Nepal Elections: Why not a Hung Parliament

15 Jun, 1999    ·   203

Mallika Joseph A recounts how the 3rd general elections in Nepal resulted in a clear mandate despite widespread predictions of a hung parliament

The third general elections to the Pratinidhi Sabha (Parliament) in Nepal held in May has decisively ended the coalition politics of the past four and a half years and provided a clear majority to the National Congress (NC) to form the next government.



The results of the elections were significant because they negated all predictions of a hung parliament. The Nepal Congress was marked by inner party squabbling that has on more than one occasion brought down its government. With power clashes taking up most of the leaders’ attention and time, very little has been done by the NC, whenever it was in powe, for the welfare of the people. Since it had such a poor image, many analysts did not expect the NC to fare better in this election.



Secondly, the seperation of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist (ML) from the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (UML) had left the latter virtually halved, and was expected to split the communist votes. Man Mohan Adhikary's sudden demise while he was campaigning for the UML left political analysts guessing on how the tide might turn – whether in favour or against the UML.



Thirdly with the third largest party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) splitting into RPP (Thapa) – the parent group and RPP (Chand), its credibility was damaged and resulted in its prospectus becoming dismal.



Seen in the light of these circumstances, many political analysts predicted a hung parliament. The results, however, have been very interesting. While the NC managed to gain a clear majority, bagging 110 of the declared 203 seats, the UML has emerged as the second largest party with 70 seats. RPP (Thapa) has won 11 seats, whilst its splinter group RPP (Chand) has been completely routed. The worst off has been the ML which was unable to secure even one seat.



Though not foreseen, NC’s poll victory can be attributed to a few reasons. Firstly, the unpleasant coalition experience appears to have prompted the Nepalese to vote decisively for stability; if the NC managed a comfortable majority it has to do with this factor. Secondly, considering the many splintered parties around it was the only one that managed to display an external unity despite having leaders with disparate views. Notwithstanding their differences, both Bhattarai and Koirala reconciled them. Koirala's pre-poll announcement that K. P. Bhattarai would be the PM if NC won proved to be a clever strategy. It helped the NC to project a united front. Thirdly, Koirala, by denying tickets to his own daughter, Sujata Koirala, and nephew, Prakash Koirala, providing opportunities for many new young members to contest, and enhanced the image of the party leaders in the eyes of the voters.





The UML’s prospects greatly dimmed after the ML split off. It managed to get 70 seats; 36 percent more than before, which pointed out that the ML has not suffered any change in its vote bank. That RPP (Thapa) also managed a face saving result compared to ML and RPP (Chand) demonstrates the voters’ disapproval of splinter groups.



The main reason for ML's failure seems to be its lack of organisational structure at the grass root level, and it is possible that a sympathy wave following Mr. Adhikary's demise which affected it adversely. Also, ML's closeness to the Maoists contributed negatively to its image. Displaying themselves as ultra-nationalist they had started condoning certain Maoist activities.



There have been other interesting factors in this election, as pointed out by political observers. Firstly, candidates with criminal records have had to face embarrassing defeats. Secondly,  politicians who played the numbers games in previous coalition governments have been wiped out. Thirdly, more than half the entrants to Parliament this time are new, with their number exceeding 125 in a 205-member house.  And finally, a voter turnout of more than 60%, amidst Maoist threats and violence, has also been a significant facet of this election.



What does the political development in Nepal mean for India ? Notwithstanding unstable coalition politics, both India and Nepal have signed many agreements to boost bilateral ties, in recent years, which include agreements on trade, transit, investment, the Mahakali treaty, power trade and civil aviation. In addition, India has also commenced Home-Secretary level discussions with Nepal regarding ISI activities in Nepal . With Bhattarai publicly announcing that he will “give priority to Nepal ’s relations with India ”, Indo-Nepal relations are bound to improve. At the same time, some issues like the Mahakali Treaty and the Kalapani issue need attention by both sides. That the voters have completely rejected parties like the ML with ultra-nationalistic and anti-Indian views in favour of an India-friendly party should be borne in mind by India , so as not to antagonise or disappoint the people’s expectations vis à vis Indo-Nepal relations.