Seats of power
For the Nepali Congress (NC), it is beginning to look like winning the election was the easy part. It is getting more difficult to agree on a power sharing deal with coalition members who fared badly in the polls.
Up for grabs is not just who gets to be minister in the next government, but also the positions of president, chief justice and other constitutional bodies.
Nepalis who cast their votes for change are already dismayed that this is reeking like politics as usual, with familiar backroom wheeling dealing and horse-trading.
With 10,560,082 valid Proportional Representation (PR) votes counted, the UML came first with over 2.8 million popular votes, while the NC got 2.7 million votes. The Maoists and the new Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) came third and fourth respectively with over 1.1 million votes each. The royal-right RPP, and the Tarai-based JSP and Janamat have also received enough votes to get PR seats.
Only seven political parties will be recognised as national parties in the House, with coalition members CPN-Unified Socialists and LSP failing to cross the 3% vote threshold.
Since neither the coalition nor the opposition have a clear majority of 138 in Parliament, hectic negotiations on government formation and appointing constitutional heads have been going on.
For now, the 4-party coalition that carried into both the local and general election seems to have held, but everything is up in the air, and no permutation or combination is being ruled out.
On Monday, coalition leaders decided to keep the alliance, although there were grumblings from Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal that alliance partners did not ‘transfer’ votes to his party as they were supposed to.
Smaller Tarai-based parties like the LSP, Nagarik Unmukti and Janamat are also negotiating with the coalition. This would give the coalition a total of 136 seats which is two seats short. There is still the possibility that the JSP, which was allied with the UML, will defect to the coalition.
Although the alternative RSP has kept its options open, joining the reviled big parties would be against everything it has stood for. It is more likely that the JSP and the Janamat will be courted by the coalition.
“CK Raut may take his Janamat into government because it would help him break into the mainstream which is something he has always wanted,” says political analyst Indra Adhikari.
But amid discourse about party alliances and government formation, there are questions as to why it is difficult for parties to achieve a simple majority during elections.
Most recently, in 2013, the NC and UML, which were the two largest parties in Parliament, formed an alliance after either party failed to obtain a majority in the polls. In 2017, UML and Maoist Centre merged after the election to become a large leftist alliance.
“Our constitutional arrangement doesn’t allow for any one party to come into a majority,” adds Adhikari. “Since our socio-political structure has historically favoured the elite and the influence and political access is limited, power rarely changes hands.”
Furthermore, she adds, the PR system which was supposed to reserve 40% of parliamentary seats for excluded groups lessens the possibility of any one party obtaining a majority.
What the alternative RSP decides will be important, even as the rightwing RPP says it wants to stay in the opposition. The two parties may look different, but both have an anti-federalist stance. RSP leader Rabi Lamichhane refused to cast his ballot for the provincial assembly on 20 November.
Arnico Panday told Nepali Times : “We got a lot of votes because people had high hopes that we would do something. Next time, we will get votes because we will have shown that we get things done.”
Only nine out of 225 women who stood for direct elections won seats this time, slightly up from seven women during the last election. Bidya Bhattarai of UML was re-elected in Kaski -2, and young RSP candidates Sobita Gautam and Toshima Karki defeated popular mainstream candidates in Kathmandu-2 and Lalitpur-3. Remaining female MPs will be chosen through the PR closed list to fulfil the 33% parliamentary participation quota.
Out of the 225 women, only 25 candidates were fielded by Nepal’s mainstream parties, lending credence to the fact that the political leadership tends to overlook women while fielding candidates for competitive positions.
“Women are seen to be less capable in winning elections because they cannot raise campaign funding, do not have connections to big businesses or political contractors,” explains Adhikari.
She adds: “Moreover, some of Nepal’s notable female politicians— who could win if they contested direct elections— would rather be elected through the PR system because that guarantees them a seat in parliament as opposed to the possibility of spending money and losing in direct elections.”
For now, the coalition partners appear to have been spooked by the strong showing of the RSP and the poor performance of the Maoist and Unified Socialists.
But it does not look like they have got the message of voters, or mended their ways. Prime Minister Deuba and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal are already haggling over which of the two gets to be PM first under their secret pre-election seat-sharing deal.