Nepal is gearing up for by-elections scheduled for November 30, for 52 vacant positions including a seat for the federal parliament and three seats for provincial assemblies. Ruling Nepal Communist Party and the main opposition Nepali Congress are in exercise to announce their candidates for the respective constituencies. NCP and NC have projected themselves as the front-runners in most of the constituencies. By-elections are usually not a big event for they are meant to fill up the seats remained vacant either by passing away of occupants or other reasons. But this time around, perhaps for the first time in many years, Nepal’s by-elections are going to be watched with keen interest. This is because by-elections are happening nearly two years after the government of KP Sharma Oli came to power with sweeping mandate of stability, development, good governance and prosperity. So this is going to be the popularity test of the Oli government as well as how far Nepali Congress has been able to consolidate its base in local, provincial and federal spheres.
Neither party seems to have been able to impress the people much in the last two years. The government of the two-thirds majority has not been able to deliver much. Though in recent times, the government has been trying to uphold the law and order system—arrest of various high-profile political leaders implicated in murders and rape being the case in point—its initial pledges for reforms in transportation sector and the promise of infrastructure development have not seen the light of the day. As a result, there is growing disillusionment, even frustration, among people against the government. In some cases, the government has not been able to honor the decisions that ought to have been executed unasked. The growing protests of medical students against the medical colleges charging them exorbitantly high fees—much higher than the limit set by the government—can be taken as an example. People must have evaluated where the government failed and on which fronts it succeeded, if at all.
Likewise, the main opposition Nepali Congress too does not seem to have been able to regain public trust. Since the electoral debacle two years ago, it has not been able to reinvent the party. There are allegations that it has not been able to play the role of a constructive opposition. It has been criticized for failing to raise corruption issue in the parliament. In this context, it will be interesting to watch who the voters of the constituencies of by-elections will elect. Be that as it may, here is something all the parties contending for by-elections must take note of. Our election campaign has been a too costly affair in recent years. This was stark during the 2017 elections. Candidates were found to spend millions — several fold more than the amount set by the Election Commission — during the election campaigns in a clear violation of election code of conduct. This is something contending parties must thoroughly avoid this time. In this context, Sajha Party and Bibeksheel have tried to set a new example by avoiding extravagance. This is something other parties could also emulate. There has been hardly any election free of violence and rigging in Nepal. This must be avoided too. For this, however, the contending parties must strictly conduct themselves according to the rules set by the Election Commission. By-elections have presented an opportunity to the parties to present themselves before the electorates and win their support. Let us hope they will set new example of fairness this time around.