By Pramod Jaiswal*
The Left Alliance made a clean sweep in Nepal’s recently held provincial and federal elections. It is speculated that the Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), KP Sharmal Oli, would lead the government and the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center (CPN-MC), Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, would be the chairman of the new Nepal Communist Party, formed after the merger of CPN-UML and CPN-MC. The election results also show that six out of the seven provinces would have a leftist government.
What were the reasons for the rise of the left in Nepal? What would the future political course in Nepal be? How will the new government deal with its two neighbours, India and China?
Rise of the Left
The chances of forming the government was nearly certain when the two biggest left parties – the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC – announced the formation of an alliance ahead of provincial and federal elections. Both parties were the second and third largest force in the parliament respectively. They also announced that they would work for their formal merger after the election.
There are numerous reasons for the left alliance’s thumping victory. Foremost of them was the agenda of development and political stability. In the last ten years, Nepal has had ten prime ministers. Due to lack of political stability, Nepal failed to experience development. Hence, it was most appealing to the people. The people were more convinced as they came with a common manifesto and had already announced the merger both parties after election.
The second factor was the image of KP Sharma Oli as the ‘nationalist’ leader among the hill voters. Third, there was precise calculation in candidate allocation and election management. The leaders continued rigorous election campaign in spite of their health issues and personal tragedies. Similarly, the Nepali Congress’s lack of leadership and clear agenda also helped the left. The Nepali Congress’s duality during the ‘unofficial blockade’ failed to impress both hill and Madhesi voters. While hill voters accused them of not speaking against “a hidden Indian hand” during the blockade, the Madhesi accused them of not standing with them. Moreover, incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba failed to deliver during his tenure and was mired in several controversies which made him quite unpopular.
Challenges to the Left
There are three major challenges for the left alliance: The first and most immediate challenge would be of dealing with the power sharing. The CPN-UML and the CPN-MC had shared seats in a ratio of 60:40 for the polls. Hence, both parties would claim share in the same proportion while forming the government and the new party after the merger. Though Oli and Prachanda would be able to deal with power sharing in the government, it is yet to see how they would meet the challenges of the unification of the parties, because apart from ideological differences – which is prime among the left parties – they would have to resist tremendous pressure during the management of leaders and cadres from their parties.
The second major challenge to the left would be managing the neighbours. It is an open secret that KP Sharma Oli and India do not enjoy good relations. The relations between the two countries were at their lowest during his tenure as the prime minister. Oli signed several agreements with China to challenge India’s predominant position in Nepal. India sees him as ‘anti-India’ and ‘pro-China’, and suspects a Chinese ploy behind the left alliance. Hence, it would be a herculean task for the Oli government to convince and bring India into its favour.
On the other hand, it is expected that relations between Nepal and China would meet new heights. Chinese President Xi Jinping might visit Kathmandu within a few months and announce several projects under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Railway connectivity between China and Nepal would be significant.
The third major challenge would be addressing the grievances of its long-marginalised communities, which, if left unaddressed, could lead to renewed conflicts. Some of the demands of marginalised groups in the Terai region, including Madhesis and Tharus, are still unaddressed. The Madhesi parties also performed well in the elections. The Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties would form a strong opposition. Failure to manage the opposition will affect delivery on the left government’s part. Moreover, it is rather alarming that not a single voter turned up for polling at Mahadeva Village, Saptari, owing to CK Raut’s call. CK Raut is Madhesi secession activist who was later arrested for carrying out anti-election activities and calling people to boycott voting.
The Way Forward
Though the CPN-UML has emerged as the largest political party, it is highly unlikely that it might grab a simple majority to form the government. Hence, the alliance of the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC is inevitable.
However, even after the merger, the left parties might not get two-third majority, which would mean theycannot fiddle with the constitution. They would require the help of the Madhesis or the Nepali Congress to make any amendments to the constitution. Thus, there will be checks and balances.
Most probably, India and Oli might improve their relations as it will be mutually beneficial. On the other hand, India should stop betting on the old horse as the Nepali Congress lacks proper leadership at the moment. It should improve its relations with all the political parties and cultivate them to serve its national interest, rather than favouring one party. Oli would fail to deliver on the promise of a stable government and development if he fails to balance both its neighbours. If India fails to cultivate good relations with the left, it might lose its geopolitical advantages in Nepal and is bound to adopt a defensive approach vis-à-vis with China.
* Pramod Jaiswal
Visiting Research Fellow, IReS, IPCS