Congress Can Bounce Back
With the counting of votes of the first round of local election heading towards its completion, it is the time for the political parties to pore over their performance. The result has shown that the second largest party in the parliament, the CPN-UML, has led all other parties in terms of winning the number of local units. The largest party in the parliament, the Nepali Congress, has finished second while the Maoist Centre has been pushed to a distant third. The poll has sent shockwaves to the parties like the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Naya Shakti and newly emerged Sajha and Bibeksheel, which have almost been decimated.
The poll result for the victorious party- the UML- can be termed as unexpected one because it has edged the largest party in the parliament to the second position. Though the Nepali Congress has won more than 100 local units, many party leaders and supporters are dissatisfied because the party has been nudged to the second place while its traditional communist rival, the UML, had won the first position by winning more seats.
Many think that the UML won more places because of the "follies" committed by the Nepali Congress leadership rather than the popularity of the UML. A faction of the Nepali Congress leaders, led by senior party leader Ram Chandra Paudel, has roundly put the blame on the party leadership for the "poor" performance of the party. The swing voters opted to vote the UML because of its leadership's nationalist plank and posture in recent times. The main opposition, in recent days, is known for its posture against the Madhesi demand on constitution amendment, which must have cheered many in the nation, which was also reflected in the poll too.
The Congress suffered the jolt because of the "unfavourable decisions" the party leadership had taken just before the local election. The issues pertaining to the appointment of the police chief, the impeachment of the chief justice, eleventh hour electoral alliance with the Maoist Centre, indecisiveness in distribution of the party tickets, and distribution of tickets to the wrong candidates have its direct bearing on the party's performance in the local polls. According to some, the Congress won more than 100 seats just because of the votes from its traditional voters who would not vote any other party even when the party's leadership will be committing blunders after blunders.
In the metropolises and towns, the Congress has lost because the highly "aware" voters who could have voted for the party, but chose alternative candidates at the last hour. In Kathmandu and Lalitpur, many voters cast their votes for the candidates of the Sajha and Bibekshil parties, which ultimately helped the UML to race ahead in these major cities. In the case of Bharatpur metropolis, the "unexpected" electoral alliance with the Maoist Centre appears to have irked the Congress voters to the hilt. The forceful withdrawal of the Congress candidacy in Bharatpur in order to help the MC candidate has not so far born positive result as the NC-MC alliance candidate for mayoral post is still lagging in the second place. Bharatpur Metropolis, like Kathmandu, Lalitpur and other major cities and towns, are regarded as the Congress stronghold. However, the candidates of the party and its ally have not been faring well which has suggested that the Congress's last minute decisions and activities proved to be the counter productive.
One can only imagine what would have been the result for the Congress, had the country been holding election for the parliament instead of the local units and had the Congress committed same mistakes.
The Congress, while taking various counter productive decisions and irking its voters, has failed to grasp the nature of the Nepali voters, including the swing-voters, who often cast their vote on the basis of their merits and performances and who play a crucial part in catapulting the political parties to the powerful position. But these voters can show their back to the parties if the party commits "mistakes" just before the election period. Not the least, the relatively poor performance of the Congress is attributed to the internal sabotage from the party workers that led to the downfall of the party candidates in many places where they were supposed to win.
Despite not so good performance, the Congress can feel satisfied if the party scrutinise the vote that have been cast in favour of the party's deputy mayoral candidates in many units including the metropolises. The deputy mayoral candidates in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bharatpur are ahead of their rival candidates. The vote cast to the deputy mayoral indicates that the Congress supporters have not totally gone against the party. The Congress only needs to spruce up its acts before two major elections- the election for the provincial assemblies and the federal parliament- to restore the faith of some dissatisfied voters.
The party, despite its loss to the UML, can finish at the first position in the second phase of poll which will be held in four provinces in June 14. Many districts of the Terai belt which will witness the second round poll are regarded as the Congress bastion. Owing to the presence of large chunk of Madhesi population in the Terai region, the UML is less likely to win more seats here because of the UML's rigid posture on the Madhesi demands. In many parts of the Terai, the Congress candidates will have to contest against the Madhesi rivals rather than the UML. Likewise, the Congress candidates may win many places in the far west's province number 7 during the second round poll. Many districts of the far west are touted as having supporters and backers of the Nepali Congress president.
During the second round of local poll, the Congress may wrest the first position from its archrival, the UML. The first round loss therefore appears only a small blip for the party. However, the party must learn a lesson from the performance in the first round. It must not repeat the same mistakes and must be highly aware while distributing the tickets to its candidates. The party and its district arms must select right and able candidates and provide tickets to the candidates who can perform far better than other. The party and its leaders must not indulge in any activity that would irk or raise the level of dissatisfaction among its traditional voters and swing and undecided voters. The election period is an utterly fragile and susceptible time and any mistake committed during this period can mar the whole opportunity to regain the lost position even for a party like Nepali Congress.