Comrades clash, others cash; this is the simplest commentary on the numerical result of the recent election in Nepal. However, the electoral arithmetic raises some new glimmers of hope but also worries of greater uncertainties.
Draw among main players
The game of politics usually revolves around (for or against) the most powerful players of the time. In that sense, this election shows that the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal Marxists-Leninists (UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre (MC) and their leaders Sher Bahadur Deuba, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal respectively are still the decisive players in Nepal, and it is a draw among the three main contenders of post 2006 power politics.
Less charismatic but master Machiavellian Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the NC can now claim to have turned around the Red Wave of the world’s first democratically elected government of Marxists Leninists Maoists. The NC was beaten by the combined strength of the Comrades (UML and the MC subsequently united to form the Nepal Communist Party) in the last election held under Deuba’s leadership of both the government and his party.
With 57 seats out of 165 in the first past the post (FPTP) and 2,715,225 popular votes (32 proportional seats) – a total of 89 of the 275 seats in the House of Representatives (HoR) and 107 in provincial assemblies, the NC has reemerged as the largest party in both the Federal Parliament and the provinces. Deuba has thus fulfilled his vow of taking rest only after restoring the glory of the grand old party.
Power struggle among the top three Comrades of the now split Nepal Communist Party created the environment for the twice premature dissolution of the House of Representatives by the then PM Oli. Two of his Comrades joined hands with the NC to challenge Oli’s decision as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court not only nullified Oli’s decision and restored the House but decreed the current five-party coalition government with Deuba’s fifth stint as the PM.
Cornered and vilified by the left-right coalition, the UML countered by projecting its energetic and flamboyant chairman as the party’s unanimous choice for PM and this election as a referendum between him and incumbent Deuba. Predictably, due to voter arithmetic, the UML came slightly behind the NC in the FPTP. But with 44 seats in the FPTP and 2,845, 651 popular votes, with 34 proportional seats, 2 more than the NC, giving it a total strength of 78 seats in the HoR and 93 seats in the provincial assemblies, Oli and the UML can also claim victory for securing the most popular votes.
Mercurial rebel commander turned former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and his MC was believed to be most at risk in this election. But with 18 seats in the FPTP and 1,175, 648 popular votes with 14 proportional seats, a total of 32 seats in the HoR and 53 seats in the provincial assemblies, the MC retained its third position and master survivor Prachanda too can claim victory and contend for power.
Flash Flood to Tsunami?
If the above is clear, the meteoric rise of the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) with television star turned politician Rabi Lamichhane as the leader may be a frustration flash flood created by the governance deficit of the main parties now. Winning 7 seats in the FPTP and 11,30,344 (13 seats) in the proportional side, with a total strength of 20 seats in the HoR, Rabi and his team of youths are the fourth largest in the incoming Parliament. Add to this, the victory of once secessionist charismatic Dr CK Raut and his Rastriya Janamat party (RJP) as one of the seven national parties, Resham Lal Chaudhury’s Nagarik Unmukti party (NUP) 3 and 5 independents winning seats for the HOR, a hung parliament and challenge to mainstream parties/leaders is crystal clear.
By entering the fray just before the election if Rabi and his team could emerge like this, imagine what would have happened if they had done so with a bit more time and preparation. What would have happened if other independents had joined the RSP in this election? What will be the impact of their coming together? If they don’t watch out, the flash flood of electoral rebellion could easily turn into a Tsunami in the placid lake of change (mis)management by the mainstream parties/leaders.
Author of many well-known books such as Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, historian Paul Kennedy, in his masterpiece Preparing for the 21st Century, talks of the Challenges of Change countries in transition face. Due to failure of the main parties/leaders to effectively manage far-reaching changes they themselves helped to bring, Nepal today is getting lost in its Triumph and Trauma of Transition from divine right to democracy, tradition to modernity, rural peasantry to urban prosperity, isolation to integration with the international system.
In this challenging path of fusion, confusion to de-fusion in politics the significant rise of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party from 1 to 7 seats in the FPTP and national party by securing 5,88,549 popular votes (7 seats in the proportional side) a total of 14 seats in the HOR – fifth largest party in the incoming parliament, adds a new element to Nepali politics. The RPP openly challenges some founding principles of the current Constitution, republicanism, secularism, and aspects of federalism. In this backdrop, what does victory of RPP Chairman Lingden, a declared Hindu monarchist over Krishna Prasad Sitaula of the NC, one of the architects of the current secular federal republican constitution mean? Another RPP candidate defeated the Home Minister and declared monarchist Rabindra Mishra from Kathmandu constituency number one only lost by 125 votes against NC leader Prakash Man Singh. With such resurgence, will the RPP follow its previous power politics path of Kamal Thapa or more forcefully pursue its ideology, clearly incompatible with the present constitution?
Time of Test
In a multiparty democracy, better managed parties with leaders of wisdom, conviction and integrity are the only alternatives. Viable political organizations can only stand on clear ideas (ideology) which leaders believe in. It needs leadership with ability to effectively articulate their visions and ideas convincingly for cadres to commit and unite and people to trust. Dedicated cadres and followers take the idea to the masses. A well-organized party is essential to orient and manage the cadres. All this requires resources. Why couldn’t old parties/leaders deliver? Can the new ones without a track record in power, whom people have believed for what they have said, better demonstrate wisdom, integrity,and ability to lead and mobilize all the essentials better than those whom they have lambasted for failing?
The mood of the electorate reflected by the rise of RSP, RPP, RJP and NUP and independents sends one clear message to the drivers of the current political transition and supporters of the Constitution, business as usual is untenable, course correction in the following is a must:
· Making the federal structure less top-heavy and economically sustainable
· Separating the executive and legislative for better governance and delivery
· Depoliticization of the professional class with culture of reward and punishment for reversing institutional decline and decay
· Linking political change with people’s wellbeing for restoring trust in leaders and faith in the system
· And balanced foreign policy with more effective diplomacy for fulfilling the promise of independent, democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Nepal for all Nepalis, made by leaders to people when asking them to support the movements for changes
When rulers and leaders fail to effectively manage change in critical times of transition, dissatisfied conservatives coalesce with frustrated revolutionaries with the shared purpose of destabilizing society and undermining the new exercise of democracy. Past rulers and leaders always ignoring the writings on the walls bear the responsibility for Nepal’s seemingly never-ending political transition since 1950. If they also fail this time around, how yet another wave of demands for extra-constitutional course correction could affect this regional and global geo-strategic epicenter is anyone’s guess.
(Prof. Dr. Shambhu Ram Simkhada, Former Permanent Representative to UN and Former Ambassador)