RSP and RPP chip away at Madhesh parties’ bargaining powerParties like Janata Samajbadi and Loktantrik Samajbadi find themselves ignored in power-sharing negotiations.
The newcomer Rastriya Swatantra Party’s unexpected success and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s impressive comeback in the November elections have sharply curtailed the Madhesh-based parties’ bargaining power in ongoing power-sharing negotiations. Among the Madhesh-based parties, so far only the Janamat Party has joined the government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and it too is not happy with its share in the Cabinet.
Janamat Party chair CK Raut’s public statements, including his speech at a parliamentary meeting, also suggests that the regional parties feel ignored in power-sharing.
Addressing the lower house on Thursday, Raut questioned the type of national consensus the government was seeking by keeping Madhesh-based parties out, and stressed the need for including various ethnic-based groups in governance.
While Raut’s party has joined the Dahal-led Cabinet, two other traditional Madhesh-based parties are yet to come on board. The Janata Samajbadi Party has said it will join the government only if it is given the post of Vice-president, and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, which was haggling for ministries until recently, has joined the Congress-led opposition camp. Loktantrik Samajbadi voted against the UML’s Speaker candidate during a parliamentary vote on Thursday.
“The attitude and behaviour of the government to Madhesh-based parties, particularly the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, was not right,” complained Keshav Jha, a Loktantrik Samajbadi leader.
According to Sohan Sha, a Madhesh observer, even though some Madhesh-based parties have joined the government at the centre and in provinces, they are disenchanted and highly sceptical as there is no guarantee of the sustainability of the current ruling alliance.
The situation in the past was different. Madhesh-based parties held key Cabinet positions in almost all governments in recent years.
Since the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, they have been an integral part of the central government. It was with the backing of new Madhesh-based parties that the Maoists formed the government in 2008. They almost replaced the traditional parties in Madhesh after 2008, by winning 87 seats.
By 2013, they had witnessed multiple splits. But in the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, Madhesh-based parties were limited to 12 federal seats. Then, in 2017, major Madhesh-based parties jointly contested elections jointly to win 34 seats in total. Now, they have only 23 seats in the federal parliament—the Janata Samajbadi Party’s 12, Janamat Party’s six, and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party’s five seats.
After the 2017 elections, both the Oli-led and Deuba-led Cabinets included Madheshi outfits, giving them key Cabinet positions. But, in the last November’s elections, they fared poorly and have markedly lost their influence in power-sharing negotiations. The emergence of the new Rastriya Swatantra Party and a strong comeback of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party are key reasons for this, say political experts. The pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party that won just one parliamentary seat in 2017, bagged 14 seats in the elections last November.
Chandra Kishore, a political commentator, said Madhesh-based parties have been gradually losing their bargaining power since 2008. “And, with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party emerging powerful in recent elections, they also got major ministries,” he said.
However, the Rastriya Swatantra Party and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party didn’t win more seats due to the weakening of the Madhesh-based parties. In Madhesh, the Congress and the UML performed better in the latest elections. “But Madhesh-based parties have lost their bargaining power in the number game in parliament owing to their poor electoral showing,” he added.
Sha, the Madhesh observer, thinks Madhesh parties would have more bargaining power if there was a clear polarisation between the ruling and opposition alliances in parliament.
But Prime Minister Dahal passed the floor test on January 10 with a thumping majority with even the main opposition Nepali Congress voting in his favour. “Now the situation is such that every party in parliament is willing to join the government for power. And since the Madhesh-based parties have fewer seats, they have become largely insignificant in the power-sharing talks,” said Sha.
The new Janamat Party won six seats in its first attempt at parliamentary elections and became a national party. Now, it has joined the Dahal-led cabinet with one ministry—the Ministry of Water Supply. The party is insisting on one more, either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Industry.
The other two Madhesh-based parties performed poorly in the recent elections and lost their bargaining power, said Jha, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leader, echoing Kishore and Sha.
But that is not all, said Jha. “The large parties think if they can achieve a majority by including like-minded parties of yes-men, they need not bother pleasing parties with regional bases that have been raising difficult demands. Why bring in rebels?” Jha told the Post.