The second multiparty elections in Nepal on 20 November after the new constitution 2015 have been unique. For the first time, the simultaneous federal and provincial elections were contested as pre-poll alliances with several independent parties, candidates and rebels participating. It is not simple casting four ballot slips in a mixed electoral system (first past the post and proportional representation) that does not throw up a clear majority unless various factions and parties unite to form coalitions. In 2017, Communist parties merged as Nepal Communist Party and swept the elections. This time, no single party dared to fight independently.
This election bucked the trend of local elections in 2017 when Communists took Kathmandu’s Parliament as well as six or seven provinces. This time, results are scattered due to the meteoric rise of independent parties like Rashtra Swatantra Party; and Janmat and Nagarik Unmukti parties in Madhes, decimating traditional Madhesi parties. Power equations have changed significantly and neither major coalition – Nepali Congress led by Prime Minister SB Deuba and CPN (UML) led by former Prime Minister KP Oli has managed to reach the 138 majority mark. Deuba’s coalition consists of former PM Prachanda’s Maoists, former PM Madhav Nepal’s Unified Socialists, Mahanta Thakur’s Loktantrik Janata Samajwadi Party and Chitrabahadur KC’s Rashtriya Jan Morcha. Upendra Yadav’s Janata Samajwadi Party, the original constituent of NC coalition jumped ship and joined UML coalition and was replaced by Thakur Saab. Unsurprisingly, CPN (UML) won the highest votes – 28,45,641 – giving it 34 additional PR seats. NC was close behind with 27,15,225 votes and 32 PR seats.
The Game of Thrones started a week ago, to guess which coalition President Bidya Debi Bhandari will invite to prove majority on the floor. Prachanda is deeply embarrassed by Maoist’s poor showing with just 32 seats when he expected at least 45. Similarly, NC, as the single largest party, won 57 plus 32 (89) seats. Its strike rate was 57 of 91 seats it contested. CPN UML which fought 141 of 165 seats won just 44 plus 34 PR (78 seats). The UML coalition has reached 104 against NC’s 136 seats. It is Prachanda’s Maoists which as third largest party, have progressively declined from 329 to 83 to 51 and now 32 seats in elections since 2008. According to a pre-poll understanding, if Prachanda was to fetch 44 and more seats, NC and Maoists would share power with Prachanda holding the reins for the first two and a half years and later handing over to Mrs Deuba- Arzu Rana Deuba. She is known to have tied a rakhi this year to BJP’s Vijay Chauthaiwale, in charge of the party’s foreign affairs cell. Power-sharing stabilizes unwieldy coalitions they say.
In order to improve Prachanda’s bargaining power, Maoists are looking over their shoulder. Party Vice President KB Mahara last week announced that Maoists will “keep all options open” but next day the party reneged saying it will stick by the NC coalition and signed a press release of coalition partners sans Thakur Saab, to that effect. It seems Maoist well-wishers are campaigning for Prachanda’s premiership and working to increase the party’s flock by roping in Nagarik Unmukti Party led by Resham Choudhary who is in Kathmandu jail for the fifth year but his party brings along three seats plus one independent. In the foursome are Choudhary’s wife and father. Also pledged to join are Prabhu Shah, a former Maoist who joined Oli and an independent. The surprise star of Madhes, Dr CK Raut, who routed Upendra Yadav, met Deuba and Prachanda and will bring six seats. Onlinekhabar reported that Prachanda commands support of 60 legislators. Now, even Rabi Lamichhane (21 seats) has offered to support Deuba who will need to be discreet in selecting partners. The contenders for PM are many in NC- Deuba, dark horse Shekhar Koirala and gold star Gagan Thapa. Eventually, as always, experience will trump new blood with Deuba likely chosen by the NC parliamentary party as its leader for the sixth time.
Other options are afloat. First, Oli has offered his bête noir Prachanda a power-sharing deal. #no not again Mr Oli. All three years from 2018 to 2021, Oli and Prachanda fought bitterly over leadership and split the party. Oli has forgotten his clarion call: “Never let Prachanda become Prime Minister ”. That Oli will make Prachanda PM is make-believe. Overall it appears the NC coalition will cobble an inflated coalition struggling to form a stable government. The constitution cushions such a government with the provision of a two-year bar on no confidence motion. Nepali journalists asked me: who does India want as Prime Minister? My reply: the one whom the alliance will select. India will not micro-manage the selection of PM. The first decision the new PM will make is on Agniveer – one factor that lost BJP Himachal Pradesh last week.