November 2022 Analysis - Domestic Politics & Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2022-11-15

Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
3 November Candidates began organizing rallies, seminars, and corner meetings.
20 November Federal and Provincial Polls were held in a single phase.
24 November CPN UML’s chair KP Sharma Oli called CPN Maoist Center’s top leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal for the first time after the split of Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Federal and Provincial Polls

On November 20, both federal and provincial polls were conducted in a single phase throughout the nation. While the election was largely peaceful barring a few incidences of violence, the voter turnout was remarkably low - almost 61%  in comparison to 69% in 2017 polls and 64% in local polls held last May. As many as 11,543 candidates forayed into the election - for both first-past- the-post and proportional representation system for the federal parliament and seven different provincial assemblies. For 165 FPTP seats of the federal parliament, a total of 2,412 candidates contested - out of which 2,187 were male and 225 were female, - and for the 110 proportional representation seats, there are a total of 2199 candidates - 1187 female and 1012 male.

Ruling Coalition Fails to Translate into Electoral Success

The five-party ruling coalition had forayed into the polls with a hope for a landslide victory in federal and provincial polls - however, the coalition struggled even for the magic number of 138 - a simple majority in the House of Representatives required to form the federal government. In the FPTP category, out of 165, Nepali Congress won 57, CPN Maoist Center 18, CPN Unified Socialist 10 seats, Loktrantrik Samajwadi Party 4, and Rastriya Janamorcha got 1 seat. Out of 110 Party-list Proportional Representation (PR) seats, Nepali Congress has got 32 and CPN Maoist Center 14 seats while the rest of the parties couldn’t meet three percent of minimum threshold of total votes cast under the PR category required to be eligible for PR seats. This leaves the ruling coalition with 136 seats. The Nepali Congress then roped in Janamat Party with a total of 6 seats in preparation to form the government. On the opposition front, CPN UML won 44 FPTP seats and 34 PR seats, Rastriya Prajatantra Party 7 FPTP seats and 7 PR seats, and Janata Samajwadi Party 7 FPTP seats, and 5 PR seats.
The result was quite unexpected for the ruling coalition which had aimed to gain a clear edge against the parties in opposition. In the local polls held last May, the coalition was largely successful, and two main parties Nepali Congress and CPN Maoist Center had benefited immensely while the rest of the parties too had gained out of it. This time round, the performance of Nepali Congress is remarkably better compared to the 2017 polls when communist forces had forayed into the election together but that of the CPN Maoist Center is below par. CPN Unified Socialist formed after the split of CPN UML did even worse. Both CPN Maoist and CPN Unified Socialist have claimed that their dismal electoral performance has to do with votes of Nepali Congress not transferring to their candidates. Unlike the communist coalition of 2017, the ruling coalition was between parties with conflicting ideologies, policies and contrasting voter bases which could have had to do with the coalition failing to translate into electoral success.


A Wave of Anti-incumbency in Urban Centres and Madhes

Following the surprise victory of quite a few independent candidates in mayoral posts in the local polls held last May, a slew of independents candidates - as many as 867 - had forayed into this election. Seizing upon the same, a media celebrity Rabi Lamichhane had launched a new party named Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP) in June. RSP has managed to win 7 federal FPTP seats, and 13 more under the proportional representation system, just twelve less seats as compared to CPN Maoist Center - a major mainstream political force. The RSP’s ideology, political agendas, plans and policies aren’t yet clear - the party had approached, seemingly in a demagogic fashion, focusing solely on issues of governance and corruption as its electoral agendas while blaming mainstream political parties for all the problems that the nation has been facing. RSP’s FPTP victories are however confined strictly within urban centers - Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Chitwan. Thus, the party’s electoral success could be read as a growing disillusionment amongst urban- middle and upper-class constituencies with the mainstream political parties.
In the Madhes region, two main parties Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) and Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP) struggled to perform while two new forces Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party have emerged - Janamat party won 6 (1 FPTP and 5 PR) seats and Nagarik Unmukti Party secured 3 FPTP seats. The two mainstream Madhes-based parties JSP and LSP won 12 (7 FPTP and 5 PR) seats, and 4 FPTP seats respectively. The JSP had fought the election in a coalition led by the CPN UML and the LSP had joined hands with the ruling alliance - Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party had fought elections on their own. Janamat Party’s electoral success is also reflected in PR votes. While the LSP failed to cross the minimum threshold of 3% to be eligible for PR seats in the HoR and the Janata Samajwadi Party got 4.04% of total votes, the Janamat party has received 3.79% of the total PR votes, thereby securing 5 PR seats which is equal to the PR seats received by the JSP.
Likewise, quite a few first-tier and second rung leaders of the CPN UML, CPN Maoist Center and the Nepali Congress couldn’t make it to the HoR. The JSP’s top leader Upendra Yadav lost the election from Saptari 2. CPN UML’s Ishwor Pokhrel, Shankar Pokhrel, Pradeep Gyawali, SherDhan Rai among other lost the election while Nepali Congress’s sitting minister Bal Krishna Khand, senior leader Krishna Prashad Sitaula, Bijaya Gachhadar, Sujata Koirala, Padma Narayan Chaudhary and Chitra Lekha Yadav too couldn’t make it to the HoR. Similarly, sitting minister Pampha Bhusal, Onsari Gharti, Giriraj Mani Pokharel from the Maoist Center, and ex-PM Jhala Nath Khanal from the CPN Unified Socialist were defeated. The relatively weak performance of    Madhes-based mainstream parties and the electoral failure of some senior and second-rung leaders of mainstream political parties are too indicative of the anti-incumbency wave.

Hung Parliament Portends Instability

The largest party Nepali Congress has just 11 more seats to its nearest rival CPN UML, and no party has a clear majority in the HoR. This leaves ample room for all sorts of possible coalitions to form governments which is likely to induce instability. While the results were still trickling in, political parties began exploring different coalition possibilities to form the federal government. The Nepali Congress wishes to continue with the current coalition and form a government under its leadership - top leaders of CPN Maoist Center and CPN Unified Socialist claim that they too wish to continue with the same coalition. However, the possibility of the communist parties coming together can’t be ruled out altogether. CPN UML’s leader KP Sharma Oli has sought to remend his relationship with the CPN Maoist Center’s Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda),   and some second rung leaders of both CPN UML and CPN Maoist Center are putting efforts towards the same end. The Maoist Center too has flip-flopped on this - first it claimed that it was open to all sorts of coalitions to form the new government, and then backtracked from this position within twenty-four hours swearing allegiance to the current ruling coalition led by the Nepali Congress.The two major parties of the ruling coalition - Nepali Congress and CPN Maoist Center are said to have agreed informally to lead the government approximately for 2.5 years each in the next five year term of the HoR. Both the parties, however, wish to secure the first term of premiership which could spell trouble for the ruling coalition. On the other side, the communist parties could join hands to form a government with the support of other smaller parties if the NC- led coalition fails to do so.
Whichever coalition gets materialized, the hung parliament with quite a few small parties, however, heralds instability. Our experience with the hung parliament, in between 1995 to 1999, and from 2006 to 2017 wasn’t pleasant either. In these two periods, major political parties got occupied in coalition politics, forming and toppling of governments, and in horse trading of parliamentarians while good governance and development took a backseat. The smaller parties, on the other side, went through a series of splits and mergers guided with a motive of joining governments. And it was in these periods, systemic corruption gradually burgeoned. That aside, the hung parliament could also give a way to foreign interference in our internal affairs. It is of no secret that China, in the past few years, has openly gone to length in facilitating communist coalition, while the US and India also want a friendly Kathmandu administration. Now that the parliament is hung, foreign actors could intensify their efforts to influence coalition politics and government formation – and in doing so, could further push Nepal towards political instability.

Controversial Provisions of the Election Commission

The Election Commission (EC) in its code of conduct banned organizing rallies, corner meetings or seminars before November 3- and allowed door-to-door campaigns only in groups not exceeding 25 people. In previous elections, mass gatherings, rallies and seminars were common practices but owing to the newly introduced rules, candidates relied heavily on door-to-door campaigning. Further, the Election Commission also prohibited use, sale or distribution of symbolic materials with logos on caps, t-shirts, bags among other items. This further led candidates to rely heavily on social media. Social media campaigning has been effective in recent polls due to wide availability of smart phones and internet - and also because candidates can reach a wider audience with minimal cost. However, some candidates relied so heavily on online campaigning that they ended up spending quite a lot. The Election Commission had introduced new provisions to reduce spendings of candidates - but the EC’s moves aren’t strictly in line with democratic spirit. Democratic elections aren’t just for selecting representatives through procedural participation of constituencies but elections also equally serve as a medium to engage the general public in political, ideological and policy discourses. Thus, restricting election campaigns could have unintended consequences. Lack of enthusiasm among constituencies this time round, as reflected in the low voter turnout, could also have to do with the newly introduced provisions.