The significance of the electoral alliance and the eventual merger between the currently second and third largest parliamentary parties is hard to overstate. After the promulgation of new constitution in September 2015, it is perhaps the most significant development in Nepali politics in the last decade. Although splits in big parties are regular occurrences, never before in Nepal has a merger of this scale taken place. Given the deep, nationwide roots of these two outfits, the combined party could easily command a majority in the upcoming provincial and federal elections. On the balance of things, we are excited by this merger. The wave of fissure of democratic forces witnessed in the post-2007 phase was not in the country’s interest. A dangerous trend was set, as political parties started to be formed along communal and ethnic lines and not based on competing ideologies, as befits a functioning democracy. The mushrooming of political parties also resulted in unprecedented political instability, as the national government was changed every nine months or so, which in turn had a devastating impact on the national economy and on Nepal’s hopes of graduating to a ‘developing country’ status by the target date of 2022.
The consolidation of all leftist forces that this alliance aims for could bring about drastic changes in this depressing pattern. With this merger, there are now basically two important political forces in the country: with Nepali Congress and some right-leaning forces aligned on one side against the leftist UML-Maoist alliance on the other.
Experience from around the world shows that democracies with two major political parties are more stable than democracies with three or more major political forces. Strong parties also make for strong and vibrant democracies. The new polarization this left alliance has brought about could also revive the long-dormant left-right ideological debates that had been rendered rather moot by greater prominence of ethnicity-based politics. But our optimism is also tempered by some nagging fears. One of these fears is that the current left coalition has, in fact, no basis in ideology. That Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal agreed to the merger on being induced with the promise of leadership of the new communist juggernaut; or that it was the only way for UML’s KP Oli to once again become prime minister.
We have no doubt that personal ambitions were at play. But we also hope that it is not only personal ambitions that brought these parties together. Otherwise, with its total control of the government, the new outfit could assume dictatorial powers and further entrench the culture of corruption and nepotism that have for so long bedeviled our government and bureaucracy. Separately, following this left alliance, the role of Nepali Congress in Nepali politics becomes even more crucial. Will it respond to the alliance with a long-term campaign to reinvigorate grassroots democracy in the party and by nurturing a new class of leaders who can mount a credible challenge to the left alliance? Or, as is more likely, will the party choose to muddle through, by endlessly demonizing its opponents and looking to cash in on the first opportunity to engineer a divide in the left alliance? The party has been brought to a difficult crossroads. Its path of choice will have lasting impact not just internal party politics but also on broader national politics. We can, again, only hope that the oldest running political party in the country will prove itself to be a responsible democratic force.