After a handful of independent candidates won mayoral seats in the May 13 local polls, talks regarding alternative forces replacing traditional political forces in contemporary politics have gained traction in some sections. Fed up with the working styles of several leaders of traditional parties, people have desired to see the rise of candidates that are independent and are free from the blemishes of party politics. Because of this, some people see an opportunity to have alternative forces that can take on the mighty old parties, entrenched in the nation's politics for the past several decades.
Of late, buoyed by the victory of mayors in Kathmandu, Dharan, Dhangadhi and Janakpur, among other towns and cities, in the recent local elections, certain youths have declared to throw their gauntlets at the existing forces in the coming federal and provincial elections. A phalanx of professionals representing various fields, as media reports hint, will try to emulate victorious mayors who fought the elections against the candidates of major parties and came out firing all cylinders defeating candidates of the established parties such as the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre. TV hosts Rabi Lamichhane, Pukar Bam, Ranju Darshana, Nicholas Bhusal and many other youths will contest the elections in Kathmandu and other places.
At present, media is rife with reports regarding the names of youths who proposed to be candidates in the coming elections. Local election results and voters' penchant for candidates with a clean and popular image over the ones fielded by the political parties have encouraged a new lot of hopefuls. The voting trend in the places where independent and rebel party candidates had won showed that even voters who belonged to the established party's voting base snubbed their 'own' party candidates for the sake of independent and rebel candidates.
Citizens in cities and towns are more educated and aware and elect an independent candidate on his/her merits. In the meantime, many of these people are tired of traditional parties' failure in delivering on their promises made umpteen times before and after elections. For many, the lacklustre performance of party candidates has brought to the fore the need to have alternate political forces in the nation to resolve pressing problems such as price rises and rampant corruption in public offices, besides paving the way for long-term development and prosperity goals.
It would be worth noting that the nation in the past had witnessed some 'new' parties that raised the hope of replacing the traditional parties with their new people and country-centred political agendas. The Sajha Party, founded by the journalist-turned-politician Rabindra Mishra, the Bibekshil Party of the late Uddhav Thapa and veteran communist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Party, entered our political landscape to give a stiff fight to existing forces, Nepali Congress and two communist parties. Sadly, these new parties, touted as a potent antidote to traditional political forces, bit the dust, thanks to differences among leaders with petty self-serving interests. They also failed to muster enough support from the people to break the stronghold of old parties.
Soon after the merger of the Sajha and Bibekshil parties in 2017, differences among party functionaries representing the two erstwhile parties surfaced, ultimately splitting the party to their earlier shape. Leader Mishra, who came with a bang, is seen nowhere in the contemporary political scene. Dr Bhattarai, who quit the Maoist party after his differences with the party chair deepened, formed Naya Shakti by holding a massive inaugural meeting at the Dashrath Stadium in 2015. But the party later merged with the Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Party, Nepal, that later became known as Nepal Samajwadi Party. At present, the differences between Bhattarai and Yadav have grown to the extent that their party is on the verge of split.
No one should forget the poor outcome in the 2017 general and provincial elections that led to the downfall of the Sajha Bibekshil and Naya Shakti Party. Construed as voters’ rejection of these parties, the poor poll outcome hindered them from finding a foothold in nation’s politics. Had they won some seats, they could have proven their mettle in politics. However, that was not to be, leading to their nonexistence in contemporary politics. Voters did not support the three parties as they could not then prove themselves as an able replacement for the three parties - the Nepali Congress, UML and the Maoist Centre. After the UML and Maoists contested the then general and provincial elections by forging an electoral alliance, the poll outcome went out against the new political forces along with the Nepali Congress that fought the 2017 polls single-handedly.
At present, the idea of having an alternative force has appealed to many, but replacing traditional and established political parties looks next to impossible, given their strong organisational structure and vote base. A new political party or some independent candidate can win seats here and there, but to put up a 'miraculous performance' to take the place of the old parties will take decades. Also true is the fact that a handful of candidates who have won elections cannot upset the status quo of a multiparty parliamentary system where political parties, not independent candidates, make or implement decisions through a majority.
To achieve their goals, the leaders and parties aspiring to be an alternative political force must reach out to the people and interact with them. The new hopefuls must follow new ways and working styles that would inspire the people. They need to come out of their comfort zones, go out to the masses and take care of vices of our society – inflation, corruption, nepotism and inaction. In this modern era where people can glean information within seconds, leaders cannot mislead voters with honeyed but hollow promises. For emulating a Balen or Harka or rebel Hamal, new hopefuls are required to feel the pulse of voters who are dissatisfied with established forces and can vote for change for the sake of the people and the country.
(Upadhyay is Managing Editor of this daily.)