A loudspeaker cut through the early morning silence in Chandragiri Municipality on Wednesday as a pickup bounced along an alley, blaring election slogans. With less than a fortnight to go, there is sound and fury as campaigning gets into high gear for the 13 May local elections.
But there is also consternation in the ruling 5-party coalition because many local cadre are dissatisfied with the way the party brass has chosen common candidates. Some 40% of candidates from Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress (NC), for example, are defying the party edict and standing as rebels.
An electoral alliance between the NC, Maoists, the Unified Socialists and JSP have running mates for mayors and deputy mayors, as well as municipality chairs and vice-chairs from a combination of parties. This has left many local politicians disgruntled, with some even threatening to break away and run as independents.
Matters have come to a head in the all-important Pokhara and Bharatpur Municpalities. The former president of NC Pokhara, Bimal Bahadur Karki is contesting as an independent candidate after his party’s decision to give the mayoral ticket to Dhanraj Acharya of the Unified Socialists.
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“I will not be withdrawing my candidacy under any circumstance,” says Karki who has accused Prime Minister Deuba of offering Pokhara on a platter to the Communists. The coalition members are also facing public wrath for giving tickets to family or close cronies with money, and not to capable and popular local leaders.
In the 2017 local polls, the Maoists tore up ballot papers and forced the NC to withdraw its mayor candidate in favour of Renu Dahal, the daughter of Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The NC’s powerful leaders in Chitwan are determined not to let that happen again, even though Renu Dahal has once more been given the ticket in a NC-Maoist deal.
Other candidates with insider connections include Srijana Singh who is up for mayor of Kathmandu. She is the wife of NC leader Prakashman Singh. Elsewhere, Biratnagar’s deputy mayoral candidate Amarendra Kumar Yadav is the son of JSP chair Upendra Yadav.
The expediency of the electoral alliance has meant that the coalition is circumventing the Local Government Election Act 2017, which requires at least one female candidate from a party for mayor and deputy mayor, as well as chairs and deputy chairs of rural municipalities.
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Many tickets have gone entirely to male candidates because they are from different parties. This has incensed the NC’s Pramila Subedi Acharya, who is running as an independent for deputy mayor of Madhyapur Thimi.
“The top party leadership never discussed our candidacies, they are forcing voters and the party to support the Maoists, and making a mockery of inclusion by selecting both male candidates,” rues Acharya.
It is Deuba’s NC that is bearing the brunt of the brewing dissent. Coalition leaders met on Wednesday and took a tough line, saying that if their rebels did not withdraw their candidacies, they would be subject to disciplinary action. A statement after the meeting read: ‘Concerned Parties will take necessary action to withdraw the candidature registered by the party members within the alliance as independents.’
Even in Deuba’s home district of Dadeldhura, the party has ousted its local leader Karna Bahadur Malla for forming an alliance with the opposition UML. Senior NC leader Shekhar Koirala and others who have all along been against the 5-party electoral alliance are livid about Deuba appeasing the Communists in the coalition, in ticket distribution, and eliminating opponents in his own party.
“This is a conspiracy to commit political assassination of loyal members of the Congress,” Koirala said in a statement.
For Deuba, the foremost priority is to keep the governing alliance intact, even it means sacrificing constituencies like Pokhara, Bharatpur or Dadeldhura.
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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.