The by-election for three vacant seats of the House of Representatives (HoR) was held on 23rd April. The ruling electoral coalition which had forayed into the polls in collaboration secured one seat, while the Rashtriya Swatantra Party on its own secured two. PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) reshuffled the cabinet for the eighth time in mere four months, appointing Mr. Narayan Prasad (NP) Saud from the Nepali Congress as the Foreign Minister, and Mr. Nanda Chapai from the CPN (Unified Socialist) as the Minister of State for Physical Infrastructure and Transport – however, PM Dahal is yet to fully expand the cabinet. The biggest party Nepali Congress is caught in intra-party tensions and hasn’t yet appointed ministers for four ministries allocated to the party. The winter session of the lower house was over with no laws or amendment bills passed, but the government introduced its Common Minimum Program for the second time. That aside, the Rashtriya Swatantra Party got embroiled in controversy over a leaked audio tape of its lawmaker Mr. Dhaka Kumar Shrestha asking NRs. 20 million to pay the “core team” of the party, and was subsequently expelled from the party as well as the parliament.
Timeline of Major Events
||Government unveiled the Common Minimum Program (CMP).
||The Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP) expelled its lawmaker Dr. Dhaka Kumar Shrestha from the parliament.
||Mr. Narayan Prasad (NP) Saud from the Nepali Congress and Mr. Nanda Chapai from the CPN (Unified Socialist) were appointed as the Foreign Minister and State Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport respectively.
||The by-election took place in three different constituencies.
||The winter session of the Lower House was called off.
By-Polls in Three Constituencies
The by-election for the vacant House of Representative (HoR) seats of Tanahun-1, Bara-2 and Chitwan-2 was held
April. The newly-formed Rashtriya Swatantra Party won
in Tanahun-1 and Chitwan-2 while the Janata Samajwadi Party won
in Bara-2. The ruling coalition of ten parties which had forayed into the by-polls with an electoral coalition, and the main opposition CPN-UML both performed poorly. The JSP’s top leader Mr. Upendra Yadav won from Bara-2 in support of the ruling parties but mainstream biggies in collaboration facing defeat with a newly-formed RSP in two of three constituencies is clearly indicative that the anti-incumbency wave, that had emerged in 2022 polls, is only getting stronger. With this, the RSP has added one more seat in the HoR as the top leader of the RSP, Mr. Rabi Lamichhane, had won from Chitwan-2 in the November poll as well. The result is unlikely to induce a major political shake-up at the center, nonetheless, the April by-poll is important in the sense that it reflects changing political landscape.
By-Poll and its many messages
In the local polls held in May 2022, quite a few candidates had pulled surprise victories in urban centers. Then, a media celebrity Mr Rabi Lamichhane launched
a new party, the RSP in June 2022. In federal and provincial polls, held in November 2022, the RSP managed
to secure as many as twenty seats, out of which seven were first-past-the-post (FPTP) seats. Two other newly formed parties, Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party performed beyond expectations in the Madhes region. The anti-incumbency wave that emerged in the polls of 2022 now seems to have extended beyond urban centers and Madhes – with the RSP winning a seat in Tanahun. The mainstream parties have failed to deliver good governance, and there is a growing disillusionment of constituencies against these parties, over the years. As a consequence, these self-labelled “alternative parties” are gaining momentum.
The by-polls have an alarming message for the mainstream political parties. If the mainstream parties fail to deliver on the front of governance, development and other deliveries, the new “alternative” political parties would capitalize upon the same – and secure electoral success. With this, now it is imperative that mainstream political parties undergo soul-searching and prioritize intra-party democracy, financial transparency and good governance. Of all parties, the Nepali Congress, a mass-based party could have to face the biggest challenge from the new political parties in the next election cycle, but as the by-polls suggest, other mainstream parties are equally susceptible to it. In Tanahun-1 itself, it was the UML who lost
the most votes to the RSP compared to other parties while the Nepali Congress lost the constituency which was long regarded as its “bastion”. With the by-polls, the anti-incumbency wave is now no longer confined to urban center or Madhes, and disillusionment against mainstream forces isn’t limited amongst the youth constituency. It appears that mainstream political parties now can’t rely solely on their traditional “pocket vote bank” to cash electoral success – and have to undergo course correction to regain back the confidence of general public.
Demagogic and populist proclivity of “alternative” parties
Although the “alternative” parties have shown a promising electoral success in the last election cycle, the problem is that despite lofty promises of good governance, and corruption-free politics among others, they are hardly any different than the mainstream ones. If anything, these parties seem to lack intra-party democratic procedures, and even worse, they have relied on populist rhetoric, and demagogic politics.
With these new parties getting electoral traction, it seems likely that demagogic politics will further gain ground – and in that case, it would be yet another challenge in Nepal’s transition to democratic maturity. Devoid of ideologies and concrete plans and policies, the newbies have blamed mainstream parties for all the ills that the nation has been facing so far – and presenting themselves as a panacea. To strengthen our democracy, alternative political parties, first and foremost, give up demagogic and populist politics.
State Institutions bear the brunt of messy coalition affairs; Governance takes a backseat
Ever since the November polls elected a hung parliament, political parties have been caught up with coalition affairs. Over the course of the last four months, the cabinet has been already reshuffled eight times, however, PM Dahal is yet to fully expand the cabinet after the CPN UML’s exit and the Nepal Congress’s entry in February. The Nepali Congress which has been struggling with intra-party factional politics is yet to appoint ministers for four other ministries allocated for the party. The opposition faction within the party led by Mr. Shekhar Koirala and secretary Mr. Gagan Kumar Thapa had demanded
at least four ministers out of eight – the establishment faction was initially reluctant to do so. Finally, a consensus has been reached
to appoint three ministers and one state minister from the opposition faction. Similarly, the Janata Samajwadi Party which has got two ministries, is yet to appoint one.
April, the winter session of the lower house was called off – and in the period of four months, not a single law nor any amendment bill was passed by the house, the thematic committees of the parliament were formed only in the last day of the winter session and the Constitutional Council is yet to appoint
the Chief Justice – the Supreme Court has been led by acting Chief Justice ever since an impeachment motion was introduced
against the then Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana in February last year. The priority of the ruling coalition lies in keeping the coalition intact rather than focusing on good governance and delivery. PM Dahal, who first formed a government with the CPN UML breaking alliance with the Nepali Congress, and then gained confidence of the parliament with the support of the Nepali Congress after the CPN-UML’s exit has recently called for communist coalition and unity again. On the other hand, the top leader of the Nepali Congress Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba has hinted
at the possibility of forming a new government under the leadership of the Nepali Congress itself. The past four months herald further instability, poor governance and messy politics in the days to come.
RSP leader’s leaked audio tape exposes deep rot within the system
On April 12, the Rashtriya Swatantra Party expelled its lawmaker Mr. Dhaka Kumar Shrestha over a leaked audio tape in which he was heard asking a businessman, Mr. Durga Prasain, Rs. 20 million to submit
the amount to the “core team” of the party so as to ensure the health ministry for himself. Following that, the RSP suspended him from the party, and from the parliament. The RSP’s swift action against Mr. Shrestha is commendable – even more so when the mainstream political parties, particularly the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center) have failed to take any actions against its leaders over similar leaked audio tapes episodes. But a question remains yet unanswered – if there is a “core team” within the party involved in such alleged illegal activities. The party’s spokesperson Mr. Mukul Dhakal has claimed, now that Mr. Shrestha himself has clarified
that there exists no such “core team” within the party, there is no need for further investigation into the same. This raises further doubts.
The political parties collecting funds illegally from business people in a quid pro quo
move, and the crony-capitalist nexus plaguing the system has been a constant of Nepali politics for long – and the leaked audio tape of the RSP’s lawmaker only reflects the same. It is high time that proper regulatory mechanisms be introduced to look into the financial transparency of political parties, leaders, and also create incentive structures for parties to abide by those rules and mechanisms.
Second Common Minimum Program of the Dahal-led Government
April, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government introduced
its second Common Minimum Program (CMP), after a major realignment in coalition in February and the subsequent second floor test. The new CMP, in essence, marks the continuation of programs of the first CMP of the Dahal-led government, and that of the Deuba-led government formed in 2021. Apart from usual programs, this government has prioritized peace process and transitional justice with the aim of putting these issues to logical conclusion. The Common Minimum Program being introduced twice in four months reflects the impact of realignment in the ruling coalition – and how governance has been hit by coalition affairs.