From left to right: CPN Maoist leaders Kul Bahadur Chhetri (Sonam) and Netra Bahadur Chanda (Biplav), CPN UML leader Shankar Pokharel and NC leader Minendra Rijal. Pic by Wagle
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Steet Journal
Two relatively young leaders of the Nepali Congress and CPN UML who faced humiliating blows of defeat in the April 10 CA election have blamed the poor organizational strength of their respective parties and said that YCL’s activities were also responsible for their stunningly bad shows. Both leaders said that their party’s pre-election assessment turned out to be wrong and said the lack of effective security was also responsible for their defeat. Leaders Minendra Rijal of NC and Shankar Pokharel of the UML, who are in the list of candidates of their respective parties for proportional representation voting system, are among those Nepali politicians who aren’t involved in any sort of scams or corruption scandals.
They along with CPN Maoist’s central committee member Netra Bahadur Chand ‘Biplav’ were speaking in an interaction program organized by Nepali news magazine Himal Khabarpatrika in Patan today. I was there to cover the event for my newspaper and happened to be seated near the speakers. So I heard them loud and clear. The message was clear too. Nepali Congress and UML need to change themselves.
“We played a good role in the peace process,” said Pokharel of the UML. “But people didn’t like our balanced role. It’s our duty as a party to understand the peoples’ expectations. We are now in that phase.”
Pokharel outlined five points that were responsible for his party’s unexpected poor show in the polls:
1. The poor situation of law and order in society: The State failed to address the law and order problem from the very beginning of the peace process. Maoist’s Yong Communist League (YCL) tried to restrict other political parties’ activities in the villages. We thought that was temporary and didn’t give much attention. We tolerated [the YCL highhandedness in the name of peace process], people compromised [with them] thinking that if the parties are failing to counter YCL, why should they take risk of doing the same?
2. Our weakness: We gave less importance to the question of leader and leadership. When you talk about elections in Nepal, you have to talk about the leader. We had also presented the leader in previous election but this time we thought CA was about collaborating and working together, leadership shouldn’t be of much priority. NC and UML didn’t present their leaders to the public. But Maoist did. They projected [Prachanda’s] leadership and they became successful.
3. On Alliance: We couldn’t make all clear about our position on forming an alliance in the election. The leadership itself was in illusion regarding any kind of alliance. Our position was that in the CA election no one should form an alliance with anyone because it’s not about sidelining one force while forming an alliance between others. We couldn’t clarify that argument on time. We kept on lingering, our General Secretary talked about the possibility of alliance until the last days of the campaign. People didn’t like that [indecisive] role.
4. Prachanda, after he came back from Rolpa, started saying that there was a conspiracy going on to defeat him in Rolpa as well. We knew he was struggling in Kathmandu-10 but after he said that that had an effective impact on the public. That made an impact especially on the mass leaning towards the leftists. Many people thought Prachanda’s defeat in Rolpa wouldn’t be good to the peace process and his statement made an impact during the very last days of the campaign.
5. Then there was the Maoist statement: If the election result is not in our favor…
Shankar Pokharel further added:
> People didn’t take us as the agent of change, they took the Maoists.
> Maoists took advantage of the mismanagement regarding security in the country.
> They were at the front to have the aggressive publicity campaign. They distributed the photo of our General Secretary [Madhav Nepal] participating in a program of the king [Madhav Nepal bowing at Gyanendra’s feet during the coronation of the king immediately after the royal massacre in 2001]. We could have also distributed the photos of those people who were hung by the Maoists but we maintained restraint believing that such acts would not help the peace process.
> We underestimated the influence of the State media thinking and focused our campaign on private media. But that was wrong. They fully used the State media [that fall under the Maoist controlled Information and Communication ministry] in their favor.
> We are not trying to dig out the irregularities done [by the Maoists] during the election because we are looking for meaningfulness of the peace process. But we believe that these should be documented.
Pokharel also said that UML’s General Secretary who resigned after the results started coming in didn’t go to the constituencies of certain leaders of Maoist and NC because the party wanted to see those leaders winning in the polls. “Our cadres used to come and request the General Secretary to come and address the rallies,” Pokharel said. “But declined to go to the constituencies of five leaders: Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai, Badal, Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba for the shake of political unity.”
Minendra Rijal of the Nepali Congress said that his party’s district level cadres’ pre-poll assessment about their organization’s strength turned out to be wrong. “I went to 15 districts of the East and our friends there said that NC’s competition was with the UML, not Maoist,” said Rijal. “So we said to the left-leaning public that if they really wanted to elect the communist, they should vote for the Maoist, not the UML.”
Rijal also presented some interesting facts about Nepali Congress being the old party with old leadership and old candidates compared to competing parties in the election that had voters with average age of 30. Our party is led by 86 year old Girija Prasad Koirala, Rijal said, and we also have popular person like Gagan Thapa who is 32. From 86 to 32, they are equally known throughout Nepal. “How does Congress find the way to go from the leadership with the age of 86 to 32 is a challenge,” he said.
He further said:
The average age of the voter: 30
The average age of a Maoist candidate: 39
The average age of a UML candidate: 45
The average age of a Congress candidate: 52
Rijal’s point was that the young voters identified themselves with the young candidates of the Maoist party.
While saying that the exact nature of the future government was still unclear, Rijal presented three possibilities regarding the formation of the next cabinet.
1. The government of the Maoist only.
2. The government led by the Maoist and participated by other parties.
3. The government led by a non-Maoist but also participated by the Maoist.
4. The government without Maoist which will not reflect he peoples’ will as seen in the election results.
Maoist central level leader Biplav said that commitments and co-journeying in the Nepali politics has turned into a relative success for the first time in the history of Nepal with the happening of the CA elections. That’s a thing to be proud of, he said. Nepali people, he added, have given a progress message to the world.
Biplav said that his party was fully committed to the communism but they aren’t going to impose the communism in Nepal. “In the current political situation that ideology shouldn’t be imposed upon others,” he said.
Biplav also said that some of the results of the CA were unexpected for some while some were expected to others. “Our analysis was that we would get positive result,” he said. “We hadn’t shown arrogance by declaring numbers of seats or specifics of the results in advance.” He also said that his party was closely calculating the public sentiment and support and was analyzing the development in terms of electoral output. “The results of our analysis were different in Magh, by the end of Falgun, in the second week of Chaitra and on 28the Chaitra (10 April),” he said.
Stating that commitments, the main objective of the co-journeying, weren’t fulfilled, Biplav stressed on the need for the political parties to go together in the coming days.