Back to the future

The last time there was a Parliament in Nepal as hung as this one after an election, it was back in 1994.

As the last ballots of the 20 November elections are counted none of the parties have reached the magic 138 necessary to form a government in the 275-member House of Representatives (165 directly elected, and 110 chosen by the political parties in proportion to the votes they get).

The Nepali Congress (NC) and the UML are first and second in the direct count. And in the proportional representation ballot, the UML is first and NC second.

The NC or the UML will need the Maoist Centre, the independent RSP, or the royal-right RPP to form the next government.

The two big parties can add other smaller parties, but the more members of a coalition there are, the more complicated it will be to satisfy everyone to form a government.

And we have seen from the past that could be the source of an unstable government. In midterm elections in 1994, the the UML got 88 seats and the NC 83 — leading to a period of fluid politics in which the UML allied with Lokendra Bahadur Chand and the NC with Surya Bahadur Thapa, making the two Panchayat-era figures prime ministers.

Not only did this begin an era of dirty politics, but also squandered the gains of the 1990 People’s Movement. There is a lesson from that for 2022: don’t take the support of fringe parties just to be prime minister.

It is also an insult to the popular mandate. After all, why try to be the first or second party if that does not count? Just adding up seats for a technical majority without a specific ideology or program is to let the people down. Such a coalition will not fulfil voters’ desire for development and prosperity.

The Maoists have shrunk to only 17 directly elected seats from 36 seats in 2017, and 120 seats in 2008. In fact, the Maoists have about the same strength as the RSP, the independent party set up only six months ago, in the proportional representation vote.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal does not have the public mandate to be prime minister, as he confidently declared before the polls. He is not even eligible to lead his Maoist party, which is not kingmaker anymore.

Other parties have bitten the dust. Mahant Thakur’s LSP couldn’t even get 3% of the votes, and will lose its national party status. Madhav Nepal’s Unified Socialist is desperately trying to stay afloat.

Former separatist C K Raut’s Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party of Resham Chaudhary (who is still in jail for the Tikapur Massacre in 2015) have shown gains. The JSP is doing better because of its electoral alliance with the UML, even though its leader Upendra Yadav lost his seat.

In the 2013 Constituent Assembly polls, the NC got 105 seats and the UML 91. At that time, the two biggest parties united to form a joint government under Sushil Koirala which promulgated the Constitution two years later.

In this election, the NC and UML combined have more than half the 9.4 million proportional representation ballots. Most Nepalis are therefore still with these two big parties.

There is precedent from 2013 for the NC and the UML to form a government, they would just have to let bygones be bygones. This would be the most stable tie-up ensuring much-delayed development, and that is the message voters have delivered in this election.

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