Rastriya Swatantra Party drawing public attention ahead of pollsVoters disenchanted with traditional political parties and their leaders may help the new party led by Rabi Lamichhane win a few federal seats.
Less fancied political parties are gaining traction as the elections for the federal and provincial assemblies draw closer.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party led by popular television personality Rabi Lamichhane, is basking in the glory of wide public attention ahead of the polls.
The party has a high probability of winning two seats from Chitwan itself, if the field reporting by 'Setopati', news website, is considered a reference point. Of the three constituencies in the district, the party has a high chance of winning Chitwan-1 and Chitwan-2 respectively, the news portal wrote.
Based on the public attraction and interactions with Lamichhane in the constituency, election observers see him as one of the leading contenders in Chitwan-2, where former lawmakers are in the race from two major political parties. The ruling party, Nepali Congress, has fielded minister of state and former lawmaker, Umesh Shrestha, while the CPN-UML has fielded its former lawmaker, Krishna Bhakta Pokharel.
In Chitwan-1, the ruling coalition has endorsed Congress candidate Bishwo Nath Poudel, who recently resigned from the National Planning Commission, to contest the election. The CPN-UML has fielded its vice-chair, Surendra Pandey, who is also a former finance minister. He had won the previous two elections from the same constituency in a row. Hari Dhakal, a former CPN-UML cadre, is the Rastriya Swatantra Party's nominee from the constituency.
The race in Chitwan-2 is keenly watched across the country given the participation of the Rastriya Swatantra Party chief Lamichhane, against the sitting state minister, Umesh Shrestha, of the ruling alliance and another strong candidate Krishna Bhakta Pokharel of the CPN-UML. While Shrestha is a relatively new name for voters in the constituency, he is being presented by his team as one of the trusted members of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s faction. In the outgoing government, Shrestha holds a state minister’s position in the prime minister’s office. Pokharel, a former lawmaker, won two elections from this constituency in a row.
In Chitwan-1, the CPN-UML vice-chair, Pandey, asserts that the election momentum is turning in his favour. “We'll win the election,” Pandey told the Post.
Leaders from the Rastriya Swatantra Party, however, claim that they are confident of winning more seats. The party’s spokesperson, Mukul Dhakal, said, "It is not just about Chitwan; our party will get a good number of votes across the country.”
Dhakal claimed that his party will win more than 15 first-past-the-post seats in the federal parliament. He said his party’s candidates in Jhapa-1, and in 5 of the 13 constituencies in Kathmandu and Lalitpur are expected to win. Kathmandu has a total of 10 constituencies, while Lalitpur has three.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party that has fielded its candidates in 131 of the total 165 federal seats, hasn’t fielded its candidates for provincial assemblies.
Political observers say Dhakal's claim of his party winning 15 seats in the direct elections is rather ambitious. They say creating an atmosphere before an election and winning the election are two different things.
Earlier in the 2017 federal elections, Rabindra Mishra, the then president of the Bibeksheel Sajha Party in Kathmandu-1, seemed to be having quite a strong wave in his favor. But it proved to be insufficient in defeating the Nepali Congress candidate, Prakash Man Singh. The example indicates that predicting the outcome of the election before the polls isn’t easy in Nepal’s context. Bibeksheel Sajha, which had shown good prospects in the last federal elections, lags far behind this time ahead of the elections.
Based on the local election results and the reactions of the general public, the disenchantment of the voters toward the traditional political parties and their leaders is wide, making the elections too close to call.
“I won’t be surprised if some fringe parties like the Rastritya Swatantra Party manage to win a good number of seats in the lower house,” Professor Krishna Khanal, who is also a political analyst, told the Post.
Some political observers also believe that if the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) leaders succeed in convincing the voters, the pro-monarchy party has a chance of becoming a national party. In 2017, the RPP not only failed to emerge as a national party, it also failed to cross the threshold to be eligible to get seats under the proportional representation (PR) system. Parties must win at least one FPTP seat and three percent of the total valid votes under proportional representation, in order to qualify as national parties. A party needs to secure three percent of PR votes to be eligible to get seats under the PR category.
“We are expecting respectable seats in the FPTP category, while securing competitive votes with big parties under the proportional representation system,” RPP spokesperson, Mohan Shrestha, told the Post. The party has fielded 140 candidates for the federal seats across the country, which is the second highest number of candidates fielded by any political party. With 140 candidates, the party is just behind the CPN-UML in terms of fielding candidates for the federal assembly. Rajendra Lingden was the sole lawmaker from the RPP in the previous parliament. He is now the party’s president.
A former chief election commissioner, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, said urban voters are disgruntled with the existing political leaders, which indicates that they are seeking changes in politics and that may eventually get reflected in the upcoming elections.
“People are desperately seeking a change in national politics. The new organisations such as the Rastriya Swatantra Party and traditional parties like the RPP can be options for the voters who are seeking alternatives to the existing parties. There may be some surprises when the election results come out,” said the former chief of the election commission.
While the traditional political parties seem devoid of any convincing election agenda, new parties have given top priority to implementing the fundamental rights of people, highlighted in the constitution. Although leaders from the existing political parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are also trying to hard-sell the same agenda, the voters seem unconvinced given their past record, said a political analyst.
“Though the RPP is also a traditional party, the voters are seeking alternatives,” Chandra Dev Bhatta told the Post.
Bhatta didn’t rule out the possibility of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party emerging as a political force after the elections.