No sooner had the ruling Nepali Congress begun to win higher number of seats in the federal and provincial polls held under the first-past-the-post system than CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli called CPN-Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda over phone, urging him to go ahead together. “We have gone far apart as animosity intensified. Let’s sit and talk. The forces that wish to keep us at a distance are still active,” said Oli, according to a report of online news portal. It is no-brainer to understand why Oli mellowed his tone for his number one political nemesis. After his party was deflated in the crucial polls, Oli seeks to lure Prachanda into forming a UML-led coalition government by disbanding the present five-party coalition that replaced his government amidst the tumultuous political development some one-and-a-half years ago.
The second federal and provincial polls, conducted as per the new constitution, proved to be a big loss to Nepali communists. In the first polls held in 2017, the Left Alliance of UML and Maoist Centre had clinched a resounding victory, mustering near two-thirds majority in House of Representatives (HoR) and enabling it to form governments in six provinces out of seven. Now the communists have been shorn of such a historic mandate, with emergence of centre-right Nepali Congress as the largest party and other fringe groups, which can frustrate the moves of big parties in the parliament, thanks to the HoR dissolution twice by Oli himself and subsequent division of CPN into four blocks.
The UML has become first in election under the proportional representation (PR) category but shrunk in the FPTP lot. Likewise, the Maoist Centre has also lost a considerable number of seats although it still pulls the strings in the formation of coalition government. The UML splinter - CPN-Unified Socialist - had a moderate success in the FPTP category but fared badly in the PR. As a result, its chance of becoming a national party is slim owing to its threadbare organisation and ineffective electoral strategy. It has failed to make a foray into the UML’s support base that still love the symbol of ‘Sun’. Interestingly, the UML supporters gave a bloody nose to the candidates close to chair Oli but did not let down the party because of its association with late leaders Manamohan Adhikari and Madan Bhandari.
Today ‘Sun’ symbol has become more of a brand than a signifier of serious political ideology. This is a reason why the UML gave tickets to ultra-rightists like Kamal Thapa and Hridayesh Tripathi to contest the elections with ‘Sun’. Ek Nath Dhakal, who has been involved in spreading Christianity in Nepal, has been included in the UML’s PR list. The party did not hesitate to award the tickets to those turncoats, who left other parties and joined the UML on the eve of polls, without vetting their political background and integrity. Laxmi Mahato, who won the polls from Mahottari's Constituency-1 from UML’s ticket, had joined it one day before the election by deserting the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) but he is a fugitive implicated in the murder of an assistant sub-inspector of police seven years ago. As he is on a wanted list of the police, Mahato could not attend in person to file his candidacy at the Election Commission office.
Prior to the election, Oli had claimed that his party would bag 100 seats in the direct polls and secure majority in the House with the addition of PR seats. But now it is confined to 44 seats under the FPTP category and is not in a position to form government in the centre as well as in the provinces on its own. Its depleted strength has been attributed to the party’s vertical split. A news report carried by a Nepali daily has disclosed that the UML has lost at least 28 seats due to the division. If it had contested the polls as a unified party, it would have been the largest party and fall short of around 32 seats to form the new government. But the party leadership is still not ready to realise that the split has caused a big damage to it.
In the last general polls, the Left Alliance made a landslide victory because of the synergic impact that the unity of two big parties had created. The NCP government was in a position to deliver stability, good governance and prosperity as well as exercise strategic autonomy in the country’s foreign relations. After the NCP-led government failed to honour that mandate, the voters became disenchanted with its leadership and looked to the NC and newly formed parties.
The UML’s second-rung leaders are exhorting their jilted comrades to come together to constitute a new alliance, stating that the past bickering is now all water under the bridge. But Maoist Centre chair Prachanda and Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal have already expressed their commitment to stick to Left-Democratic Alliance under NC president and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Oli still seems reluctant to recognise and join hands with Nepal, who has demanded that the former offer his apology over the dissolution of the House and start fresh process for the possible unity. Moreover, Prachanda will not easily fall for Oli because of the past betrayal and the consequent fiasco. Given Prachanda’s mercurial character, the UML would offer all sorts of bait to him to dismantle the NC-led alliance.
The UML’s poll alliance with Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has added new challenges to the federalist forces. UML is one of the architects of the new constitution but its electoral alliance with the RPP has put it in an odd situation because the RPP is determined to reverse the key pillars of constitution such as republican set-up, secularism and federalism. The UML’s growing de-ideologisation and catch-all tendency is likely to throw a spanner in the works of possible broader left alliance.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)