The pre-poll alliances, once again, threw up for debate the idiosyncrasies of Nepali political parties.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
In almost all democracies across the world (except for those with a two-party system), political parties forge pre-election alliances, which occur when two or more political parties agree not to field candidates against each other. Rather, the allied parties divide up the seats so as to field just one candidate from the alliance in each constituency. Ideally, such electoral alliances are formed between 'like-minded' parties and consolidate multiple parties’ supporters behind a single candidate, maximizing the likelihood of the alliance candidates' victory.
Electoral alliances were formed on the eve of the first phase of local polls held recently after a hiatus of almost two decades. However, these alliances forged for the local polls held on May 14 were very strange and bizarre, to say the least. The pre-poll alliances, once again, threw up for debate the idiosyncrasies of Nepali political parties, especially the four major parties - Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP).
While a pre-poll alliance between the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (Maoist Centre) sparked dissatisfaction within parties, especially in the NC, the tie-up between the CPN-UML and the RPP, too, raised many eyebrows.
As far as the NC-Maoist poll alliance is concerned, especially in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Bharatpur, nepotism ruled the roost while fielding the candidates.
In Kathmandu, NC fielded Rajuraj Joshi as its mayoral candidate. Joshi is the elder brother of Minister for Industry, Nabindra Raj Joshi. Similarly, Ramjee Kunwar, NC’s mayoral candidate in Pokhara is the brother-in-law of NC leader Arjun Narsingh KC. In Bharatpur, the Maoist Centre fielded Renu Dahal, daughter of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, as the mayoral candidate.
As per their understanding, the NC withdrew its mayoral candidate from Bharatpur and decided to support Renu Dahal. Dinesh Koirala, NC’s mayoral candidate for Bharatpur, earlier had refused to withdraw his candidacy. But NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba wrote to the District Election Office, Chitwan, stating that Koirala's candidacy “had been withdrawn”. In return, the Maoist Center decided to support NC's mayoral candidates in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
As the election results have proved it, the voters didn't like such bizarre alliances. Nepali Congress voters, it seems, couldn't forget the fact that the Maoists had killed some 5,000 NC cadres and supporters across the country during their decade-long armed insurgency. At the time of writing this article, NC's mayoral candidate in Pokhara has been defeated by the UML's candidate. Similarly, NC lost the mayoral election in Kathmandu though its deputy mayoral candidate won the election. In Lalitpur Metropolitan City, where there was no alliance between NC and Maoist Centre, NC's mayoral candidate Chiribabu Maharjan has won the election.
In Chitwan, Maoist Centre's mayoral candidate Renu Dahal looks headed for a defeat, despite NC's backing, while NC's deputy mayor candidate looks certain to win.
When it comes to the opposition forces, UML and RPP’s decision to join hands came as a surprise for many. The RPP and the UML have forged an alliance in Kathmandu and Lalitpur where they have divided mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates. The UML which claims to be a champion of republicanism and secularism, and the RPP which still supports constitutional monarchy and a Hindu state, forged electoral alliances in many local units as well.
Observers say the way the parties have forged alliances for the polls shows they were more concerned about securing victory rather than working on development agendas. Pointing to nepotism in the NC and Maoist Centre, they say the alliance between the UML and RPP looks quite unnatural as they are poles apart when it comes to the ideologies they preach.
Nevertheless, observers have taken the successful holding of the first phase of local polls in provinces 3, 4 and 6 as a major achievement of the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal who resigned from his post on May 24, honouring a power-sharing deal reached with the NC before his election as the 39th Prime Minister of the country. Much like the first phase, uncertainty looms large over the second phase of local polls slated for June 14 in provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 because of the threat to not only boycott but also disrupt the polls by Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), formed after the merger of six Madhes-based parties.
As of the writing of this article, RJPN was adamant on its demands to amend the constitution and increase the number of local units in Tarai-Madhes to participate in the second phase of local polls. An interim order by the Supreme Court on May 26 has not only halted the government's decision to add 22 new local units in Tara-Madhes but also effectively ended the possibility of doing so before June 14, the date for the second phase local polls. Similarly, amending the constitution before June 14, too, doesn't look possible.
RJPN should understand these facts and get ready to participate in the polls because the people in Madhes are eager to participate in the election which is taking place after a hiatus of almost two decades. The party only stands to lose if it decides not to participate in the polls because other Madhes-based parties such as Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Forum Nepal and Bijay Gachchhadar-led Nepal Democratic Forum have already decided to take part in the elections.
So, the ball is now in RJPN's court.