Published On: March 11, 2023 09:00 AM NPT By: Dr. Ganesh Mandal
Free, fair and periodic elections are one of the most important elements for strengthening democracy. For an election to be free and fair, certain civil liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, association and assembly, are required. Elections play a critical role in political transitions by advancing democratization and encouraging political liberalization. They also help to promote peaceful, democratic political transformation that lead to increased stability and prosperity. Franchise is one of the most important rights of a citizen in a democracy.
General elections were held in Nepal recently on 20 November 2022. The practice of forming alliances prior to the polls had already begun from the previous general election held in November 2017, in which NC contested alone against the left parties’ alliance and Madhesh-based parties’ alliance which adversely affected the election results. Unlike prior elections, the major parties like NC and CPN-UML both contested the recently-held parliamentary and provincial assembly elections forming broader alliances with other political parties. The alliances were quite unnatural and irrational on the basis of political, ideological and moral ground. Such alliances formed prior to the polls have proved that ideology does not separate political parties anymore. It is all about finding a partnership that is most likely to bring them to power.
Electoral alliances are not uncommon in parliamentary democracy. Coalition governments are prevalent in countries with mixed electoral systems; a combination of both first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) election system, where hardly a single party commands a majority of support in the legislature to form the government. The objective of an alliance is to form the government, run it and try to complete the term of parliament even if no party has a majority. While forming such alliances, serious attention should be given to the political, ideological and moral grounds for strengthening their foundations, besides an arithmetic calculation in parliament.
There are two forms of political alliances or coalitions, usually practiced during election; pre-electoral and post-electoral alliances. A post-election alliance is more natural and necessary than a pre-election alliance. The risks of a post-election alliance are relatively low. Its effect is limited to the sharing of power and interests in the governance of the government. If such a coalition fails, the government will fall and fresh elections have to be held.
Unlike a coalition formed after an election, the partners in a pre-electoral alliance usually do not run candidates against one another but encourage their supporters to vote for candidates from the other members of the alliance. However, the risks and challenges of a pre-electoral alliance are relatively higher and the consequences are sometimes unpredictable. The process of forming a pre-poll alliance, therefore, has a greater meaning and significance. It is not only limited to form the government, but also is an important aspect of the electoral strategy of political parties.
In the last general elections, coalition leader NC contested in 91 federal parliamentary electoral constituencies and left 74 constituencies to other coalition partners. Similarly NC contested in 176 provincial assembly electoral constituencies and left 154 constituencies to other four coalition partners. For the first time in history, the Nepali Congress had to give up a large number of seats to allies. Despite a pre-electoral alliance among five parties, NC could not secure the number of legislators or lawmakers as expected in the recently held parliamentary and provincial assembly polls. Though there was some increment in numbers of members to the HoR and provincial assemblies, there was an adverse impact on popular votes. The NC became the largest party in the federal parliament securing 57 members to the HoR through FPTP voting, while there was significant loss in the number of members to the HoR elected through the party’s list for proportional representation system.
While there was an improvement in the party’s overall performance, NC could not perform well in its own traditional base i.e. the Terai-Madhesh. Out of the total 32 constituencies in the parliamentary election in Madhesh Province, NC could secure victory only in seven constituencies. Similar results were received in the Terai districts of Province 1 and Lumbini Province as well. The result in the provincial assembly poll is also not very satisfactory. The overall achievement for NC regarding members to the HoR and provincial assemblies through FPTP voting while contesting the election in alliance in 2079 and alone in 2074, remained almost the same.
Coalitions led by either the Nepali Congress or the CPN-UML limited democratic options and there were limited choices of candidates for the voters, which was clearly against the democratic norms, values and public interests. The emergence of the wave of independent candidates of the new and younger generation and newly-emerged political parties were endorsed as democratic alternatives and also as being indispensable to save democracy from the major political parties’ syndicate.
Although it is the largest party in the federal parliament and in the provincial assemblies, NC failed to form the government anywhere due to the dissolution of the alliance after the elections. Providing the Pushpa Kamal Dahala-led government votes of confidence, NC has lost the moral ground even to strongly claim even the status of the main opposition party. Ultimately the NC failed to achieve a fruitful result from the pre-poll alliance which proved to be a huge blight on the party.
Today’s world is highly influenced by the trend of globalization, modernization, democracy and neoliberalism. The younger generations are inspired with the development globally. They don’t have any attraction towards the election manifestos or the governance system. Rather they have their serious concerns with regards to the basic and fundamental requirements such as quality education, quality health services, proper employment, good governance and rule of law. There is no alternative to the democratic system in today's world. The NC is the largest social democratic political party with a huge contribution to Nepal's democratic struggle and peace and development in the country. However, the reduction in attraction of the new generation towards NC and the party’s inability to gain the trust of Nepali citizens are really contradictory. The party has to prove its indispensability for the nation and its citizens.
The NC cannot be considered a strong party on the basis of popular votes, as it is not consistent in democratic elections held in Nepal since 2015 to 2079 BS. The party got the highest 37.75 percent votes in the 2048 general election and the lowest at 21.14 percent in the first Constituent Assembly election of 2064. To increase the popular vote and maintain the consistency of its percentage is A really challenging task. It’s quite essential for the NC to be strong enough to contest the election alone against other parties’ alliances. The party has been continuously failing to formulate strong, impressive and popular agendas for the last few elections to attract voters. Biasness, factionalism, injudicious selection of election candidates, negligence of the popularity of candidates at the ground level and the lack of an effective election strategic plan particularly in mobilizing the resources and party’s wings are the major drawbacks, which have been observed.
The NC has always been advocating democracy. However, it's challenging to maintain the true spirit of democracy. The party has to review history, deeply analyze the spirit of democracy and upgrade its newer and fundamental perspective. The party's policies and programs need to be modified and embellished as per the requirement of society, rapidly changing expectations and thoughts of the people.
The socioeconomic policy, the party's principles and ideology need to be modified relevantly with time and situation. It is quite essential for the NC to have special programs to increase attraction and mobilization of the youths who are the backbone of the nation and agents for transformation. Similarly, the general public’s misconception about the party’s infatuation with power or its ‘greed to be in the government’ has to be changed. The NC has to assure the people with its constructive and vigilant role as the main opposition too in parliament for the cause of nationalism, democracy, socialism, rule of law, human rights and social welfare.
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