincial elections, the major political parties are on the campaign trail again. They are busy writing their election manifestos and crafting strategies to ensure that cadres and supporters of other parties in the alliance vote for all common candidates equally.
Two electoral alliances—one led by the Nepali Congress including the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha as partners, and the other led by the UML including the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Janata Samajbadi Party in some constituencies—will be involved in a head-to-head battle in the November polls. Also, the RPP-Nepal led by Kamal Thapa has joined hands with the UML.
But in 140 constituencies the UML is contesting the elections single-handedly.
Realising the challenges of vote transfer, the ruling alliance has decided to conduct joint electoral exercises and publicity campaigns to solicit votes.
The meeting of the ruling coalition on Thursday decided to hold joint gatherings of their cadres in all seven provinces under the leadership of Ram Chandra Paudel, the Nepali Congress senior leader. A central level Election Mobilisation Coordination Committee will be formed under his leadership for the same.
The ruling alliance has also finalised its election slogan—‘Coalition for the protection of constitution, stability and prosperity’.
Moreover, the alliance has decided to form Provincial Election Mobilisation Committees and, if necessary, Election Mobilisation Committees in the constituencies and local units as well.
Maoist Centre General Secretary Dev Gurung said the ruling coalition will jointly solicit votes for each other for the November polls. “As we are in the race under an electoral alliance, it is obvious to conduct joint election-related exercises,” he told the Post.
In the May elections, the ruling parties had forged alliances only at select local units but they are contesting the upcoming polls in alliances in almost all constituencies.
The main opposition party, CPN-UML, on the contrary, has planned no such programmes from the centre to jointly solicit votes for its partners.
Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the publicity department of the UML, said as the electoral deal was sealed with Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Prajatantra Party only in some constituencies, they see no need for joint campaigns. The member parties have often said that they see no problem with vote transfer among them.
“The ruling alliance may need joint campaigning, we don’t,” said Rijal.
According to him, for the Congress and the Maoist Centre, cross-party voting is tricky as the cadres and leaders have a history of mutual animosity.
However, the UML has planned some joint election-centric activities locally.
In Jhapa, the UML has solicited votes also for the Rastriya Prajatantra Party candidates. In a statement, the Jhapa UML chapter has urged the public and cadres to vote for the UML and Rastriya Prajatantra Party candidates in the November 20 elections.
“The local chapters of our party can formulate strategies for the elections based on local needs and ground reality,” Rijal told the Post.
If a party in an alliance is comparatively weaker in a constituency, say observers, it will be hard for it to secure victory for its candidate by syphoning votes from other forces.
Radheshyam Adhikari, a former National Assembly member from the Nepali Congress, said transfer of votes is hard between political parties following differing ideologies. “For example, the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre, and the Unified Socialist carry different ideologies and that complicates vote transfer. You can never be sure if dedicated voters of a political party will vote for someone from another party,” he said.
The candidates of the parties that command big chunks of votes independently will find it comparably easier to lure other voters, not so the parties with smaller voter base, Adhikari argued.
The Unified Socialist and the Maoist Centre are believed to have leading votes in only a handful of constituencies and they have fielded more candidates than would be expected to win, for example in their strongholds.
The decision of the ruling alliance to campaign jointly stems from their realisation that vote transfer is crucial, Adhikari said. “After the experience of local elections, they have come to realise the difficulties of vote transfer,” he said. According to him, partners in electoral alliances are overdependent on each other, so much so that they have to consider their partners even while preparing the election manifestos.
If the recent local elections are anything to go by, the Nepali Congress has 34.28 percent popular votes, followed by the UML with 33.03 percent popular votes. Likewise, the Maoist Centre has 13.03 percent popular votes and the Unified Socialist has 3.66 percent. Meanwhile, two Madhesh-based parties—Janata Samajbadi Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party—have 5 percent and 2.12 percent of popular votes, respectively. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party has 3.16 percent.
According to Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst, the UML, the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s common nationalist agendas will make vote transfer a bit easier—but only to an extent.
“The traditional voters who have consistently voted for the UML or the Rastriya Prajatantra Party or some other party will hesitate to switch parties. Voters in our country stick to a specific party for generations,” he said.
On the other hand, given their rather antagonistic past relations, transfer of votes between the Congress and the Maoist Centre will be a bit more complicated, Maharjan said. Candidates that are fielded in constituencies other than their home constituencies, whom local voters often term ‘tourist candidates’, face additional challenges. “It will be tough to establish such leaders among the locals and transfer votes,” he told the Post.
Meena Vaidya Malla, a professor and former chief of the Central Department of Political Science at Tribhuvan University, also sees complexities with vote transfer.
“People need to see that the alliance partners are committed to each other,” she said. “If voters don’t see such commitment and a culture of compromise, they are unlikely to vote for candidates other than from the party of their choice.”
Though the ruling alliance has planned joint election-centric activities, the parties under it must come to terms with each other on some important issues, observers say.
“While conducting combined activities, they should ensure their voices don’t differ much. They must be seen as speaking with one voice on vital issues,” said Adhikari.