By Ajit Kumar Singh*
The five-party Joint Ruling Alliance (JRA) led by Nepali Congress (NC) is set to retain power according to the results declared so far, in Nepal’s parliamentary elections held in a single phase on November 20, 2022.
At the time of writing, of 165 seats in the House of Representatives (HoR) for which elections were held, results of 146 seats had been declared, of which JRA won 78 seats. Of the five constituents of the JRA, the NC won 48 seats followed by the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist Centre (NCP-MC), 16; Nepal Communist Party-United Socialist (CPN-US), nine; Loktantrik Samajwadi Party-Nepal (NSP-N), four; and Rashtriya Janmorcha, one.
The main opposition party, the Nepal Communist Party-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) won 40 seats. Its alliance partners Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Janata Samajbadi Party, Nepal (JSP-N) won seven and six seats, respectively. Five seats went to Independents.
The remaining seats were won by the Rashtriya Swatantra Party (seven), Nagrik Unmukt Party (one), Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party (one) and Janmat Party (one).
In the 275-member HoR, the remaining 110 members will be elected through a proportional representation (PR) system.
The CPN-UML has received the highest number of votes under the PR system with the party bagging 2,457,836 votes, closely followed by the Nepali Congress with 2,341,122 votes. The NCP-MC with 1,027,703 votes is at number three, closely followed by the RSP with 101,2964 votes. A total of 47 parties have won votes under the PR system, with the Nationalist Peoples Party wining the smallest number, 1,584 votes.
Meanwhile, in five out of the seven provinces, the JRA is set to form the government, while there is uncertainty in the remaining two provinces, including Madhesh Pradesh.
These results are unlikely to bring an end to the ongoing political instability within the country.
It is pertinent to recall that, in the previous elections held in two phases in 2017 (November 26 and December 7), the undivided CPN-UML had won 80 seats, followed by NCP-MC, 36 seats; NC, 23 seats and NCP-MC 36 seats. The Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal and Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal had won 11 and 10 seats, respectively. Of the remaining five seats four went to four different parties – RPP, Rashtriya Janmorcha, Naya Shakti Party Nepal and the Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party. One seat went to an independent candidate.
Prior to the 2017 elections, the CPN-UML, NCP-MC and Naya Shakti Party-Nepal had entered into an alliance to form the Government under the leadership of K. P. Sharma Oli. The bonhomie between the CPN-UML and NCP-MC was so strong that the two parties, in a historic development on May 17, 2018, at a joint meeting held at Oli’s residence in Baluwatar, Kathmandu, announced, their merger and the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). However, the geniality did not last long and a tussle between Oli and NCP-MC leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal aliasPrachanda over the issue of control over the party gradually deepened, ultimately leading to demerger of the NCP, with the NCM-MC moving out of the coalition. Eventually, Oli was forced to resign from the post of Prime Minister on July 13, 2021.Sher Bahadur Deuba of the NC became the Prime Minister on the same day, with the support of NCP-MC and other parties. Even after the formation of the Deuba-led JRA government, however, there was always a question mark over the stability of the government due to inherent ideological differences within the parties of the ruling alliance.
Moreover, between these two elections several parties split, the most prominent being the break-up within the CPN-UML. These splits have muddled the political environment even further.
Not surprisingly, several reports emerged of parties within the ruling and opposition alliances, as well as outside these, attempting to switch sides or joining one alliance or the other just before the elections, purely on considerations of electoral gain.
Indeed, Manish Kumar Suman, the spokesman for JSP-N, which is currently in alliance with the CPN-UML, admitted, “We still have our ideological differences, but we agreed to forge a partnership to improve our electoral prospects.”
Meanwhile, there was a looming threat of violence during elections as the inner-party and intra-party rifts deepened. Further, the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal had announced an active boycott of the elections, with spokesperson Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma warning,
Our party has decided to totally disregard the November 20 federal and provincial polls to be conducted by the capitalist government. We have decided to give an appropriate response if the state suppresses our party’s publicity programmes.
There were many violent protests over a period of time on issues related to various political issues and governance before the elections, which had vitiated the security environment in the country.
Nevertheless, the elections were largely peaceful. Between the date of notification of the elections, August 4, 2022, and November 19, 2022, a day before elections, there was no violent incident. On the election day, November 20, however, six incidents of violence were reported:
One person was shot dead at a polling station in Nateshwari Basic School of Tribeni Municipality in Bajura District in Province No. 7. The 24-year-old man was shot dead by the Police following a dispute after the voting was over.Three persons were injured in firing during a clash between CPN-UML and NC cadres during the voting in Triveni Municipality-7. An assistant polling officer, identified as Prem Bhandari, and an army officer, Arjun Uparkoti, were injured in a clash at the Devkota Basic School Unapani polling station of Sarkegad Rural Municipality-3 in Humla District (Province No. 6). The Police fired 17 rounds to control the situation at the polling station.One Policeman was injured when the Police fired 15 rounds to control the situation that erupted over a dispute between the CPN-UML and ruling coalition cadres in Tamakoshi in Dolakha District (Province No. 3). A bomb exploded in the Khairapur polling station of Gularia municipality-2 in Bardiya in Province No. 5. Police fired after a group of 15 to 20 cadres of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand) tried to disrupt the elections and burn the ballot box in Chitwan District in Province No. 3.
During the 2017 elections, as well, there had been pre-poll violence in various Districts. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 16 persons were injured in 13 incidents of bomb explosion and another 11 were injured in five incidents of clashes. Security fears were also triggered amid incidents of explosions targeting candidates and their campaigns in several parts of the country. Some violent incidents were also reported on the polling days.
Meanwhile, though the JRA is likely to retain power after the current elections, there is a strong possibility of persistent political confusion, given the fractured mandate, with no single party emerging a clear-cut winner and pre-poll alliances between parties with strong ideological differences.
So far, despite the political chaos, peace has prevailed in Nepal. However, it will be a challenge for the political establishment to ensure the longevity of the prevailing peace in such a political environment in the long run. In particular, the divided vote in Madhesh Pradesh could lead to the formation of an unstable government, and may ignite the latent security threat in the region, in particular, and the surrounding areas at large.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management