The past is foretold in Nepal poll results
Ten days after Nepal held parliamentary and provincial polls, the last of the election results are trickling in.
With ballots in 161 out of 165 constituencies now counted, the NC leads in first past the post (FPTP) with 54 seats, the UML is second with 44, the Maoist Centre is a distant third with 17 seats, followed by Madhav Kumar Nepal’s CPN (Unified Socialists) who have won 10 seats.
Meanwhile, the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which won only 1 seat in 2017, has emerged with 7 wins this time. The Madhes-based Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) — which formed an electoral alliance with the UML at the last minute — has won seven seats overall, while the LSP — which sided with the coalition — has four seats.
Rabi Lamichhane’s new Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) has emerged with seven young MPs, while five independents have also bagged direct seats. Coalition partner Rastriya Janamorcha, former Madhes separatist CK Raut’s Janamat Party, and Nepal Majdur Kisan Party have obtained one seat each. Nagarik Unmukti has won three seats in the western Tarai.
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Nepal’s two biggest political collectives, the five-party coalition led by the NC and opposition UML both fall short of the 138 out of 275 parliamentary seats they need for an outright majority.
While NC leads in the direct elections, the opposition UML is ahead in the proportional representation (PR) ballot count with more than 2.7 million of the over 10 million votes counted. The NC is in second place with more than 2.5 million popular votes, followed by the Maoists with over 1.1million.
Although these numbers may look like the big parties are still in control, the electorate has sent a clear message by elevating the independent RSP as a national party in Parliament with more than 1 million votes. With its 7 change-minded MPs, the RSP will have clout in the federal Parliament — a remarkable feat considering the party was only formed six months ago.
Meanwhile, the JSP has little less than a million PR votes, and CK Raut’s Janamat Party has obtained more than 360,000.
Madhav Nepal’s Unified Socialists which split from K P Oli’s UML, has fared badly in the PR count, and is struggling to stay relevant with under 3% of the threshold required to have PR members in the House.
It is clear from the results so far that neither the coalition, nor the UML-RPP-JSP alliance will have enough seats to form a majority on their own. This means they will have to explore partnerships with multiple fringe parties, making politics even more unstable. At the same time, individual parties also have to deal with internal power struggles between prime ministerial aspirants.
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There were 225 women candidates standing for FPTP seats to the federal Parliament. Only 25 of them got tickets by Nepal’s mainstream parties: 11 from UML, seven from the Maoist Centre, five from NC, and only one each from the Rastriya Janamorcha and the Unified Socialists.
And with results in 161 out of 165 constituencies now in, only nine women have been directly elected to Parliament — four from the UML, two from the independent RSP, and one each from NC, Maoist Center, and Nagarik Unmukti. Young lawyer Sobita Gautam and doctor Toshima Karki were elected from Kathmandu-2 and Lalitpur-3 — both young RSP candidates who defeated established Maoist women Onsari Gharti Magar and Pampha Bhusal.
In 2017, 90 women were voted to Parliament: six women through direct ballots and 84 by popular votes. So far, Bidya Bhattarai is the only female leader to be reelected even though four out of six women elected under the FPTP in 2017 were given tickets by their parties. Padma Kumari Aryal of the UML ran from Syangja-2, where vote counting is stalled.
Nepal’s top leadership has historically denied female leaders tickets to contest direct elections, preferring to fulfil the 33% Constitutional quota by nominating women through the PR list. Women who became MPs through PR proportional complain that they are seen by their directly elected male colleagues as underqualified and less deserving.
‘Parties were reluctant to give tickets to women because they thought they would lose, yet youngsters like Sobita Gautam and Toshima Karki have proven that women win when they run for office,’ noted former Election Commissioner Ila Sharma.
Meanwhile, Nepal’s excluded communities have been pushed out further in this election. Both the mainstream parties and the independent RSP fielded few candidates from marginalised and indigenous communities. Glaringly, no mainstream party fielded Dalit candidates for direct elections this time.
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Looking for Partners
Even before final results are in, Nepal’s top political leaders are in talks to switch partners and explore new alliances to find a majority in Parliament.
PM Deuba has met with Dahal and Madhav Nepal, Dahal and Oli have also sent feelers to each other. Before polls, Deuba and Dahal had agreed to rotate premiership, but that was before the poor showing by the Maoists.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants to continue his Maoists' alliance with NC to fulfil his ambition to be prime minister for a third time. But other leaders within his party see more advantage in a left alliance with the UML.
Deuba also faces challengers to a sixth tenure as premier from within his own party: Ram Chandra Poudel and Gagan Thapa think it is time for him to step aside. Thapa says he is now preparing for Parliamentary Party elections and is supported by other NC leaders like Bishwa Prakash Sharma and young turk Pradip Poudel, who defeated established UML leader Ishwar Pokhrel from Kathmandu.
A NC-Maoist-RPP partnership or an UML-RPP alliance with the RSP are possibilities. However, an NC-UML alliance happened in 2013 and is also possible.
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Depending on Independents
Rabi Lamichhane and six other RSP candidates have won direct elections to become MPs. Five other individual independents have also won the election.
While having these fresh faces in the political arena is seen by many as positive, it remains to be seen how younger candidates will fare as kingmakers while they navigate coalition horse-trading in the coming days. Since neither the NC nor the UML will have enough seats to command a majority in the House, they will need support from the RPP, RSP as well as independent candidates.
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Big Leaders, Small Parties
While the election has been advantageous for up and coming parties like the RSP and the newly revived RPP, Nepal’s established leaders of smaller parties faced losses.
The Maoist Centre, which enjoyed an advantage during the May local election through its alliance with the NC, has now shrunk from 36 parliament seats to 17.
Madhav Kumar Nepal’s party cannot be sure if it will have enough PR votes to become a national party in Parliament. Chitra Bahadur KC of Rastriya Janamorcha, has been elected, but his party has negligible popular votes.
Kamal Thapa of the breakaway RPP-Nepal was defeated by RPP candidate Deepak Bahadur Singh in Makwanpur-1 even though he ran under the UML banner. His party has fared similarly poorly in the PR votes.
The LSP has already lost its national party status, although party leader Mahanta Thakur was elected. The JSP, meanwhile, will get PR seats, even though its leader Upendra Yadav was defeated by Janamat’s CK Raut in his Tarai constituency.
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