The ruling coalition of Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center), Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), CPN (Unified Socialist) and Rastriya Janamorcha Party are busy negotiating seats for the upcoming elections to the federal parliament. The main opposition, CPN-UML, meanwhile, is seeking to forge electoral alliance with fringe parties, especially in Madhes. Pratik Ghimire of ApEx talked to political analyst Vijay Kant Karna to know what he thinks holds for the parties in Madhes in the Nov 20 polls.
How do you think the ruling coalition will settle the seats in Madhes?
Considering the population of 20 districts in the Madhes belt, it does not have enough constituencies. There are around 75 seats from the region, and the top leaders of the ruling coalition have been meeting regularly for a seat-sharing deal. Initially, they seemed to have a formula to divide the constituencies, that those who had won in the 2017 parliamentary elections would get the respective constituencies. But the Nepali Congress is reluctant to do so because many of its leaders would not get election tickets.
The JSP has asked for 16 out of 32 seats in Madhes Province, but my prediction is that the party will settle for 12 or 14 seats. The Congress will have the second most number of seats followed by the Maoists.
It has been easy for the major partners in the ruling coalition to negotiate with the JSP since the other major Madhes-based party, Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP), is not in the alliance. Also, the JSP has no valid grounds to claim the seats won by LSP in the 2017 polls.
Will the ruling coalition outshine other political parties in the Madhes region?
It would have been no problem for the ruling coalition to get perfect election results if the ruling coalition had won all the seats in the Madhes region in the local polls. But that is not the case. They should convince their provincial leaders and cadres if they are to win all the seats in the federal polls. If the influential leaders do not get the election tickets, there will be many rival candidates who will split the votes. It all depends on how these parties will manage the alliance and their intra-party disputes.
Yet, the chances of the ruling coalition performing better in the Madhes region are good compared to other parties.
Where does the UML stand in Madhes?
UML Chairman KP Oli recently visited Madhes and tried to convince the voters. A few of the leaders from other parties have also joined the UML in recent times. But the UML position on the bill to amend the Citizenship Act and the move of the president not to authenticate the bill could affect the party’s election outcome. Many Madhesi voters are not pleased with what happened with the bill.
Is there any hope for small parties and independent candidates?
I don’t think so. There are no real independent candidates in Madhes that I can think of. They are either established politicians who have changed or quit the party due to intra-party disputes. In the local election, too, a couple of candidates from the Janamat Party of CK Raut won the election. This victory was not due to the party’s organizational strength, it was due to the popularity of the candidates among voters. They would have won from whichever party. The same happened when Manoj Sah won the mayoral seat in Janakpur. He was a popular local Congress leader but his party did not give him the election ticket. So, he contested as an independent candidate and won. Remember, he was already an established politician. So, unlike in Kathmandu, Madhes is yet to see the rise of purely independent candidates.
Are the Madhes agendas still relevant for the voters?
The Madhes agendas will never be irrelevant for the voters in the region. But for the political parties, it will be difficult to collect votes by advocating those agendas as they had done in the 2017 polls. The Madhes-based parties did not get the votes in the previous election so that they can expand their bargaining power while forming government. The voters wanted their representatives to advocate for their agendas in parliament. So, yes, the Madhes agendas are still relevant to the voters. But whether they trust the political parties to champion those agendas is a different issue entirely.