Eye on Election: Underestimate the UML at Your Own Peril

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.






33 responses to “Eye on Election: Underestimate the UML at Your Own Peril”

  1. Moderate Communist Avatar
    Moderate Communist

    UML is a moderate communist party that has to survive without being Nepali Congress on the right and CPN Maoist on the left. They were even mulling changing the party flag and name. The only major problem with the party is that it doesn’t have consistency in its policies at critical times. That may be because the party is run through a collective leadership and the party lacks truly an experienced leader. No Mahmohan Adhikari and definitely no charismatic leader like Madan Bhandari. There are many people who still want to be identified as Communist but not ‘radical’ communist as Maoist and there are many who find Nepali Congress too rightist and find UML the perfect place to be. So UML is here to stay and I wonder how much vote Maoist will be able to get. Ballot box and Bullet box are two entirely different things.

  2. Afno Kura Avatar

    I am very much agree with this analytical article. In fact, i also think that whatever maoists and NC are assuming about the UML votes, that is only their surfacial analysis.

    In the case of Maoists, i think that they hardly get more than 20% votes in aggregate. How could the people completely forgive them and their brutal activities ? How could ‘Ram’ votes to the murderer or torturer of his neighbour, father, mother, brother or sister ?

    The hard line supporters of any parties rarely vote to another parties although they are not satisfied with their parties and their leaders. Certain votes are definetely cut down of all the parties. As Mr. Dhakal, they belongs to neither parties and in neither any principles. They can be lured or can be attracted with any party who can win their heart at the time of election or to whom they can believe. It is also not sure that all those people will vote to Maoists. There may be equal chances of NC voters to vote UML or Maoists and so on other parties voters.

    Some people believe in idiologies, theories or principles, they can hardly vote to other. Some people believe in right and wrong, those people vote to that party or person whom they feel right at that moment or on theat time period. Some people are oppertunist and selfish, they can vote to anyone regarding their interest. And, some people may be not so well known about the election, parties, votings, those people can vote to anyone or any party whom they feel close to them at that moment. I think that in the case of UML, this is the party with most powerful organization and structure. UML is better known party than Maoists how to mobilize party cadres and how to prepare in election. Election can’t be won by threataining and showing power to the people. It is not as like entering in anyone’s house and compelling them “you have to feed us tonight otherwise …..”. This is an election watched by the world and suprevised by the international bodies.

  3. Gokarna Avatar

    All the three general elections were carried out by government mechinary of the Nepali Congress which consisted of Govinda Raj Joshi, Khum Bahadur Khadga etc as the key players. Everybody knows how the Police and CDOs were used to manipulate the elections. Now coliation governement will carry out the election with international observers, so the election is expected to be relatively fair. NC´s base at VDC level has been completely damaged, they existed when NC was in Government. RPP is non-entity. Some people followed Maoist either due threat or they were lured for ruling the villagers during the time of insurgency or were promised for a great future which could not be achieved and that is still quite far away. Moreover Maoists have already damaged their image among the caders and people when they openly supported Girija as a PM who was the architect of the misgovernace leading us to such a miserable state and showed to be close to be with NC to slash UML hence further damaging their revolutionary image. UML with their network still intact, seem definately to gain significantly from this equation.

  4. Helicopter Avatar

    You forgot to mention that Nepali Congress’ vote has now been divided to Nepali Congress (Koirala) and Nepali Congress (Democratic).
    Nepali Congress (Democratic) may have only 40 Members in the parliament, however as far as the party Mahasamiti members of old Nepali Congress is concerned, they were almost equally divided in both parties.

    Unless, Nepali Congress (Koirala) and Nepali Congress (Democratic) finds a way to rearrange themselves, I see that Maoists and UML are going to be first and second forces and it might be hard to maintain a respectable position for both parties.

    You should remember that majority of Nepali Congress votes come from rural areas, and that is the area where Nepali Congress and Nepali Congress (Democratic) will suffer a terrible blow due to Maoists.

    Regarding Urban areas like Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur and other communist core districts like Jhapa, I dont think UML will lose its voters to Maoists.

    So, it time for democrats to arrange themselves.

    Democrats should stop thinking that they will benefit from the breakdown of communist votes and should rather concentrate on their own division.

  5. gajadi Avatar

    you know what the problem with UML is: it wants to pose itself more revolutionary than maoists and more democratic (?) than nepali congress. the party has every good tenet to become a camel!

    in talk, it is more revolutionary than maoists, in practice it is more reactionary than nc, sometimes it even wins rpp!

    the maoists definitely have stolen some 10-20 pc of uml’s cadres. but uml still has the largest network and cadre (member) base across the country. election however is not winning the votes of cadres; its about winning the ‘swing voters’ and ‘new voters.’

    at this point i’d only say nobody can write uml off easily but uml’s big-show is also nothing but faltu guff.

  6. keshuvko Avatar

    UML is between two fires.
    Nepali maa ukhaan chha ni: Nakhaaun bhaney din bhari ko sikaar, khaaun bhaney kaanchha baau ko anuhaar.

  7. gharti Avatar

    Mr Gajadi,

    I agree UML is not more revoltionary than Maoist however UML is definately more democratic than NC. Maoist have stolen 10% voters from all left parties (UML included), 5%from NC and 2% from others (RPP included).So in the next election UML will be the largest party followed by NC and the Maoist will get 15-17%.

  8. Guyfromktm Avatar

    UML is a funny party which doesn’t know what it wants– and at the helm of the party is a frustrated guy whose aspirations to become the Prime Minister of Nepal someday and it has never materialized. Mr Nepal goes around crying foul to everything that is happening without taking resposibility that his party is, in fact, one of the seven parties and many decisions taken by the SPA or by SPA-M has been signed off by his party as well. Now, you are either part of the government or aren’t. So, as the leader of one of the leading parties of the government, you cannot wait for the next opportunity to lambast the very goernment. The erason I am bring it up is to point out the ambiguity that UML carried with itself. During the time we once knew as democratic years, UML went ahead and formed a coalition with the pro-king party. later on, it actually joined the cabinet formed by the king that the rest of the UML party was protestign against on the streets as “regression”. So, while the UML might have some of its grassroots network intact, at the top of the party, it needs to really sit back and think hard about how it wants to clear the past misgivings and start anew to be a key player in the new Nepal that we are all waiting to happen.

  9. jeewan Avatar

    i think UML is the most incompetent, irresponsible and populist political party that nepal has ever had. It changes its stance as the weather changes. (oops, what stance?)

    the leaders of the party believe in one thing, decide on another through their Central Commeetee meeting, convey even a different message to their party cadres and of course give completely a different story to the public.

    they neither became a responsible opposition, nor did they performed responsibly in the government (their programs were the most populist of all). and now they cant even be friends in the SPA.

    i think the attitudes and works of UML’s leaders has been hugely responsible for the erosion of peoples’ faith in Democracy.

  10. Serious Avatar

    Left parties 50%
    Center left/right (NC D included) 50%

    NC 30%
    Maoist 30%
    UML 20%
    RPP & king G 5%
    Sadvawana 10%
    Others 5 %

  11. gajadi Avatar

    jeewan i agree with you.

    i really pity that uml has emerged to such a ‘bhatuwa’ party. i’m no communist, but i’d also voted uml candidate in the past. uml really had the potential to transform the society, instead it degenerated itself. its really pity.

    uml is one of the chief architects of the peace process. and pradip gyawali is doing commendable job (he is not from my constituency, otherwise i’d have voted him). but makune showed his character (according to some papers) during signing of the peace accord. uml guys are busy belittling gyawali.

  12. percentage Avatar

    Congress (Girija) = 28%
    CPN(Maoist) = 22%
    UML = 14%
    Sathbhavana = 10%
    RPP (Thapa) = 10%
    Congress (Deuba) = 4%
    RPP (Rana) = 3%
    NJP (Thapa) = 3%
    Others = 6%

  13. scoop Avatar

    I think the UMl has time to turn things around. If they do I think the results will be:
    UML 26%
    Congress (GPK) 24%
    CPNM 20%
    Sathbhava 8% with new citizens
    RPP Thapa 10%
    RPP Rana 2%
    NJP (Thapa/Lohani) 2%
    Others 8%

  14. kp Avatar

    If the voting is straighforward it is one thing but a lot of money will be going into the elections from various “sources”. The results should read like this:

    Congress – 35%
    CPNM – 30%
    UML – 15%
    Satbhavana – 10%
    RPP etc – 6%
    Rest – 4%

  15. Afno Kura Avatar

    Hey Guys,

    No any party are perfect, competent, responsible and democratic in Nepal. I personally do not belong to any party but i vote them whom i feel right to vote and to whom i think my vote will not be wasted. Nepali Congress is called the party of democrats but it is the most undemocratic party. If somebody speaks truth, if somebody pointed on the wrong points of leadership or somebody initiate to make change then they were accused of being royalist or etc. We have seen the crashes in Maoists party also. Not along the UML is imperfect the all parties are same. The problem is that the overall system is worst. Without changing the overall system, no any progressiveness will be happened in our country. Whoever, with a new version and with new thinkig will enter there he will become the same after few times. Wait and see, the maoists will also be same if all things remain same then. So, to blame one party is not the solution. The solution is to change overall system and the policy of the country.

  16. kp Avatar

    Oh the agony of having to caste one’s vote between crooks and killers.
    If I vote for Congress, I have voted for crooks,
    if I vote for RPP I have voted for crooks and feudals,
    if I vote for UML I have voted for communists and crooks,
    if I vote for maoists, I have voted for crooks, communists and killers.
    I think with a choice of bad, worse and worst, I’ll go for Sabhavana party for now or an independent candidate with no past experience in the above mentioned professions.

  17. gajadi Avatar

    afno kura:

    nobody is perfect.

    where in earth do you think everything is perfect?

    we have to change the system, yes. but since even this wouldn’t be ‘perfect’ we have to keep changing, improving, correcting.

    only by constant progressive improvisation we can be in relatively better position than we’re in at the moment.

  18. kp Avatar

    Until we practice “Zero tolerance” for incompetence and corruption from the public view point as well, we are all talk. Just hot air making sounds. There are incompetent and corrupt people all over the world, the only difference is we have many more of them in high places and we tolerate them as well. Infact we kiss their a$$es and give them praise and gifts.

  19. sagarmatha Avatar

    Yes there are many corrupts in the world, but at the end of the day they are being punished or their political careers end. Whereas in Nepal, the same leaders who are corrupted and culprit for blonder mistakes get space with good respect and they are not touched by the rule of law.

  20. kp Avatar

    Let me tell you a story:

    On the way to an important function the chairman of the metropolitan police and his friend were held up in a police check point because the vehicle he was driving was similar to the one driven by a murder suspect. Other such vehicles were also going through the same check. When his turn came, the policeman asked for his friend’s license and registration and the Chairman’s id. The Chairman quietly gave the policeman his card which mentioned that he was the Chairman of the met police force. The policeman checked the van saluted and sent them on their way.
    On the remaining part of the drive the Chairman’s friend asked with irritation “Why did’nt you just tell the man that you were the Chairman of the metropolitan police force?”, to which the Cairman replied “Do you know that I could be the murderer they are looking for or the murderer could be hiding at the back of our vehicle, you got to let the man do his job friend”.

    This is competence.

    In Nepal they just let the bugger go.

  21. gajadi Avatar

    kp and all:

    we’re fadeup with such anecdotes in the society you live in. (we all know that enron happens in amrika, lawmakers take bribe there too, and everywhere)

    we’ve different system; it doesn’t function well; yes. but we can make it better and we’re doing it.

    you know that lots of tainted mps of 51-56 lost their elections? of course few like khume, joshi wagle could still make it. but this time they are going to loose it. i don’t know about khume’s position in dang, but chiranjivi and goivinde are sure to lose the election.

    and mind you, not all the mps are corrupt. you cant generalize.

  22. kp Avatar


    I live in Nepal. You can take what you want from my example, but like I said there is corruption and incompetence everywhere, here more then elsewhere. You must be under the presumption that I live in America with your enron example, sorry to dissapoint. And I am afraid I can generalise when it comes to people in high places. I don’t know where you are living?
    Hot air buddy, hot air. Until we practice zero tolerance.

  23. samyek Avatar

    the world today is screwed up, the nation is screwed up and now thanks to the maoist a whole new generation of teenagers and youngs are screwed. how can a criminal who put guns in the hands of children be called a revolutionary??? for me he is just a two bit jack ass who went to jungle because he lost the election. maniputaled the uneducated and now is the voice of the poor. or some thing like that. well bro fuck you. its really sad that it has come to this but im sure will not end at this. a whole sets of problems and real serious ones awaits my motherland.and who ever is in power does not come up with a plan of action then my friends chaos is not far away, even if there is a king or not.

  24. solti Avatar

    UML 24%
    CPNM 12%
    RPP (BOTH)8%
    OTHERS 2%

  25. Nepaliby heart Avatar
    Nepaliby heart

    I think UML is a party with a good prospect but its problem is the poor leadership. IT might be better for it to change its name that does not reflect the hardcore communist name (like it does now). Hell, labour party in UK started as a socialist party, was it not ? But UML is way up there. There’s nothing wrong with ideology, but the only thing is if it is communist party, then its aim is to establish a communist state, which negates the democratic norms of tolerance to the views of other. A communist party cannot be democratic because its dogma is antethesis of liberty of one’s opinion. It preaches that communist party must be above all, in order to bring justice to the oppressed. But the definition of oppressed can be distorted to the like of the top brasses of the communist party itself.

    Bottomline, if UML wants to exercise democracy in its truest sense, then it needs to shed its revolutionary mask and get on with the progressive leadership. I think thats also the main cause of unstability within this party. Loss of objectivity starting right from its ambiguous name. nepali-pride@blogspot.com

  26. Kirat Avatar

    The author is making a big deal out of nothing-the UML is going down and with leaders like makune they should go down! You could theoretically blame the UML for the rise of the Maoists. As someone said this is a party that could have done so much good but ended up being a waste of a vote. They talk big but when it comes to walking their talk they trip on their first step. The only thing I can remember about them when they were in power or in a position to influence govt. policy is the over hyped ‘afno gau afai banau’- zero long term impact it had. Talk is cheap and that is what the UML is about-cheap talk.

  27. sagarmatha Avatar

    It is high time for Makune to go down. Maoist will definately win the CPM (UML). CPM (UML) is just the follower of maoist agenda right now. Makune should understand – one can fall down in the river by keeping legs in two boats. Still NC is strong. But if CPM (UML) and maoist join hand together, the congress will be marginalised, and that day will come not today but tomorrow definately.

  28. sagarmatha Avatar

    It is high time for Makune to take rest. Maoist will definately win the CPM (UML). CPM (UML) is just the follower of the maoist agenda right now. Makune should understand – one can fall down in the river by keeping legs in two boats. Still NC is strong. But if CPM (UML) and maoist join hand together, the congress will be marginalised in the politics and should join hands with RPP or whatever the tagname royalist, and that day will come not today but definately tomorrow.

  29. Gharti Avatar


    It is not UML who is following Maoist but it is otherway round. Maoists have gone one step further, they are now following Girija Congress to defeat UML, which is counterproductive to them. The kind of atrocities Maoists are still carrying on even after peace deal will bring down Maoists to its original size of less than 10 members in the next parliament. If UML takes a stand it is considered obstructing compmromise, if UML becomes flexible, then it is taken as its weakness and a party having no stand. There are people out there attack UML whatever it does. Trust me, UML has the leaders who are self made and represent mid to lower mid-class intellectuals. They are very hard working and relatively more honest compared to leaders from other parties. I agree that you can not compare the present UML leadership to BP Koirala or Madan Bhandari, but it is a collective leadership which is far better and competant than the leaders in other political parties. If given the opportunity to run the government I am sure UML will not disappoint Nepalese people. Example is the 9 month old minority UML government. But the problem I see is there are vested interest who do not to see UML in the goverment. Because, a. most of them come from lower middle class from rural background. b. they are the product of ordinary school and c) some corrupt intellectuals, and leaders feel that they will do a good job.

  30. Helicopter Avatar

    Nepali Congress (Koirala) 15%
    Nepali Congress (Democratic) 18 %
    UML 16 %
    CPN (Maoists) 20%
    Sadhvabhana (Anandidevi) 5%
    Nepal Workers and Peasents party 2%
    RPP 5%
    Rest of the percentage to go for those who will be able to use PAISA and JALI VOTE and will be the decisive chunk !!!

  31. pawan Avatar

    if NC and NCD arrange the seats between them, this alliance will definately do better than the past election average(i bet 42%). regarding the kathmanduiets, i am sure they will definately reject the commies all together and will try to give the city much needed international face. for past 10 years or so, commies has proved sign of violence, mob, crime, vandalism, and terror.

  32. dialogue Avatar

    One excellent way to check out parties programs is to see what they do for women and I mean REALLY DO
    European social democrats (as bad as Congress?)were always lousy at this, not that much in France but example in the Netherlands zero. Than after the momentum lots of blabla and crap. When abortion demonstrations and they were in government (interested party) they did not participate.
    Which party elaborates property rights of married and divorced women, including inheritances?
    Men will dump wifes and remain king at home. Sisters and wifes work and coock, yet loose everything. Really it is out of balance, how many intellectual women you have at all, who have time to breathe let alone play computer!
    so much for having your sister coock your tarkari, all are selfish untill 60%%%women will rule.
    We need a change of mentality. In the Netherlands one strange maoist party became very good and even though I never liked them because of the maoism and dogmatic language, they are anti racist, defending the poor and though I vote ecologist, maybe to help the poor is ecology.
    and deep democracy.
    All these high castes from Chhetri and up can do their hanuman puja it is OVER (mistreating of so called other castes).
    sorry that was not very moderate. truth is truth.

  33. Shalin Avatar

    if NC and NCD arrange the seats between them, this alliance will definately do better than the past election average(i bet 42%). regarding the kathmanduiets, i am sure they will definately reject the commies all together and will try to give the city much needed international face. for past 10 years or so, commies has proved sign of violence, mob, crime, vandalism, and terror.Great article thanks for the information.

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