Friday, April 17, 2009

THINKING ALOUD: Mulling By-Election Results By S. Khanal

Like the proverbial water-in-the-glass situation, the results of the by-elections held in six constituencies can be interpreted as half-full or half-empty depending on the beholder’s political leaning.

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.


Subodh said...

The most important aspect of these by-elections was the significance of them being held at all, who knows why the results went the way they did. If the Msoists start winning wholesale, soon we might have bye bye elections.

Govind said...

Come election day and the congressis are generally lazy to go out and vote than the communist parties which are a cadre based party.Remember how KP Bhattarai lost the election to Madan Bhandari .The YCL must certainly made double sure that their supporters went to vote.

Anonymous said...

There are so many points to be considered very seriously from the outcome of by-elections:

1. Nepali people are not buying the system of Republic/Presidential form of Government. They don't like Ram Baran Yadav taking the seat of King Gyanendra. In a way Former Crown Prince Paras Shah had beed attacked time and often to tarnish the image of Monarchy, people sent a message that the head of the nation should belong from the same dynasty who unified Nepal.
2. Nepali Congress (NC)'s win in Morang and defeat in Kanchanpur is an indication NC is Koirala and Koirala is NC. NC is likely to die with Girija Prasad Koirala. It is very likely after GP Koirala is gone NC will see many parties formed by its leaders and all of them are weak.
3. It is wrong to console ourselves by saying despite Maoists victory in 3 seats its vote base has been decreased considerably. In Rolpa, Maoist Chairman Pusphpa Kamal Dahal has contested earlier. Dev Gurung won the last election. In Kanchanpur, Maoist snatched the seat of Sher B. Deuba, the second in command in NC heirarchy and who has been the PM of Nepal three times. Popular leaders make difference in elections. From Maoist- all dark horses could defeat others.
4. UML's addition of one seat makes even more threat to democracy. Jhala Nath Khanal and his team won Butwal UML party election. After Jhala Nath Khanal became President of UML, its students' wing won free students' union election and added one more seat in CA. Jhala Nath Khanal and his team is more radical than others in UML camp. Winning 3 seats by Maoists and UML Hardliner communists are consolidating its positions should not be the subject of very light analysis. UML and Maoist has already decided to sort out the differences before Prachanda Thaiba's case came to conclusion. It is the indication that Nepal is clearly heading towards the ultra-left axis which should be the subject of real concern to those who love freedom and free economy based on competition. (I did not spare a word for MJF because it will have no grounds in the future).

Note: Unless Nepali Nationalists/Patriots are awaken, supported and helped to build the stronger organizatin to fight the ultra-left, Nepal will surely find herself under the boot of Pol Pot type Khmere Rouge. The internatinal community does not care if Nepal is democratic or totalitarian provided they are given open field to play against China. And China is happy to have its enemies surrounded in one place in Nepal so that it can easily defeat them at once with less resources spent. The crux of the matter is Nepal is becoming international play ground and losing any say in its own land. Thus, the stronger Nationalists/Patriots organization/base/institution is quite necessary to thwart Nepal falling under the grip of international mafia.

Bishal Shah

Subodh said...

Hi Bishal, your analysis is good but the only way the nationalists will come back will be by bullet, not ballot.

Anonymous said...

For me the election is significant for one grand reason: psychology. It boosts the morale of the Maoists' leaders immensely to ignore the opposition.

HORATIO said...

Taking up the issue of bullet vs. ballot raised in one of the comments above, is this the reality or just jingoism?

My considered opinion is, alas, this indeed is reality. Over the past 13 years, since the commencement of the "People's War" by the Maoists, the political culture of this country has been radically transformed from a fairly peaceful benign one to one that has proven that violence pays. Expectations have been raised to such an extent that any small excuse is good enough for mass demonstrations, burning tires and worse. In effect, Nepalis, especially the urban youth, have embraced the politics of violence.

In this scenario, alas again, bullets appear far more viable and effective than ballots. Question: is western-style democracy possible here?