Maoist and Madhesh-based parties see steep decline in electoral politicsThe parties that emerged as major political forces from the 2006 people’s movement are now losing their appeal.
The Maoist and Madheshi parties emerged as major forces in Nepal’s politics after the People’s Movement II in 2006. Since then, the country has by and large trod on the agenda set by these forces.
The then CPN (Maoist), which fought a 10-year armed insurgency, emerged as the largest party in the first Constituent Assembly elections held in 2008. The party won a total of 220 seats, including 120 from direct and 100 from the proportional electoral system. Another emergent party, the erstwhile Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, born out of the Madhesh movement in 2006, got 52 seats in the 601-member Assembly. Another Madhesh-based party—the erstwhile Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party—secured 20 seats, becoming the fifth-largest party in the Parliament. Yet another Madhesh-based outfit, the Sadbhawana Party, won nine seats.
One and a half decades down the line, both the Maoist and Madhesh-based forces have become a shell of their former self, witnessing, as political analysts reckon, a terminal decline.
By Saturday evening, the CPN (Maoist Centre) had won just 17 constituencies in the recently-held general elections as vote count nears end. So far, the results of 161 constituencies out of 165 under the first-past-the-post electoral system are already out.
A five-party alliance comprising the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha had allocated the former rebels 47 constituencies to contest elections.
Some of the top Maoist Centre leaders lost the elections, including general secretary Dev Prasad Gurung, Energy Minister Pampha Bhusal and former Speaker at the House of Representatives Onsari Gharti.
Under the proportional representation system, the party has secured just over 1.16 million votes, the third-highest, until Saturday evening. The party trails CPN-UML and Nepali Congress by a large margin. The vote secured by the party stands at 11.15 percent of the total, a drop from 15.45 percent in 2017 elections and nearly 30 percent in 2008. In 2017, the party had secured a total of 17 seats under the proportional category and 36 in the FPTP system.
The electoral performance of the Madhesh-centric political parties is similarly poor. Under the FPTP system, Janata Samajbadi Party, led by Upendra Yadav, has secured seven seats, with the chair himself losing the election. Yadav was routed by CK Raut, chair of the emerging Janamat Party, at Saptari-2. In 2017, the erstwhile Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum led by Yadav had secured 10 seats in the lower house under the FPTP system.
Loktantrik Samajwadi Party led by Mahantha Thakur has secured only four seats under the FPTP. Its senior leader, Rajendra Mahato, lost the election in Sarlahi-2. As of Saturday evening, the party has secured just 1.6 percent of total votes under the PR category. Without an extraordinary rise in votes, the party is unlikely to become a national party, meaning it won’t get any seat under the PR category. Only the parties that receive more than three percent of the total PR votes and wins at least one seat under the FPTP system qualifies as a national party.
Political analysts and leaders attribute the success of the Maoists and Madheshi forces in the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections to their key role in political changes in the country after the 2006 revolution.
“They, however, failed to work as per the people’s mandate and were duly brought to a reckoning in the following elections,” said Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science.
There has been a gradual decline in votes for these parties since the second CA elections in 2013.
The Maoist Party, which emerged as the largest party in 2008, plunged to a distant third in the second CA elections of 2013, securing just 54 seats, a cataclysmic decline from 220 seats in 2008.
The party received just 17 percent votes under proportional system in 2013 CA elections, down from nearly 30 percent in 2008.
The party regained lost ground after it forged an alliance with UML in 2017 by securing as many as 53 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives. But the party’s popular votes went down to 15.45 percent in the 2017 election under a proportional electoral system, despite winning a higher number of seats under the FPTP. Further deterioration in vote shares under the PR system in 2022 suggests the party is losing its ground in Nepali politics.
Likewise, both the number of seats and popular votes of the Madhesh-based parties have plunged since the CA elections 2013. The five Madhesh-centric parties had won just 12 seats under FPTP system, while securing 32 seats under a proportional system, in 2013. This was a far cry from the combined 81 seats in 2008. Popular votes of Madheshi parties under the proportional system was 11.34 percent in 2008 and 9.56 percent in 2013.
In 2017 elections, popular votes under proportional system for two Madhesh-based parties—the erstwhile Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum and Rastriya Janata Party—recovered to some extent to around 11 percent, with the erstwhile Sanghiya Samajwadi trying to expand its organisation in the hill region too. They secured a combined 33 seats in the House of Representatives out of a total 275. It doesn’t appear that they would secure seats that are anywhere near that number in the 2022 elections.
“The latest results for Madheshi parties are really disappointing,” said Keshav Jha, a senior leader of the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. “The Madhesh-based parties joined the government without ensuring that the Madheshi agenda would be addressed. As a result, the Madheshi people punished them in the elections this year.”
Analysts say that even though both Maoists and Madheshi parties have been in power for years, none of them could address the issues impacting people’s lives and they failed to meet their commitments to the people.
“In fact, Maoists and Madheshi forces were successful in 2008 elections because the people regarded them highly for bringing about political changes and the hope they generated,” Baral, the political scientist, said. “As they got engaged in dirty power politics, they lost their mass appeal. That resulted in the hammering they received in the following elections.”
Both the Maoist Centre and one or the other Madhesh-based party have been in power for the most time in the last one and half decades.
UML Chairperson KP Sharma Oli formed the government in 2018 with the backing of the Maoist Centre and Madhesh-based parties. Upendra Yadav, who was then chair of the erstwhile Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal, joined the Oli government as Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister in 2018.
The UML and the Maoist Centre merged to form the Nepal Communist Party in May 2018. As part of a unified party, the Maoists enjoyed power. After the court invalidated the merger in March 2021, Oli formed another government with the help of a faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party led by Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato in June 2021. This government, however, was short-lived after the Supreme Court ordered the President to appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as the Prime Minister in July 2021.
Under Deuba’s leadership, the Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party led by Yadav joined the government. The Election Commission had given the Yadav-led faction the legitimacy of leading the party, which forced the Thakur and Mahato-led faction to register Lokantrik Samajbadi Party.
After Yadav parted ways with the ruling alliance and forged another alliance with UML, Deuba sacked four ministers from Yadav’s party in October this year.
Tula Narayan Shah, an analyst who closely observes Madheshi politics, said the Maoists and Madheshi forces' continued engagement in ‘dirty power politics’ tarnished their image. “People who voted for them in the past either chose the traditional old parties or opted for the new ones this time,” he said. “Now, the Janamat Party has emerged as a clear alternative in Madhesh and the Rastriya Swatantra Party has emerged as an alternative in the hill region.”
Alongside party chair Raut’s overwhelming victory over Yadav, the Janmat Party has already won seven provincial seats. With 3.78 percent of votes secured under the PR category till date, the party is likely to emerge as a national party.
Uddhab Pyakurel, who teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University, says that the Maoists and the Madheshi forces failed to convey the message about their contribution to social transformation that brought the identity of marginalised populations into mainstream political discourse.
“After the political changes, people also had greater expectations from the Maoists and Madheshi forces for the betterment of their lives, but they failed to deliver when they were in power,” said Pyakurel. “Conservative forces of the country also continued to reinforce the narrative that both the Maoists and Madheshi forces are ‘corrupt’ like other traditional parliamentary parties.”
Shah attributes the parties’ downfall to their failure to institutionalise their base at the grassroots levels.
“Repeated splits among the Madheshi forces affected the results of the latest elections,” Shah said. “A campaign launched on a different modality by Raut’s Janamat Party helped it woo the voters and emerge as a new force at the expense of old Madheshi parties.”