Following the local level polls, the country’s politics has taken a new course. The ruling Nepali Congress has emerged the largest party while the main opposition CPN-UML has been demoted to the second position. This shift in the power balance of the political parties was a foregone conclusion owing to the vertical split of UML and formation of five-party alliance but now political market is currently heated by the ‘proxy offers’ of prime ministerial post to CPN-Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal by the UML although both the leaders have refused to rise to the bait.
It is said that Prachanda and Nepal have been offered the PM post in an apparent move to dismantle the current ruling alliance that succeeded to cut the UML down to its size in the local polls. Some UML leaders have started talking about forming ‘Left Alliance’ by exploiting the dissatisfaction of the partners of alliance over the outcomes of the local polls. The UML wants to disintegrate the current coalition because allies are set to contest the provincial and federal polls on a common political platform.
But the idea of ‘Left Alliance’ sounds unfeasible at least at this moment until the UML makes a rigorous course correction. The current UML leadership has been blamed for ruining a grand left alliance that produced a powerful communist government some years back. Although the top UML brass has refuted that their party has offered Prachanda and Nepal the premiership, both the leaders have publicly said that they received such a proposal from different channels and reiterated to stay in the alliance until the next polls.
The swirling rumours of premiership offer to Nepal and Prachanda came against the backdrop of the humiliating defeat of UML in the local polls, which forced them to float the notion of the Left Alliance to accrue more seats in upcoming two-layer polls. It wants to wean the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist off Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s fold. The UML’s inducement strategy is unlikely to come to fruition given its contradictory posture and hostility with other left parties.
The UML has overestimated its strength in the polls even after a powerful faction deserted it and formed a new party. It had claimed to win around 60 per cent of local units but it lost around 90 seats, shrinking it to a little over 27 per cent. As the initial results of local polls began to pour in, the party accused the government of indulging in widespread rigging and abuse of power and resources to defeat it in the election. After all results came out, chairman KP Sharma Oli blamed internal betrayal and indiscipline of his own workers for the poll drubbing. This sort of blame game has disappointed the cadres and deprived the party from tracing the real factors leading to the poll loss.
In order to hide the embarrassment, the party has claimed that it won the popular vote in the polls. The fact is that the UML had fielded in all local units while the allies had shared the seats in about one-third of the local bodies. This is a reason why the NC lagged behind the UML in the popular votes although it garnered the highest number of seats – 329 out of declared results of 752 local units. UML shrank to 205 from 294 seats it had bagged in the 2017 local polls. The media have reported that the UML has lost at least 50 seats owing to the split.
Oli has termed the local polls as ‘mini referendum,’ arguing that it will raise questions about the legitimacy of the coalition government, which he called ‘parmadeshi sarkar.’ He insisted that his attempt to seek fresh mandate was blocked by the Supreme Court’s mandamus and the local polls would measure his popularity and pave the way for his return to Singha Durbar, central secretariat of the federal government. However, all his pre-poll hypotheses have fallen flat.
No doubt, Nepal has been a fertile ground for rise of the communist movement. If all the parties jointly fight in the elections, they can easily win around two-thirds majority in any level of election. For instance, the total number of seats the communist parties got in the recent local polls stand at 350. Besides, they also emerged as main competitors in most of the places where they lost to Nepali Congress. When the UML and Maoist Centre contested polls jointly in provincial and federal polls in 2017, they pulled off a resounding victory, forcing the NC to satisfy with only with 23 seats in House of Representatives (HoR) under the first-past-the-post category.
However, the then NCP, formed through the merger of the UML and Maoist Centre, could not run the strong communist government that suffered the nasty intra-party bickering from the beginning. The then NCP chair and PM Oli dissolved the HoR twice, threatening to upend the entire federal democratic system. The failure to honour the huge popular mandate posed a question to the competency of Nepali communists to handle the affairs of the state.
Now the communist movement is in disarray. As a result, the NC has reaped the political windfall. Instead of making a deeper soul-searching of the poll defeat, the UML is dead-set for breaking the five-party alliance. The opposition party is set to plunge into another round of turmoil for antarghati (betrayers) and anarchists are being punished for their role in defeating the party’s official candidates in the local polls. Not only this, the vocal party leaders are also facing disciplinary action for demanding the resignation of Oli from the post of chairman on moral grounds. Amid this scenario, the premiership offer to Nepal and Prachanda is nothing more than a red herring.
(The author is the Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)