Swing votes

HAPPY HOLIDAYS: Recently done with her exams, Aashika Khadka,16, enjoys a Dasain swing in Kathmandu this week. She is not eligible to vote for another two years. Photo: GOPEN RAI

Federalism might have handed power back to the Nepali people, making way for crucial changes in local-level leadership and driving grassroots development. But Nepal’s mainstream politics in the last five years has been defined primarily by infighting within parties, their mergers and splits.

In 2018, KP Oli’s CPN-UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Maoist Centre merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) after a successful electoral alliance during the country’s first federal elections. The ensuing power struggle between them split their party.

This ushered in an era of break-up and make-up politics. Madhav Kumar Nepal broke away from Oli to form the CPN (Unified Socialists). Next, Mahanta Thakur cut ties with the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) to form the Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP).

Five-time prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC) joined forces with former nemesis Dahal, Nepal, Yadav and Bhattarai to form a coalition government, which is carrying over to an electoral alliance at all three levels of elections in November.

The mergers and splits did not stop there. After the May local elections, Baburam Bhattarai split from the JSP to form the Naya Samajwadi Party (NSP) joining hands with former comrade-in-arms Dahal to contest the upcoming election under the Maoist’s election banner.

And this week, Rabindra Mishra, who had stepped down as the chair of  Bibeksheel Sajha following dismal local poll results, resigned from the party altogether to ‘form a moderate conservative nationalist force’. On Wednesday, Mishra, who was once known for progressive politics, joined the right-wing RastriyaPrajatantra Party (RPP).The opposition UML had formed an alliance with the RPP and the LSP to contest the November polls.

Read also: Rule of the lawless, Editorial

Parties with diametrically opposing ideologies are getting together, proving that dogma and party creed are as fickle as political alliances.

The coalition and opposition parties are finalisingtheir election candidates with complicated seat-sharing deals. The closed list of proportional representation (PR) candidates include high-profile names from former ministers and spouses of top leaders from the NC and the Maoists, leading to dissent from within party ranks.

NC leader Shekhar Koirala has been turning the heat on PM Deuba to modify the PR list to ensure that the Koirala-Gagan Thapa faction accounts for 40% of the candidates. The closed list only has 13 members from the faction as of now. Koirala has warned that his supporters will not vote for coalition candidates if they are not represented.

In the far-western districts of Doti and Baitadi, regional chapters and leaders of the NC have rejected the electoral alliance that would give away their constituency to the Maoists. This is a repeat of what happened in the mayoral race in Bharatpur in May.

In Dhankuta the Maoists had to give up seats for the UML candidate in 2017 elections, and this time for a coalition candidate. So, Maoist Politburo member Hemraj Bhandari and other cadres resignaed in protest and will contest the election as independents.

PM Deuba’s priority is to appease the electoral alliance, and he thinks he can  mend the rift within his own party later. The great mystery is why Deuba thinks the MC and the CPN (US) are more important for his future than popular leaders from his own NC.

The answer probably lies in his own ambition to be prime minister for a sixth time, and the lack of confidence that the NC alone cannot get a majority in November.

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As for the Maoists, the electoral partnership has ensured Dahal’s standing in national politics. He has once again joined hands with Bhattarai, the Maoist ideologue whom he had vilified, and said he will not break the coalition.

However, it will surprise no one if Dahal once more takes up with the UML if Oli promises him more seats like he did in 2017.

Widespread dissatisfaction brought about an exodus of leaders who ran the election independently in May. It also gave rise to independent candidates like Balen Shah and Harka Sampang. Nepalis voted in droves for them, sending a clear message to Nepal’s ageing, out-of-touch establishment.

This has encouraged more people from outside the political sphere to vie for the elections— some of whom have formed a collective, The Rastriya Swatantra Party, to contest the election under one symbol. They include party founder and former tv personality Rabi Lamichhane, climate scientist Arniko Panday, and former Bibeksheel leader Pukar Bam.

There is a risk in all this of a rise in populist candidates fanning their agenda through social networking platforms to cash in on growing public disenchantment with traditional politics.

If Nepal’s top leadership do not mend their ways, it will only serve to boost leaders like Shah, who bulldoze through due process as he has done by whipping up public frenzy over the Tukucha excavation in Kathmandu.

It is a signal of how dangerous populism is that even the established candidates are not speaking out against Mayor Balen because of fears of a political backlash at election time.

Read also: Rise of the independents, Editorial

Shristi Karki


Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.