New Left in Nepal — on legislative elections in Nepal

Long-time adversaries form a leftist coalition altering the pre-election landscape

October 09, 2017 12:02 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:43 pm IST

In a most unexpected development, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist Leninist), the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) and the Naya Shakti Party (NSP) have agreed to form a Left coalition to contest provincial and federal elections later this year. They have also formed a coordination committee that will work towards their unification into a single leftist party after the elections. This marks a major shift in Nepal’s polity because the status-quoist UML and the radical Maoists have been at loggerheads for decades and have differed on significant issues — in particular, state restructuring after the Constituent Assembly elections of 2008 and 2013. While these parties worked together along with other political forces in the run-up to abolishing the monarchy, there has been little love lost between them over the past decade. But the Maoists have also undergone a series of splits during this period. Hardline sections led by Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ and Netra Bikram Chand branched off to form their own parties, while Baburam Bhattarai, who preferred greater parliamentary engagement and was unflinching on the state restructuring demand, also left the parent party. So far the UML has been steadfast in opposing greater federalisation, basing its argument on the principle of national unity, while the Maoist-Centre has changed positions depending on the prevailing power equations to suit its chairman, and ex-Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.

In the run-up to the elections, Mr. Dahal sees a possibility of winning more seats by being in a Left alliance, which is why he chose to talk to the UML even though he currently shares power with the Nepali Congress. The UML did well overall in the local body elections held recently, but fared relatively poorly in the second phase of the polls in which a greater number of the contests were in the Terai region. The Maoists surprised many with a decent haul in this phase. Electorally it makes sense for the two parties to come together in an alliance. The addition of the NSP gives the alliance what is perceived by some as intellectual heft — its leader, Mr. Bhattarai, had been the prime mover in the Maoists giving up their armed struggle and joining the democratic process. In aligning with the UML and the Maoists, Mr. Bhattarai may have to relent on his key demand of state restructuring — but perhaps this was already inevitable following the Madhesi parties’ poor show in the recent elections. It remains to be seen how the contradictions over this issue will be resolved in the future, even if they hope that a call for national unity and social justice will calm the Madhesis. For the Nepali Congress, the new Left alliance will be a difficult adversary to overcome, and it would have to strive to bring other centrist forces under its own “democratic” alliance. The Madhesi parties, however, may well be left in the lurch.

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