Nepali Congress In The Opposition
The Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party of the country, suffered a humiliating defeat in the recently concluded elections to the House of Representatives (HoR) and provincial assemblies. The heavy defeat for the Congress came in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system held for both HoR and provincial elections, which relegated the party to the third position in the HoR. Because of the party’s utterly wretched performance, it lost all opportunity to form governments in the provincial assemblies.
The defeat for the ruling Congress happened due mainly to the sudden and surprise electoral alliance between the two communist parties- the UML and the Maoist-Centre. However, the Congress can take solace from the fact that despite winning fewer seats than the second placed MC under the FPTP system, the party is now set to get the second position in the House of Representatives, because the party secured considerable seats in the Proportional Representation (PR) category.
The oldest democratic party has secured 40 out of total 110 PR seats while the first placed UML gained 41 seats and the Maoist won 17 seats. The rest of seats were shared by the two Madhesh-based parties. The PR seats have catapulted the Congress to become the second largest party in the HoR.
Out of a total 275 HoR seats, the Congress has 63 seats while the first placed UML has 121 and the MC has 53 seats. The two Madhesh centric parties- Federal Socialist Forum (17) and RJP-Nepal (16) have lagged behind the three parties. The fringe parties that have formed their alliance either with the UML or Congress had won four seats and one seat was one by an independent candidate.
The defeat has sent shockwaves inside the Congress, as many leaders and workers have started asking that the party leadership should resign due to poor show of the party. The party workers have blamed the leadership for the poor poll preparation and lack of charisma for the historical debacle for the party that had never tasted defeat of such magnitude in the annals of the nation’s democratic elections.
Despite suffering the unimaginable defeat, the overall vote count suggests that the Nepali Congress is not far behind the winner UML. In fact, the NC garnered more votes than the first and second placed UML and MC in the overall FPTP polling. The Congress secured about 3.5 million votes to the UML’s about 3 million votes while MC won only 1.2 votes in the FPTP category. Had the three parties contested the poll separately without forming the alliances, the Congress might have won the first position.
The Congress insiders say that the total votes garnered by the Congress in the FPTP category is actually slightly more than the total votes the party had polled in the local elections held in May this year, in which the Congress had finished second to the UML.
Many Congress apologists believe that the party should not lose heart even though it has lost the elections to the combined force of two communist parties that fought the elections with some catchy slogans of prosperity and stability.
The Congress supporters have thrown several reasons for the party’s defeat. Out of many, the failure to launch strong poll campaign with some populist slogans is the major reason that led to the fall of their party. The party couldn’t sell vociferously its anti-communist plank such as the Left Alliance victory would pose a greater threat to democratic tradition. The failure to distribute party tickets to right candidates in many constituencies too took a heavy toll on the election outcome for the party.
Also, the firebrand leader of the UML, KP Oli, was successful in convincing voters about his nationalist posture. Oli’s stance against the “India’s interference” in the Nepali affairs proved him more nationalist than the Congress leaders, who were accused of failing to protest against the crippling Indian blockade of 2015. The voters, mostly the swing voters, cast their votes against Congress as they were angry of the Congress stance vis-à-vis Indian blockade.
Now the party has lost and has been placed in the second place, it has no option but to rebuild its image as a responsible and effective opposition party that is committed to safeguard the constitution, democracy and people’s welfare.
Politically, The Congress can hope to reap some advantage from some inherent anomalies within the Left Alliance, which is now gearing towards the merger of the parties. The much-awaited unification of the two left parties is sure to give rise to differences among the top and junior ranked leaders of the both parties. Some Congressmen hope that any weakening of the Left Alliance will provide a better opportunity for the party in consolidating democracy in the country. Therefore, the party must remain in a wait-and-see mode for the brewing of differences within the two major communist parties as they inch closer to merge their parties and form the new government.
The NC can distantly hope that it can rope in the Maoist-Centre to form the coalition government through its support to the Prachanda’s party. In a multi-party polity, parties can form or break alliances any time if they feel like gaining an opportunity to form government under their own leadership. If MC decides to walk away from its alliance with the UML and form the government with the help of Congress and two Madhesi parties, then the Congress can extend its support to the Maoist Centre, with the greater hope of ending the “dangerous” alliance. However, this proposition appears to be a quite hypothetical one at present, given the deepening talks of the merger between the UML and MC and of forming their governments at the centre and six of the seven provinces.
At present, it appears that the oldest democratic party has no option but to perform the role of an effective and responsible opposition. As an opposition party, it can play the role of watch dog of democracy. The Congres can constantly warn the ruling parites not to undermine the constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights and provisions. Talks are being heard that the Left Alliance would be gunning for amending the constitution to suit their purposes without caring for the provisions that guarantee democracy in the nation.
The Congress is currently pressurising the Left Alliance to okay the Upper House (State Assembly) Bill. As a pressure tactic, the Congress has not yet quit the government. The step appears to be the party’s first move towards ensuring the constitutional provision which envisages the Nepali parliament would be complete only with the formation of both HoR and the State Assembly. It seems that the Congress has started acting as strong opposition for safeguarding constitutional provisions even before it has quit the government to pave way for the winners to form their government.