Nepal has successfully conducted its second general elections to Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies under the 2015 Constitution. According to the Election Commission, 61 percent of the voters turned out to cast their ballots.
The previous Parliament was able to complete its full five-year term despite being dissolved twice by the KP Sharma Oli administration. The Supreme Court intervened on both occasions and restored the House of Representatives, invoking Article 76 of the constitution which requires the government to show it has majority support before taking any decision to order a fresh election.
Oli had bypassed the House and gone for dissolution with the connivance of the president, who could, without blinking an eye, accept the prime minister’s advice twice, if only to be rejected by the court.
The consequences were many, the most significant being the loss of the nearly two-thirds majority gained by the newly formed Nepal Communist Party consisting of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre. Another debacle was the fragmentation of the CPN-UML after a faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal broke away to form the CPN (Unified Socialist).
The unprecedented communist domination of Nepali politics was shattered after disputes arose between the leaders, especially Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda when Oli refused to share power alternately. Prachanda, Nepal, and a few other small parties decided to form an alliance with the Nepali Congress and ask its president Sher Bahadur Deuba to head a new coalition government erasing ideological boundaries.
The two polarised camps – the five-party coalition led by the Congress and the CPN-UML led by Oli – contested the elections. Small parties also joined these two camps, if only to protect themselves from becoming irrelevant, by tossing out their ideologies. Regional parties of the Tarai-Madhesh have been fast losing their popularity for failing to promote the agenda of Madhesh.
Another trend emerging in Nepali politics is that the people are seeing the old parties as having failed to address their basic needs because they have been using politics to promote only the narrow interests of the elite.
Due to a lack of employment opportunities at home, more than 1,700 Nepali youths are leaving the country every day. Thus, elections that propel
politicians with power and privilege have turned into a ritual devoid of public enthusiasm and confidence.
Another challenge faced by the major parties is the emergence of new groups led by young leaders. A few youth leaders launched such a trend during the local elections held earlier this year. The municipal polls threw up several dynamic youths who championed the plank that the old parties had failed to address the agenda of new Nepal and hence change was needed.
Among the new entrants is the Rashtriya Swatantra Party led by former television anchor Rabi Lamichhane, the Janamat Party of CK Raut, who, until a few years ago, was considered a separatist leader of the Tarai-Madhesh region, and a new party Nagarik Unmukti Party (Citizens’ Liberation Party) based in the Tharuhat region of western Nepal.
Some independents have also been able to win a few seats. These new parties and individuals have thrown down the gauntlet on the old parties and leaders for not being sensitive to the minimum expectations of the people. Initial results show that the domination of big and regional parties is unlikely to continue if they fail to recognize the emerging trends in Nepali politics.
Their septuagenarian leaders too will, in all probability, face intra-party pressures to change their highly personalized behavior and style of governance. Congress leader Deuba, in particular, will be pressured to yield to younger leaders who have already declared their prime ministerial ambitions as the incumbent leader has outlived his utility.
Gagan Thapa, who won from Kathmandu-4 for the third time, has stated that he will contest the election for the leadership to bring stability and salvage the image of the Congress as a progressive democratic party. The future of the CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), and Rashtriya Janamorcha lies under a shadow as their showings in the elections were far short of their expectations.
The assumption that Congress voters would not listen to their leaders and transfer their ballots turned out to be partially correct. They are alleged to have voted for the new Rashtriya Swatantra Party and independents or even for the CPN-UML. How the Congress could lure left voters is not clear, but their strong dislike of Oli’s leadership is thought to have played a part.
The emergence of new national and regional parties, including the Nagarik Unmukti Party of Tharu leader Resham Choudhary, who is still languishing in jail on murder charges, has added new dimensions to both national and regional politics, though their ideology, mission, and organizational aspects are yet to be unveiled.
Will Rabi Lamichhane be able to translate the surging popular anger to hope and a viable political ideology befitting the existing political order? It remains to be seen. Nevertheless, democracy in Nepal seems to have become stronger with the popular quest for alternatives to change the status quo-oriented rulers.
(The writer is a professor of political science and Nepal’s former Ambassador to India.)