The results of by-elections held for 52 vacant positions on Saturday have been out. The poll results do not show major change in the strength of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) than the mandate they had secured in the 2017 elections. But it has sent a significant message to all the parties who contested in these elections. Of the total 52 seats, NCP candidates have won in more than 50 percent seats while opposition Nepali Congress is trailing behind. At the same time, NCP lost in Bhaktapur and Dharan. Congress candidate won in Bhaktapur. Similarly, the post of Mayor of Dharan Sub-Metropolitan City has gone to Congress candidate. Meanwhile, Bibeksheel and Sajha parties have not been able to win a single seat. What does this mean for ruling and opposition party? Two messages stand out.
First, the popularity of NCP is declining. It was only two years ago that NCP had prevailed in almost all of the seats in which Nepali Congress have stood victorious in by-polls. This shows that while NCP leaders from Kathmandu were claiming to work for the prosperity and development of the country with high sounding slogan of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’ people on the ground were either not convinced or they wanted something tangible to be delivered. As things stand, the government led by NCP has not been able to do anything substantial on these fronts. So people began to lose hope from NCP and sough alternative. Something similar could be said of Nepali Congress too. In two years, since the last general elections, NC has not been able to keep its own house in order. Nor could it play the role of constructive opposition in the parliament. The NC has been rallying with the slogan of authoritarianism. But people did not buy into that argument either. That means vast majority of people still do not see NC as a credible opposition. Bibeksheel and Sajha, which have been projecting themselves as alternative to traditional political forces, either failed to reach out to the larger mass or people found their agendas simply untenable.
One important message the by-elections has given is when it comes to polls, vast majority of people stand either in favor of Nepali Congress or NCP. In that sense, it could be interpreted to mean that Nepal is on the way of endorsing the two-party system. But there is another important message too: That people are not happy with Congress and NCP. Thus, if these parties want to stay relevant they must do something substantial to mend their ways. Ruling NCP must immediately start to deliver on development, rule of law and good governance. Without doing so, NCP risks losing public support in the next general elections. Congress must also reinvent itself. The main opposition needs to go out to the people with credible agenda and become able to stand against every wrongdoing committed by the government. The main challenge for Bibeksheel and Sajha is to consolidate their base at the grassroots level. Elections give people an opportunity to endorse or reject the agendas of political parties through votes. This time around, they have neither fully rejected not fully endorsed the agendas of NCP and NC. These two parties have to do a lot of soul-searching.