Voters cynical about electoral alliances
As Nepal enters the last lap in federal and provincial races, candidates and their cadres seem more excited than voters. Across the Inner Tarai here and in the plains bordering India, voters are disillusioned and indifferent about the polls.
First off, most people we talked to said they did not want to vote for the same old candidates they elected five years ago, and have been around for the past two decades. Moreover, there is confusion about which candidate is representing which party, and who is loyal to whom, because the coalition is made up of parties with diametrically opposing ideologies.
With such unholy alliances, Hetuada’s UML voters are now being asked to cast ballots in favour of a candidate batting for a return of the Hindu monarchy. Nepali Congress (NC) supporters have been told to vote for Maoist candidates, some of whom tortured and killed people during the conflict.
Voters have given up trying to fathom why political parties and candidates who fought and suffered for the establishment of a secular, federal Nepal now cross over to those want to scrap those provisions. Individuals contesting the elections as independents because they did not get party tickets have muddied the waters even more.
Except for die-hard party supporters, the electorate understands that the elections are not about principles or resolving everyday problems any more, but propelling the same old leaders back to power.
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“The NC is likely to get a good number of seats in Madhes Province, but independents have a strong chance in some constituencies,” predicts Govinda Devkota of Narayani Samudayik FM in Birganj, who thinks the JSP partnership with the NC could garner 10-12 seats with the UML-LSP alliance and Unified Socialists trailing.
The dominant trend is that Madhes-based parties like the JSP and LSP have lost their lustre, and the established national parties like the NC, UML and Maoists now hold sway over the Madhes vote through their alliances. Still, among younger voters there is visible discontent against both Madhes-based parties and the national parties, and they are fed up of electing the same underperforming and corrupt leaders again and again.
“During the Madhes Movement (of 2015) many people here were killed but their sacrifice got us nothing. Only the leaders and political parties are reaping the benefits all in the name of Madhes,” says Munna Saraaf, a youth activist and actor in Birganj.
Saraaf has been travelling to Ilam, Kohalpur and several other places performing on stage to raise awareness about voting the right candidates to power, and is also vocal about extravagant campaign spending which could make the Madhes a hotbed for corruption.
“There are no new educational organisations, employment opportunities, projects or industries where the youth can be involved productively. It was better during the king’s time. But we must change that and cast our votes for competent candidates,” he adds.
The coveted Parsa constituency has Pradeep Yadav, the former minister from JSP contesting against the governing coalition’s Laxman Lal Karna of LSP, and the rebel independent candidate who defected from the NC, Ajay Dwivedi.
“Pradeep Yadav won five years ago but his voters are not happy with his performance. Karna, does not have the leadership qualities. Therefore voters may end up supporting the independent Dwivedi,” says Gobinda Devkota.
The participation of women candidates is even less in the Tarai than the already low national average. In Parsa district, only Karima Begum who is contesting as an independent and the JSP’s Salma Khatun have a significant presence. “The others are neither heard nor seen,” says Sushma Sharma a reporter with Prateek Daily in Birganj.
But the 2022 Nepal election is defined by electoral coalitions regardless of party ideology or dogma. Anjali Thapa, president of Press Center Makwanpur in Hetauda says: “The campaigning methods and the agenda in this year’s election are very different. Both the ruling coalition and the opposition have formed alliances to win.”
For example, Kamal Thapa of the RPP-N is contesting under the UML’s ‘Sun’ symbol. Pitted against him is Mahalaxmi Upadhyaya (Dina) from the governing coalition who is expected to gather votes from both the Maoists, NC and the US. Even so, some NC supporters who do not agree with the alliance with the Maoists could go over to Kamal Thapa’s side, while other UML dissidents may not support a candidate they regard as an oppressor of the people.
All this points to a mixed outcome which could lead to further instability and horse-trading post elections. At the end of the day, all most voters want are competent and honest leaders who provide jobs, better infrastructure and affordable education and medical facilities. They could not care less about alliances.
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