Nepal set for simultaneous polls

Last month, there was a short-lived but inconclusive debate in India on the government's intention to hold simultaneous elections to state and central legislatures.

Nepal set for simultaneous polls

POLL FEVER: A candidate campaigns for votes in Nepal. AFP

Maj-Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd)

Maj-Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd)
Recently in Nepal 

Last month, there was a short-lived but inconclusive debate in India on the government's intention to hold simultaneous elections to state and central legislatures. In Nepal (as in Sri Lanka where the idea is being explored), with its new constitution promulgated, the first simultaneous provincial and federal elections are to be held on November 27 and December 7. With Parliament dissolved, the Constituent Assembly turned legislature after the promulgation of Nepal's fifth constitution on September 20, 2015, which India only 'noted' and not welcomed, four governments were formed in four years led by Nepali Congress's Sushil Koirala, United Marxist Leninist KP Oli, Maoist's Prachanda and currently NC's Sher Bahadur Deuba. Nepal has seen 25 governments, including one royal coup, in the last 27 years of multi-party democracy.

Left Alliance formation

Nepal is still recovering from the joy of Dussehra and Tihar (Bhai Tika) which together consumed three weeks. Election fever has been rising, following the local body elections held earlier this year. 2017 is the year of elections in Nepal. If elections were held now, the People's Poll projection points to a victory for the UML and Maoists Left Alliance in parliamentary and provincial elections. Soon after Dussehra, Nepal was rocked by the surprise of the century: the formation of the 'Left Alliance', Communist parties of Nepal banding together with the UML and Maoists vowing to merge as one party after the elections. With the Deuba-led first NC-Maoist coalition government still in place, Prachanda's betrayal hurt hard. This new Right-Left combination was born after Prachanda deserted Oli in government formation last year in which both China (for the first time) and India played no mean role. While both Left parties have formed coalition governments in the past, this is the first time they will fight elections as allies. The shock and awe of the Left Alliance was crowned with five former PMs — Prachanda, Madhav Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, Baburam Bhattarai and Krishna Prasad Oli — affirming Left unity. Only hours later, Bhattarai was the first to walk out with his Left Eye (election symbol of his Naya Shakti party which he formed after leaving Maoists) metaphorically bruised over differences on the Gorkha seat which Bhattarai wants. He has swiftly joined the NC-led Democratic Alliance and will fight for that seat.

Coalition of convenience

The UML-Maoist alliance is a coalition of convenience between natural adversaries turned temporary allies, prompting Deuba to cobble together the Democratic Alliance. The Deuba-led alliance has attracted Nepal Loktantrik Forum's Bijay Gachhadar, an ex-Congressman who has merged his party with NC, the flexible royalist Kamal Thapa of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, and the Pashupati Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana faction of the RPP. Mahanta Thakur's Madhesi Rashtriya Janata Party and the Federal Socialist Forum of Upendra Yadav will support the Democratic Alliance. 

High drama accompanied speculation that ambushed by the Left Alliance, Deuba will delay elections. Shredded of their portfolios, Maoist ministers refused to resign, alleging Deuba would postpone elections. Kamal Thapa justified joining the government to ensure elections were held on schedule. The mood in the UML and Maoist camps is upbeat. With media on its side, the propaganda wings re-energised and China's deep pockets at work, the UML is hailing its nationalist leader Oli as a patriot who had the gumption to stand up to India during the infamous blockade. Whipping up anti-India sentiment is easier now and a useful vote-catcher. The Left Alliance will likely bag maximum votes in the hill areas, hill districts merged in Terai and along the East-West highway. 

Hurdles for alliance

What can go wrong with the fortunes of the Left Alliance? Grassroot leaders of Maoists have opposed the tie-up with the UML who were targeted during the People's War by the Maoists. Implementation of seat adjustments is still imperfect at the ground level. The Maoists who are the flag-bearers of the transformation of Nepal into a democratic, secular, inclusive republic and who should bag maximum votes, are now factionalised and have lost their shine due to image dilution — war crimes and corruption.  That Prachanda's past will catch up with him is why he wishes to be in government to escape the outcome of transitional justice and accountability. The Maoists' flip-flop —- Left to Right — may diminish their vote bank. While in the 2008 elections, the United Maoists won more seats than the NC and UML together, in 2013, they slumped to a poor third position. Still, like the Madhesi combine in the first Constituent Assembly, Maoists were kingmakers in the second CA. It is possible that Nepalis may not vote along the same lines as the local body elections in the provincial and at least in the federal elections. The Democratic Alliance may pip the Left Alliance past the post in the federal elections by making Hindutva an issue — returning Nepal to a Hindu state. Though former King Gyanendra recently put in a word: 'I am ready to take over', there is little appetite for return of monarchy.

The new 60:40 election system of First Past The Post and Proportional Representation does not lend itself to political stability as Sri Lanka learnt and may be dumping it. Ironically, PR is weighted in favour of Khas Arya (Brahmin Chhetris) which is the eternal ruling class and who will be contesting majority of seats in FPTP. India and China have invested heavily in this crucial first election after the constitution. For China, a Left Alliance win is its victory too and that too near India's geo-strategic heartland. Its pledge to punish India for its omissions and commissions, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, could be consummated. But then, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. And the Democratic Alliance may end up doing 'Bhailo' (victory dance).

What political pundits say

Political pundits have based their prediction of a win for the Left Alliance in federal and provincial elections (except in No2 Province which is RJP-FSF stronghold) based on analysis done by the web portal which has taken the results in the local body elections as the 'voting trend'. 

In these, the UML won 14,098 posts, the NC 11,457 posts and the Maoists 5,041 posts.

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