Although the Maoists bagged one more seat than it had won during last year’s CA election (the Maoists, NC and the Forum had won two seats each in the six that were contested recently), the fact that the Maoists’ had the advantage of incumbency must not be minimized in any objective assessment.
Specifically, while they maintained their hold on Rolpa-2, where Prachanda had successfully contested last year, as well as in Kaski-1, where Dev Gurung had similarly emerged victorious, they just managed to secure the top position in Kanchanpur-4, which had been claimed last year by NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, by a small difference.
Besides, the margin of the Maoist victory in the two constituencies first named was considerably less spectacular than it had been last year, indicating a clear slippage of sorts in popular support.
NC’s Shekhar Koirala this time barely managed to wrest Morang-7 from the Forum, earlier handsomely won by Chairman Upendra Yadav. Last time around, he had lost badly to the Forum. Though a victory is a victory, it is to be noted that a great deal of importance had been attached to the Morang-7 contest not least by NC boss Girija Prasad Koirala who lent his full political prestige and actually participated in the voting.
The real blow for the NC was in Dhanusha-5 where its candidate came third, and the UML on top, doubtless, in part at least, because Dr Chandra Mohan Yadav, a political novice and son of President Ram Baran Yadav who had swept the polls during last year’s election, was nominated as NC’s candidate.
Clearly, NC once again indulged in dynastic politics and paid a heavy price for it, as its strength in the CA has now dropped by one (as has that of the Forum). Thus, one may be excused for wondering when, if ever, the NC will learn!
Plainly, UML’s victory in Dhanusha-5 is all the sweeter in that its candidate Raghubir Mahaseth who had come in second last year defeated Krishna Yadav of the TMDP, led by Mahanta Thakur. The UML was in fact the only major party which had not won an election in any one of the six contested constituencies, last year. In that sense, too, the UML did well, as compared to its performance in the contested electoral battles, in 2008.
On a more general level, the voter turnout was considerably lower than it was last year, although some may argue that it is reasonable to expect a lower turnout in a by-election than in general election where more is at stake. On the other hand, it can also be said that since more attention can be paid by all concerned parties on a handful of seats than where hundreds are at stake, it is not necessary that voter turnout should, ipso facto, be lower in a by-election than in a general election.
It would thus be a useful exercise for all to attempt to objectively establish the reasons for the drop in voter interest after Nepal has been declared a federal republic.
So, in sum, what do the by elections’ results indicate? To my mind, it suggests that despite the Maoists’ securing one more seat in the CA than it had, this addition is not all that meaningful given that it has been leading the coalition government for the past nine months, benefiting from all the advantages of incumbency, saturation news coverage on a daily basis and the dissemination of perks and patronage executed with a political motivation.
While both the NC and the Forum have, numerically, suffered to the same extent, in proportionate terms, however, the loss for the Forum is more severe since its total in the CA is far below that of the NC, in absolute terms.
On the other hand, the NC’s defeat in Dhanusha-5 can safely be attributed to its pig-headedness in insisting that an absolute political neophyte, Dr Ram Baran Yadav’s son, should be nominated as NC’s official candidate over the heads of others with a record of political work and service to the party.
It is not very clear, at this stage, what if any contribution Sher Bahadur Deuba made towards the defeat of the NC candidate from a constituency that he had won last year. Would greater attention by him, and other NC heavyweights, to the Kanchanpur-4 constituency and its official candidate Yagraj Joshi have made a difference, in view of the fact that the margin of votes between him and the victor is not all that wide?
The UML, as already indicated, has done quite credibly snatching a seat from what was considered a traditional NC stronghold. Is this only a flash in the electoral pan or does it represent a steady political come-back – as was hinted at by the impressive manner in which its recent general convention in Butwal was conducted?
Also worthy of some focused thought is whether its student wing’s spectacular victory in recent student union elections over the NC and the Maoists is might also be a precursor of better days ahead for the UML.
While it was only the Maoists and the UML that gained a seat each in the by-elections, it would seem that the UML’s attractions are manifest more in intellectual and youth circles than perhaps in the general peasantry or less-educated sector.
On a separate plane, I maintain it is quite reasonable to wonder whether the Maoists’ PLA’s dismal failure to make an impression in the Fifth National Games, made possible by its controversial last-minute inclusion by fiat, does not also have political ramifications.
Its failure to bag even a single gold medal in football, volleyball, athletics, badminton, karate and taewondo in the national competition is certainly not an encouraging indicator of the Maoists’ ability to compete on a level playing ground.