Nepal Polls: Opportunism overtakes Ideologies
Political activity is gaining momentum in Nepal as November 20 elections to Federal Parliament and all the seven provincial legislatures draw closer. Filing of nominations for the 165 First Past the Post (FPTP) seats in the 275- member House of Representatives, the Lower House of bi-cameral Parliament is over. Remaining 110 seats will be decided on proportional representation basis, for which political parties have already presented the list of their candidates to the poll body. The state assemblies account for 330 seats in al?.
Prominent leaders of all political parties from the ruling as well as opposition alliances had rushed to enter the fray on October 9, the last day for nominations as the Election Commission did not accept their demand for extending the date because of Dashain festival.
Significant changes have taken place on the political theatre when compared to the first general election held five years ago in 2017. Firstly, the ruling as well as the Opposition mainstream parties have formed two distinct alliances unlike the last time when every party went solo. Hardly any seat sharing arrangement was there then. In fact, whatever little tie-ups existed did not work at the hustings. The scene is different now.
After much haggling, brinkmanship politics and public display of frayed tempers for over a month, the ruling alliance reached an understanding on seat sharing but not before one of its constituents, Janta Samajwadi Party, JSP, walked out piqued over its seat share.
The JSP has since joined hands with its ideological opponent CPN (UML) -led alliance. Another party, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, LSP, hobnobbed for an electoral alliance with the Communists, giving a go-by to its ideology, but when chips were down, closed ranks with the ruling alliance.
JSP and LSP are Terai based Madhesi parties. Both, like most other Terai parties, have lost much of their raison d’etre, and will have to struggle hard at the hustings. JSP has 17 seats while LSP has 14 in the outgoing Parliament. How they will fare at the ballot box is difficult to crystal gaze. More so as the two parties are hit by infighting. Their track record particularly their inability to secure constitutional guarantees for the Jan Jatis over the past five years will have a bearing on their show.
The Five-party ruling alliance- led by the Nepali Congress of Prime Minister Deuba includes CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist), Rastriya Jana Morcha and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. The main opposition, CPN (UML) has forged an electoral alliance with the Janata Samajbadi Party that has switched sides just before nominations closed. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and some fringe parties will try to restrain Nepali Congress from garnering majority vote in the Terai region which is a pollster’s delight. The region accounts for nearly 54 percent of country’s population but consists of only 23 percent of total land area providing concentration of voters in booming cities and large hamlets alike and thus making campaigning and mass contacts easy.
Both NC and the UML are concentrating on Terai to garner as many seats as possible since Madhes parties are a divided lot. This is significant because neither is confident of securing a majority on their own. People are disgusted with their performance in running the affairs of the nation. Further, the inner party as well as intra party trust deficit among alliance partners may seriously impact the final show. Compounding their miseries are rebels who have entered the fray as independents to play spoils sport especially in the battle for the assemblies.
Now cut to the 2017 elections. The UML had entered the fray in alliance with the Maoist Centre led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “Prachanda”. And they bagged almost two- third majority in Parliament and wrested six of the seven provinces. Both merged to form Nepal Communist Party, NCP, but the Supreme Court annulled their merger a year later in 2018, reviving the UML and the Maoist Centre. The UML soon suffered a jolt with party senior and former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal walking out to float his own CPN (United Socialist). Madhav is now in the NC-led alliance though, as a Left leader, he had all along opposed the Congress. Ideology stands sacrificed at the altar of opportune politics.
With winnability as the sole criteria, all major stake holders’ have stuck alliances of convenience. Frankly this is not a sudden development. Opportunism, not ideology, has been the bane of politics in the Himalayan nation for quite some time. It has become pronounced on the election eve though.
If the outcome of the local elections held five months ago in May is taken as a bench mark, the Nepali Congress seems to have an edge. In the outgoing parliament, the grand old party had 63 seats, but it outweighed the 2017 local election front runner, UML winning 329 of the 753 Mayor posts at stake, up from 266 it had won five years ago. UML suffered a drubbing and settled for 206 Mayor seats, down from 294 held earlier, while the Maoist Centre of Prachanda fared no better winning just 121 Mayor seats. Another Left party, the Unified Socialist of Madhav Nepal struggled hard to bag just 20 seats. Now Prachanda and Madhav are trying to consolidate the Left vote, and are working overtime to checkmate the hardline Communist big brother, the UML, which does not hide its tilt towards China.
In the fray are as many as 2,412 first-past-the-post candidates from 62 political parties and independent aspirants. Besides the old horses there are many smaller parties like Rastriya Swatantra Party, Sajha Party Nepal, Bibeksheel Sajha Party, CK Raut-led Janamat Party and Hamro Nepali Party which are trying their fortunes at the ballot box. Amongst the new bees is Rabi Lamichhane, a former television personality who had set a Guinness world record by hosting the longest-ever marathon television talk show in April 2013, He has fielded professionals mostly om the ticket of Rastriya Swatantra Party (National Independent Party).
As of now, local issues appear to dominate the electoral discourse. Resolving citizenship-related issues and farmers’ problems, frontal attack on corruption, more jobs and proper implementation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution are the talking points. New issues may crop up as the poll date nears, and campaigning picks up.
The nationalist rhetoric, which is usually mounted in every election is missing this time. Instead there is much mudslinging and the two alliances accusing each other of nepotism, corruption, misgovernance and erosion of democratic values. ###.
—–*The writer is a senior broadcast journalist based in New Delhi
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