Women contenders in direct race have it tough in upcoming parliamentary electionsMajor parties have been reluctant to field women candidates. Even the few in the fray have a battle in their hands.
Despite growing voices for fair representation of women in elections, only nine percent of the total first-past-the-post (FPTP) candidates for November polls are women. The major political parties are particularly to be blamed for this sad state of affairs.
The CPN-UML has fielded 11, the CPN (Maoist Centre) nine, the Nepali Congress five, and the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Rastriya Janamorcha one woman candidate each.
Two electoral alliances are head-to-head in the upcoming periodic elections. The ruling Congress has partnered with the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha while the UML has joined hands with the Janata Samajbadi Party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the RPP-Nepal in some of the constituencies.
Many observers are unhappy with the major parties giving direct election tickets to women leaders only in extremely competitive seats, while reserving the less competitive seats for the ‘powerful’ male leaders.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Onsari Gharti Magar from the Maoist Centre is in the fray for a federal lower house seat from Kathmandu-2. The UML has fielded Mani Ram Phuyal there.
Magar—a federal lawmaker elected under the proportional representation system in 2017—is the common candidate of the Congress-led alliance in the federal constituency. The UML, on the other hand, is contesting single-handedly in the constituency.
As per the results of the ward chair election in May, the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist jointly have 25,168 votes while the UML alone has 17,328 votes. To increase the odds of winning, Magar has to pull as many Congress and Unified Socialist votes. This won’t be easy as loyal voters of a particular party are reluctant to vote for candidates of other parties, even if they are from the same alliance.
Likewise, Unified Socialist Secretary Ram Kumari Jhakri—a first-time direct election contestant—is competing against UML Secretary Gokarna Bista, a three-time winner, in Gulmi-2.
Jhakri has the support of the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The ruling alliance altogether garnered 32,487 votes in Gulmi-2 in the May polls while the UML alone got 30,649. As the Unified Socialist does not have a stronghold in the region, Jhakri could face a tough competition from Bista, who is regarded as an influential leader in the district.
The Rastriya Janamorcha’s Durga Paudel is in the fray in Pyuthan’s only constituency against the UML’s Surya Thapa. Paudel had won the 2017 major elections against Congress central member Govinda Raj Pokharel with the UML’s backing. Now the Congress and Maoist Centre are supporting Paudel against the UML.
The Congress-led alliance has 52,057 votes and the UML alone has 39,873 votes in the constituency, as per the last local election results for ward chairs. Even though the ruling alliance is ahead of the UML with a good margin, Pokharel—the Congress candidate in 2017—has publicly said that he will not solicit votes for Paudel.
Pokharel’s withdrawal of support could make it tough for Paudel.
UML Secretary Padma Aryal and Nepali Congress Vice President Dhan Raj Gurung are the contestants in Syangja-2.
In 2017, as a candidate of the left alliance, Aryal emerged victorious against senior Congress leader Gopal Man Shrestha with a margin of around 3,500 votes. Aryal’s competitor Gurung is considered a strong Congress candidate.
The voting pattern seen in the May polls hints at a strong competition in the constituency. By that measure, the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist together leave the UML behind by around 2,000 votes.
Arghakhanchi also has a woman candidate this time. Congress leader and former deputy Speaker Pushpa Bhusal and UML leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, who comes from the Maoist Centre, are contesting the polls in the only constituency of Arghakhanchi. Rayamajhi had secured a landslide victory in the last elections as the communist alliance candidate—with a margin of 18,444 votes.
Bhusal would have to make an extra effort to improve her electoral prospects as she is competing against an influential leader in the constituency.
In May’s ward chair vote, the Congress, the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist, and the Janamorcha combined garnered 4,542 more votes than the UML in Arghakhanchi.
In Makwanpur-1, the ruling alliance has fielded Congress Joint General Secretary Mahalaxmi Upadhyaya (Dina) while the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal chair Kamal Thapa is in the fray with the UML’s election symbol.
Upadhyaya had lost to the left alliance candidate Birodh Khatiwada with a margin of around 12,ooo votes in Makwanpur-2 in the 2017 polls. On the other hand, Thapa had lost to the left alliance in Makwanpur-1.
The UML alone got 38,056 votes in the local election for ward chairs while the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist combined bagged 53,297 votes in Makwanpur-1.
Chitra Lekha Yadav of the Nepali Congress is competing against Janata Samajbadi Party leader Raj Kishore Yadav in Siraha-2. Former minister and former Congress treasurer, Chitra Lekha has the support of the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist, and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party while the Janata Samajbadi has partnered with the UML.
In 2017, the Maoist Centre’s Suresh Chandra Das Yadav was elected from Siraha-2.
As both leaders this time are key faces with strong influences, the upcoming elections will see a tough competition. The combined votes for the ruling alliance total 34,426 while the UML-Janata Samajbadi Party alliance has 31,915, as per the May results.
The Congress-led alliance has fielded Maoist Deputy General Secretary and Energy Minister Pampha Bhusal against the UML’s Amrit Khadka in Lalitpur-3. Bhusal has already won two elections she contested in Lalitpur-3. In 2017, she won the major poll with the UML’s support.
As the Maoist Centre is the third largest party in the constituency with 7,726 votes as per the May polls, Bhusal is now overdependent on Congress votes in November. The Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist combined got 31,404 votes, while the UML alone had secured 17,709.
In Morang-2, the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist have jointly fielded Sujata Koirala. The UML has fielded UML district chapter chair Rishikesh Pokharel in tandem with the Janata Samajbadi. Koirala of the Congress was elected to Parliament in 2017 from the proportional representation category.
Pokharel—winner of the second Constituent Assembly elections—had lost to Minendra Rijal of the Congress in 2017 with a margin of around 1,800 votes.
Going by the May polls, the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist have a combined 36,067 votes while the UML and the Janata Samajbadi Party jointly have 35,775 votes.
So, the upcoming polls are apparently going to be tough for Koirala.
“The country has mostly tried to address the problem of women’s underrepresentation in the legislative through the proportional representation category,” said Ram Kumari Chaudhary, a Maoist Centre leader and former state minister for agriculture and livestock development.
“Having more candidates in direct elections will certainly send out a positive message. But what is also true this time is that the politics of alliance has deprived many deserving women leaders from contesting in direct elections,” Chaudhary told the Post.