Voters reject candidates favoured by top leadersThe trend reflects people’s growing frustration with the top brass and how the political parties are run, analysts say.
Leaders who were favoured by chiefs of the major parties have been largely rejected by people during the November 20 federal and provincial polls.
Both the general secretaries of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), Shankar Pokhrel and Dev Gurung, respectively, were defeated in the elections. Both Pokhrel and Gurung were handpicked by their respective party chairs. Home Minister Balkrishna Khand, who is close to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, was defeated by Deepak Bohara of Rastriya Prajatantra Party in Rupandehi district.
Another leader close to Deuba, Communication Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, who is also the government’s spokesperson, filed a petition on Saturday to the chief election officer of his constituency to stop the vote count, accusing rival parties of rigging votes. Karki was leading with around 100 votes in Sunsari-4, when the counting was stopped.
However, both the general secretaries of Nepali Congress, Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Gagan Thapa, registered wins.
Results of the polls, observers say, indicate that parties following democratic practices fare better in polls, though there are many factors that determine the victory of a candidate.
Some other observers said this development could be taken as “a process of purification in Nepali politics” since voters rejected many leaders who managed to secure party tickets by appeasing their top leadership or the ones facing different charges of malpractices.
“I think it’s a process of cleansing in Nepali politics, which is very good for democracy,” said Dambar Khatiwada, a political analyst. “Many leaders like Sarbendra Khanal and Navaraj Silwal who were accused in different scams have been defeated.”
Former police chief Khanal was allegedly involved in helping CPN-UML leader Mahesh Basnet. Basnet had taken some parliamentarians under his control, attempting to convince them to change their party and support the then prime minister KP Sharma Oli of CPN-UML in parliament. Another former senior police officer, Silwal, had allegedly been involved in loan sharking.
“Many second rung leaders managed to get tickets due to their close links with the top leaders, but they failed to analyse the situation of their own constituencies and lost the elections,” Khatiwada added. “Victory of Gokul Baskota, I think, is a mockery of Nepal’s democracy.” Baskota had to step down as a minister for information and communication after he was caught on tape allegedly demanding ‘commission’ in the procurement of a security printing press.
Pokhrel was unanimously elected as UML general secretary after party chair KP Sharma Oli hand picked him for the party’s key post, while Maoist party’s Gurung was named by chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal for the post due to which key leaders of the party were dissatisfied.
Oli’s decision to select Pokhrel as the party’s general secretary—the position is considered most powerful after party chair—was not liked by some other key leaders from the same faction, including Bishnu Poudel, who was general secretary when UML merged with Maoist Centre to form the Nepal Communist Party, vice-chair Subas Nembang and Deputy General Secretary Prithvi Subba Gurung.
Not only Oli’s trusted lieutenant, many other close leaders like senior vice-chair Ishwar Pokhrel, deputy general secretary Pradeep Gyawali, the then chief whip Bishal Bhattarai, whip Shanta Chaudhari, and other leaders including Rajan Bhattarai, Sherdhan Rai and Mahesh Basnet got defeated in the polls.
Deputy General Secretary Gyawali, a close associate of Oli, was defeated by Nepali Congress leader Chandra Bhandari in Gulmi-1 in the polls.
General Secretary Pokhrel lost to Maoist Centre’s Standing Committee member Rekha Sharma and Dev Gurung lost to UML’s deputy general secretary Prithvi Subba Gurung, who was the Chief Minister of Gandaki Province. Though Pokhrel and Gurung succeeded to impress their respective party chiefs, they couldn’t win the people’s trust.
UML’s former chief whip Bishal Bhattarai was defeated by Maoist Centre’s Ram Kumar Rai and former whip Shanta Chaudhary also suffered defeat at the hands of CPN (Unified Socialist)’s Metmani Chaudhary. UML leader Agni Kharel lost to Bishwa Prakash Sharma in Jhapa-1. Kharel was given chances to become lawmaker, twice, under the proportional representation system and later, Oli had picked him as the minister for information and communication. During Oli’s second term as prime minister, Kharel became the Attorney General.
During these federal and provincial polls, it was chairman Oli who selected leaders close to him as party candidates, while rejecting the claims of some popular leaders as they had criticised his political manoeuvrings, including the dissolution of the parliament. The party’s standing committee member Ghanashyam Bhusal decided to contest as an independent candidate with the support of the ruling coalition after Oli denied him the party's ticket. But leader Bhim Rawal decided to stay in the party, despite the chairman denying him a ticket.
Chairman Oli’s trusted leader Mahesh Basnet was defeated by Durlav Thapa of Nepali Congress in Bhaktapur-2. Moreover, former chief minister of Province 1, Sherdhan Rai, who had always backed party chairman Oli in intra-party feuds, was defeated by Maoist Centre’s politburo member Sudan Kirati.
UML leader Niru Devi Pal, who is also believed to be close to Oli, was defeated by Congress leader Ramesh Lekhak in Kanchanpur-3.
Many leaders close to the chairman of CPN (Maoist Centre) Pushpa Kamal Dahal were defeated from various constituencies.
Besides general secretary Gurung, party’s deputy general secretary Pampha Bhusal, who is also the incumbent Energy Minister, came in third in Lalitpur-3. Leader Onsari Gharti, who is also a former Speaker, was defeated in Kathmandu-2 by Sobita Gautam.
Manushi Yami Bhattarai, daughter of Baburam Bhattarai, the chairman of Nepal Samajbadi Party, who had contested the polls using the election symbol of Maoist Centre, also got defeated in Kathmandu-7 despite the backing of the alliance. Another deputy general secretary of the party Matrika Yadav is trailing far behind in Dhanusha-1.
Maoist Centre leader Bina Magar, who is the daughter-in-law of Dahal, was defeated by UML’s Tara Lama Tamang in Kanchanpur-1.
According to political analyst Jhalak Subedi, a major problem with the leaders who are close to or are favoured by the party leadership is that they generally distanced themselves from the public.
“Anti-incumbency factor plays a crucial role in defeat in the general elections,” said Subedi, who has been following left politics for decades. “Many leaders close to the party leadership, most of them from UML and also the Congress and Maoist Centre, have lost in the polls.”
Secretary of CPN (Unified Socialist) Ram Kumari Jhakri was defeated by UML secretary Bista in Gulmi-2. The party spokesperson, Jagannath Khatiwada, as well as Birodh Khatiwada, a former minister from the same party, were also defeated. Incumbent minister Jeevan Ram Shrestha lost the election from Kathmandu-8.
Meanwhile, Jhalanath Khanal, a former prime minister and senior leader of CPN (Unified Socialist), is trailing UML’s Mahesh Basnet in Ilam-1.
Cautioning against generalisations, political observers say that by rejecting several such leaders, voters have delivered a strong message.
“It won’t be accurate to generalise, but many leaders who seemed close to their party leaderships have been defeated by the people,” said Shyam Shrestha, a civil society leader who is considered close to the Maoist Centre.
The number of victorious leaders who are close to their respective party leaderships isn’t significantly large.
Chairman of Janata Samajbadi Party Upendra Yadav himself was defeated by Janamat Party chair CK Raut by a huge margin in Saptari-2.
In Rastriya Janamorcha, among the two candidates contesting the polls, Durga Poudel, who is also the spouse of party’s top leader Mohan Bikram Singh, was defeated by UML’s Surya Thapa. Poudel was elected from the same constituency in 2017, while Thapa was contesting the parliamentary polls for the first time.
According to Shrestha, people voted out most of their close aides but didn’t vote out the top leaders, except Upendra Yadav. “It’s a trend that shows that people are extremely dissatisfied with the party leaders,” said Shrestha. “The trend shows that voters wanted to warn top party leaders to correct themselves.”
In Nepali Congress, some leaders close to the party leadership, including former deputy speaker Pushpa Bhusal and state minister for Prime Minister’s Office Umesh Shrestha, were defeated. Former deputy Speaker and recent chief whip, Chitra Lekha Yadav, and Sujata Koirala were also defeated.
As of Saturday evening, party leader Bijay Kumar Gachhadhar was trailing behind UML’s Bhagawati Chaudhari and RSP’s Kamal Babu Mainali in Sunsari-3, languishing in the third position.