Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The stakes of by-elections


The by-elections, scheduled on 23 April, in three constituencies in Bara, Chitwan and Tanahu districts are drawing so much public attention that they give an impression of mid-term polls. Whoever wins the elections is going to have a little or no impact on national politics. This is for sure.

The Maoist party headed by PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has not filed any candidates. Hopefully, he is busy enlisting successful holding of by-elections as a part of his next progress report. Lot many eyes are on possible election outcomes and no less speculations on who is going to win and who is going to lose. The electoral stakes are too high for the winners and the losers.

A total of 69 candidates have filed their names for by-elections, giving an average of 23 candidates per constituency. Given the intensity and density of electoral competition, there are ample concerns for security issues.    

There are several factors behind electoral competition. First, the way these constituencies were vacated has drawn public attention. Bara-2 constituency got vacated because Upendra Yadav, Janata Samajwadi Party President, who got defeated in November elections, was looking for a safe entry point to make a comeback. Therefore, Ram Sahaya Yadav, who got elected from Bara-2, was strategically promoted to the position of the Vice-President. CK Raut, the president of Janamat Party, who earlier defeated Upendra Yadav with a big margin (35,042 votes against 16,979 votes) in Saptari-2, is doing anything and everything to prevent Yadav from coming to the power. To make sure Yadav’s defeat, he has introduced first runner up Shiva Chandra Kushwaha from the Maoist Party into his party. Ram Sahaya Yadav had defeated Kushwaha in the last elections just by a couple of hundred votes.  

Interestingly, Upendra Yadav has the support of major parties in the coalition government. Yet, CK Raut is leaving no stone unturned to defeat Yadav. Earlier, Raut accused Election Commission for holding by-elections in haste.

The by-elections in Bara-2 is now more of an in-fighting inside Madhesi politics; staking big egos of Madhesi leaders. UML and RSP candidates contesting from Bara-2 are possibly seeking to cash in on Madhesi divide. Their strategy is going to have little effect.

By-elections in Chitwan-2 are even more interesting. The elections are going to be held there simply because Rabi Lamichhane, who earlier had secured a landslide victory, had his victory annulled by the Supreme Court. This was done because he did not hold valid Nepali citizenship certificate. With parallel court cases going on, Lamichhane candidacy is still embroiled in legal controversy and uncertainty. Going by the last vote counts, he is sure to win the elections but the candidates from NC and UML are not giving him a chance.

Lot many eyes are on possible election outcomes and no less speculations on who is going to win and who is going to lose. The electoral stakes are too high for the winners and the losers.

By-elections in Chitwan-2 is more of a legal battle now than having an election to elect an MP. Lamichhane must win the elections at any cost for political survival. Winning elections in Chitwan-2 is far more important than anywhere else. This is to settle scores with the court and his arch enemies. Also an insurance against pending legal case related to holding double passports. In a way, it is a question of life and death for RSP. The stakes are too high and that could be the reason Lamichhane is  betting 3 against 1.

By-elections in Tanahu-1 constituency is also no less interesting. The elections there is more of a NC Party in-fighting. Swarnim Wagle - a loyal cadre of NC - has defected the party and joined RSP to contest by-elections. RSP has touted this highly ambitious Harvard brat as the future finance minister of Nepal. He is cocksure of winning elections that he is not giving a cent to his rivals and NC party in particular.

This constituency had to be vacated because Ram Chandra Paudel, an NC veteran, got elected as the third President of FDR Nepal. Tanahu-1 is definitely NC-dominated constituency. Wagle, being a former NC cadre, is looking for an easy win. He is expecting to pull NC votes, plus the support of the discontent youths.

But another NC veteran Govinda Raj Joshi - a bitter rival of Paudel - literally, holds the key to victory. Whichever side his fellowmen seek to vote wins the elections. NC is doing everything to woo him and his supporters. In 2017 elections, Joshi, in collaboration with UML, had defeated Paudel. UML is seeking the repeat of a similar feat this time as well. Hence, they have filed Sarbendra Khanal, ex-police officer, as their candidate. The strategy is similar to RSP filing Ramesh Kharel in Bara-2.

One can fairly predict Upendra Yadav to win Bara-2, Rabi Lamichhane in Chitwan-2 (assuming no legal Damocles' Sword falling over his head) and Govinda Bhattarai in Tanahu-1 (sorry for Swarnim). But anything and everything is possible in Nepali politics. Defeats of Yadav, Lamichhane and Bhattarai means a disaster to their parties. Therefore, the stakes are too high, both for winning and losing side.

Published on 9 April 2023