ब्लगमान्डू : सेनालाई साँच्चै लोकतान्त्रिक बनाउने हो भने यसका खर्च प्रक्रियाहरूलाई पारदर्शी बनाउने अभियान थाल्नुपर्छ । (बाँकी)
By Ameet Dhakal
The Constituent Assembly election date remains uncertain still, but the political debate from lavish lounges in Kathmandu to chiyaa pasals in remote villages seems to converge towards one conclusion: the UML will be routed in the upcoming polls. But that’s too simplistic a conclusion. Political parties–including the Maoists– can take the UML lightly only at their own peril.
While the Maoists are busy organizing “victory rallies” and the Nepali Congress (NC) remains as laggard as ever in the matter of party reorganization, the UML is working “day-and-night” to reinvent itself. The party is just closing its three-month countrywide campaign to revitalize its machinery. The chief goal of this campaign is to renew the membership of organized members– the heart of the UML party machine — and to provide them the necessary political training. Though a final picture is yet to emerge this campaign seems to have bolstered the confidence of UML rank and file.
“The signs are overwhelming,” says Yogesh Bhattarai, secretary of the UML Kathmandu Valley Coordination Committee. He said organized members who failed to renew their party membership in the past for different reasons — chiefly because of the Maoist threat – have now come back into the party fold.
The UML is currently focused on rehabilitating a party network ravaged by the insurgency. For instance, the Maoists used the 18 VDCs in the southern part of Lalitpur district as their base-area and destroyed the local organizations of other parties. These VDCs were used by the Maoists as shelter for their leaders coming in from outside the Valley. “We have completed reorganizing the party units in almost all these VDCs in the last three months,” said Bhattarai. The UML is also on a general membership drive. On November 11 alone it distributed 10,000 general memberships in Kathmandu Valley from 40 different points. According to Bhattarai, the party aims to distribute 50,000 memberships in Kathmandu by the end of January. UML student wing ANNFSU has also actively expanded its membership base. At its general convention held in Chitwan district a few months ago, the number of convention representatives increased to 1,500 from 900 at the last convention. The number of convention representatives is based on the number of All Nepal National Federation of Student Union (ANNFSU) members.
This is the first time in many years that the UML has had the opportunity to go to the villages and reassess its party strength. And the party cadres seem to have grabbed it with great gusto. Any party aiming to steal from the UML vote bank will have to first confront this colossal party machine.
When the Kathmandu Post interviewed 26 NC district presidents a few weeks ago and asked how Maoist ascendance would change the future electoral calculus, most of them said the UML would face a serious setback. But they argued that the NC would remain almost unscathed. That could well be wishful thinking.
Look at the average popular vote received by the NC, UML, RPP and Nepal Sadbhabana Party (NSP) during the past three general elections. The NC got 37 percent, UML 33 percent (including CPN-ML’s votes in 1999 election), RPP 13.8 and NSP 3.7 percent.
The NC district presidents argue — as do many others — that the competition will be between the Maoists and the UML.
True, whatever votes the Maoists get, the majority will come from the UML’s 33 percent pie. But it will also shave off the vote bank of the NC and the RPP.
Shankar Pokharel, UML central committee member, argues that the Maoists have not had any success in attracting the politically conscious voters and cadres of the UML, or the NC and RPP for that matter. “But it’s true that they have attracted a majority of the marginalized masses which the mainstream parties failed to bring within their party structure.” Pokharel also argued that it was the NC and RPP that mostly manipulated this mass with money during elections. If the Maoists successfully insulate the influence of money and muscle during coming elections, it can steal some of the “traditional” votes that used to go to the NC and the RPP. Moreover, the Maoists can also attract some of the ethnic votes away from the NC and RPP folds.
When asked what percent of leftist votes the UML will retain in the upcoming polls, Pokharel said, “The UML’s fixed voter base is about 25 percent of the popular vote. How much we can add to it depends on future electoral dynamics.”
If you look at the past three general elections, the UML has continuously increased its popular vote. In the first general election in 1991 it garnered 29.3 percent, in the second election in 1994 this rose to 31. 5 and in the third in 1999 it increased to 38.2 (including UML splinter group ML’s popular votes). The UML achieved this by gradually encroaching into the NC’s middle class vote. With the Maoists in the electoral fray, the middle class will find the line between the NC and UML blurring fast. UML candidates are likely to draw a chunk of middle class republican voters if the NC goes to the polls with its present ambiguity on monarchy.
One big change– and the big unknown– in the poll analysis is the change brought about by the 10-year long insurgency in the psychology of the electorate. It has been a cataclysmic time and its impact could be likewise. Bhattarai recalled: “When the Maoists conducted elections in their base areas in Rolpa and Rukum, their own candidates lost to independent candidates in many villages.” It is too early to conclude if that is indicative of the future. The game is open at best.