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Topic of pre-election alliance dominates NC Mahasamiti meeting

Topic of pre-election alliance dominates NC Mahasamiti meeting

The Mahasamiti meeting of Nepali Congress started on Monday after a six-year hiatus. Although the party’s top decision-making body, which is supposed to meet every two years, last held its meeting in 2018, which came hot on the heels of Congress’ historic electoral drubbing in general elections. 

In these past six years, the party has re-emerged as the largest party, thanks to the electoral alliance with the CPN (Maoist Center) and a few other fringe parties in the 2022 general elections. However, the grand old party is still not out of the woods yet. The party’s popularity is diminishing, intra-party rift is becoming increasingly tense, and the organizational structure is in shambles.  

The electoral alliance in 2022 elections catapulted NC back to the top spot, but many in the party are of the view that they should think about contesting the next general elections without any alliance.     

NC General Secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa and his team is pressing the leadership of Sher Bahadur Deuba to pass a resolution that the party will not forge a pre-poll alliance. However, Deuba and his supporters are not keen about the idea. 

In a direct reference to the Maoist party, in his political document, Thapa states: “The Mahasamiti meeting should make a resolution that the party would not forge a pre-election alliance, and will not create an environment in which the cadres will be forced to vote for other parties.”

The document further states though the prospects of a single party securing a majority are slim under the current electoral system, there can be a post-election alliance to deliver a government on the basis of common minimum program. The grassroots level cadres, according to Thapa, feel that pre-poll alliance is eroding the party’s ideology. 

“Between the 2017 and 2022 elections, our popular votes have shrunken by five percent. This is because NC cadres and supporters did not get the chance to vote for their party,” Thapa told the Mahasamiti meeting. 

Regarding the existing alliance with Maoist, Thapa said that the party should stick to it for the next four years, but come the next general elections, the Nepali Congress should fight alone. 

The faction led by senior leader Shekhar Koirala has a similar position on electoral alliance. 

“When I visit outside Kathmandu, our cadres often ask me, ‘When will we contest the election as a single party?’ Because of the electoral alliance, our vote share has decreased to 27 percent from 34\35 percent,” he said.

The reading of Thapa and Koirala regarding the pre-election alliance is the same, but their ambition to become the next president of the NC prevents them from joining hands to mount pressure on the current leadership. 

NC President Deuba and his supporters do not subscribe to Thapa and Koirala’s views. They believe that the alliance with Maoists helped the Congress become the largest party, and that this partnership could be continued in the future. 

The NC leadership takes the alliance with the Maoists as a compulsion and strategy to keep its main rival, the CPN-UML, out of power. But the local level leaders are not satisfied with the alliance. This was evident when the party members disregarded the NC-Maoist alliance and voted for the UML candidate in the National Assembly elections of Koshi province. The incident has created an environment of distrust between the NC and the Maoist party. 

NC leader Nain Singh Mahar says local level cadres are dead set against pre-poll alliance, mainly with the Maoist party. 

Given the animosity between two parties during the insurgency era, the NC cadres do not want to vote for the Maoist party. During the armed rebellion launched by the Maoists, the rebel force killed scores of NC cadres and confiscated their properties. To this day, the supporters of NC see the Maoists as their enemy. Even when the Maoists decided to join mainstream politics, scores of NC leaders and cadres were against the peace process initiated by former Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala.

In the 2022 general elections, the NC forged an electoral alliance with the Maoists to defeat the UML. Soon after the elections, the Maoist chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, whose party polled behind the UML in third position, urged the NC to support his prime ministerial bid.

When the NC rejected Dahal’s bid, the Maoist leader went on to join forces with the UML to become prime minister. This led to a bizarre scenario where the NC, despite winning the most number of seats in the House of Representatives, was consigned to the opposition aisle. Deuba’s leadership was heavily criticized at the time. Questions were also raised about alliance politics, particularly when two parties with opposing ideologies come together. 

The Deuba leadership managed to break the Maoist-UML alliance and reform another government under Dahal, but the debate over electoral alliance did not leave the NC. Deuba and his supporters may not want to pass the resolution rejecting the pre-poll alliance, as it could create friction within the current coalition. But this does not mean that the pressure is not off from Deuba. 

If the NC Mahasamiti meeting endorses the resolution, it will surely create a rift in the NC-Maoist coalition. The next general elections are still four years away, and if NC passes such a proposal, there is a high chance that the Maoists will once again join forces with the UML. 

It’s clear that Deuba doesn’t want to scupper his chance to become prime minister as per the deal reached with the Maoist chairman and current prime minister, Dahal. Deuba will try his best not to get the Thapa-proposed resolution passed from the Mahasamiti meeting. 

Vice-President Purna Bahadur Khadka, a leader close to Deuba, in his political document, states that the election alliance has become a compulsion due to the current electoral system. 

“We are forging the electoral alliance to avoid the risks of political instability because under the current system, no party secures the majority numbers required to form a government.” 

Another General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma has taken a middle path stating that it would be too early to decide about the electoral alliance, as the election is four years away.  He nevertheless agrees that alliance politics is damaging the party's reputation among the supporters.

Frustration is also growing among the Congress cadres and supporters because the current coalition government has failed to deliver. Although the NC dominates in all three tiers of government, the party has not taken any notable initiatives to ensure good governance and development. 

According to Thapa, there is not proper coordination and communication between the party and government, a major challenge that all governments have been facing after the restoration of democracy in 1990.  

As the decision of the ongoing Mahasamiti meeting of the NC could impact the national politics, the Maoist and the UML will be closely following the development.