3-9 November 2017 #882

In a maze

The elections should usher in an era of stability, reform and inclusiveness, but the fact that most of the same personalities from 20 years ago are in the fray does not arouse much hope.
Kunda Dixit

Subhas Rai

Nepal’s electoral politics was thrown off-kilter by the surprise alliance between the Maoist-Centre and the UML. The aftershocks are still being felt with only three weeks to go for voting, and as candidates filed their nominations for the second phase on Thursday.

Provincial and parliamentary elections on 26 November and 7 December will be a milestone in more ways than one: it is the first election under the new federal constitution and marks the end of the peace process that began after the ceasefire in 2006. It should usher in an era of stability, reform and inclusiveness, but the fact that most of the same personalities from 20 years ago are in the fray, including politicians who have been ministers and prime ministers multiple times, does not arouse much hope. In many areas, tainted candidates with questionable, and even criminal, backgrounds have been nominated.

The NC was caught off-guard by the UML-Maoist alliance, and its main intention now is to stop the UML from gaining a majority in the new parliament. But its strategy of allying with the RPP and the RJPN frayed as senior party members fought bruising battles for candidacies. There was a tussle between whether the NC’s Krishna Sitaula or the RPP’s Rajendra Lingden stand from Jhapa. The NC’s Bimalendra Nidhi also fought it out with Rajendra Mahato from the same Province 2 constituency. The NC’s strategy of allying with the RPP (even while the Maoists are still in government while partnering with the opposition) has led to the biggest government in Nepal’s history with 64 ministers.

The left alliance has been able to sort out its ticket distribution relatively smoothly. The UML thinks it can build on its success in local elections by riding the same nationalist platform, and is aiming for a two-thirds majority with help from the Maoists. But that is unlikely because of the arithmetic of proportional representation in the new House. The Maoist-Centre, which was the third largest party in the previous Parliament faced the risk of being decimated this time, and saved itself by ensuring the 60:40 formula with the UML.

In Kathmandu-1 constituency, it will be a test run on 7 December for the new alternative Sajha-Bibeksheel’s Rabindra Mishra as he battles the NC’s, Prakash Man Singh. It will be a barometer of how much of a dent the new anti-corruption party can make on the traditional mainstream entity. Sajha-Bibekjsheel has made a splash on social media, and Mishra has been busy in door-to-door canvassing, but we will have to see if he has the heft to challenge the structure of the established NC.

The other duel to watch out for is Baburam Bhattarai of the New Force vs Maoist Narayankaji Shrestha in Gorkha. Bhattarai tried to join the left alliance, but quit to ally with the NC to fight in his home constituency.

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