Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Tell-tale signs of by-election results


Out of by-elections held in three constituencies, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) had a clean sweep in two, namely, Tanahu-1 and Chitwan-2. Victorious jubilations in these two constituencies have, literally, overshadowed the party's stunning defeat in Bara-2. Swarnim Wagle and Rabi Lamichhane did come out with flying colours but Ramesh Kharel in Bara-2 constituency lost his election deposit money. He had just  4 percent votes of the total. This indicates limited or no access to Terai-Madhes politics for RSP.

By-elections were held only in three places, but there is so much noise and jubilation that it sounds like we had a midterm poll. Going by the media reporting and analysis, basically, one can read two points of views:

One, the results clearly demonstrate people’s distaste and distrust with mainstream political parties. People in general are sick and tired of the old vanguards and they are looking for a change. Even when ballot papers were being counted, Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba accepted his party's defeat and informed party members “a need to scrutinize public apathy and distaste”. His Secretary General Bishwo Prakash Sharma reported that the message coming from by-election results is that the party needs transformation. One can read similar points of views coming from the UML party leaders. Some are even coming up with “grapes are sour” type argument like: by-elections were held at an untimely and unwanted manner, therefore, UML never expected a win; the results going to have no or little impact for the party. Period.

This point of view reads that election results have come as a big shock to the mainstream political parties in general and electoral alliance in particular. However, they ignore the fact that it is because of the alliance that Upendra Yadav from JSP managed to pull out in Bara-2 constituency.

Two, infatuated by an unexpected landslide victory of Swarnim Wagle in Tanahu-1 and Ravi Lamichhane in Chitwan-2, RSP fans and well-wishers are already dreaming of general elections 2027 and forming RSP government headed by Lamichhane with Wagle serving as the finance minister. Hope this does not turn out to be the “dreams of Som Sharma”. Lamichhane has already threatened to withdraw party support given to the present government headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal. However, this could be a subtle ploy – a bargaining chip to demand party's previous share and status in the government.            

However, the truth must be somewhere in between these two polarized views. Politics is messy and it is getting messier in Nepal. Take the case of Tanahu-1 constituency. Nobody is taking the stock on the role played by NC dissenting leader Govinda Raj Joshi in the shameful defeat. Joshi’s last minute decision to support RSP candidate Swarnim Wagle, after a failed negotiation with Sher Bahadur Deuba must have played a crucial role in NC defeat. One must also not forget historical animosity between Joshi and Ram Chandra Poudel who vacated the seat in Tanahu -1, after being elected as the President of FDR Nepal.  

Poll analysts, close to NC, are putting a blame on UML vote transfer for RSP win. For NC, losing by-elections in Tanahu-1, traditionally a NC dominated constituency, to a party defecting candidate, is a matter of shameful defeat. NC defeat is primarily a result of party infighting than RSP strength and UML tacit collaboration.

Definitely, RSP has a cause to celebrate its victory in Chitwan-2. RSP has taken a big risk to re-file the candidacy of Lamichhane after court annulling earlier victory. Forget about his victory, Lamichhane's failure to garner lesser number of votes would have been enough to spoil his political career. He put himself to the test of the people’s court. It will be interesting to read the minds of the honchos at the Supreme Court, after his sweeping victory in Chitwan-2. The victory is also significant in the context of election spoilers like “audio leaking of Rs 2 crore bribery scandal” plus unfortunate mishap, on the eve of election, in which his personal driver fell from the rooftop in the wee hours. The driver is reported to be recovering in the hospital.           

By-elections in Bara-2 is more of a clash between two Madhesi leaders – Upendra Yadav from JSP and CK Raut from Janamat Party. I don’t suppose media even took it as a part of national election. It was more of a provincial election. With the support of the electoral alliance, Yadav managed to survive.

Other than making some high decibel noises in the parliament, I don’t suppose anything significant is going to happen with RSP gaining one additional seat or NC losing one.

Other than making some high decibel noises in the parliament, I don’t suppose anything significant is going to happen with RSP gaining one additional seat or NC losing one. However, some tell-tale signs are there to read:

  1. One the eve of voting counting, a joint meeting between three big political parties agreed to share the chairs of the parliamentary committees, decided to establish a committee, instead of fast track work on transitional justice, and the bill on constitutional council to be decided by the parliament. One could read some mellowing of relationship between three big political parties.
  2. RSP victory has come at the cost of lessening its chances of joining the government. RSP's threat to withdraw its support to the government has even made it impossible to join the government and demand its earlier share, that is, Deputy Prime Minister and the all-powerful Ministry of Home Affairs. It will be good to have Wagle as shadow finance minister.
  3. With his corruption case still pending at the Supreme Court, it will be interesting to read what happens with Govinda Raj Joshi. There is already a clarion call for anti-corruption drive in the country. It will be interesting to watch how Lamichhane is going to implement his anti-corruption programme when he has termed “dreaming of corruption” itself to be a crime. By the way, let me inform the readers that “younger people are more tempted to corruption than the older people”.
  4. With RSP distancing itself from the mainstream political parties and also the Southern neighbour, the party will have difficult time running the shows. So far it has been able to cash in on the support of the urbanite frustrated youths, who see no option other than to travel abroad for income and employment opportunities. Remember, Lamichhane’s popularity rests with running TV programmes primarily focusing on the pathetic conditions of the youths in foreign employment business.

Published on 26 April 2023