Hammer and Fickle

Nepali politics sees a major reconfiguration in time for a watershed election

01 November 2017
The coming together of the CPN(UML) and the CPN(MC) has created a new force that, going by recent electoral results, could command insurmountable national support.
narayan maharjan / nurphoto / getty images
The coming together of the CPN(UML) and the CPN(MC) has created a new force that, going by recent electoral results, could command insurmountable national support.
narayan maharjan / nurphoto / getty images

An unusual emblem entered Nepal’s political iconography early this August. In Bharatpur, supporters of the southern city’s new mayor, Renu Dahal, sewed together the flags of the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre)—stars and stripes in red and white in the first case, and a hammer and sickle in white on red in the other—and paraded in celebration. Dahal, the daughter of the CPN(MC) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, won after a partial rerun of an earlier local-body election. The first, disputed run of the Bharatpur vote was held in May; CPN(MC) activists interrupted counting to tear up ballots. Prachanda was then the prime minister, at the head of a coalition between the CPN(MC) and the Congress, and, in keeping with the conditions of the alliance, he resigned shortly afterwards in favour of Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Congress supremo and present incumbent. The August celebrations in Bharatpur suggested that the alliance continued in good health, to the cost of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist)—a member, alongside the two allied parties, of the “big three” of Nepali politics in recent times.

But the combined flags soon became useless. At the start of October, the CPN(UML) and the CPN(MC) announced that they would work together in elections for federal and provincial parliaments due in late November and early December. They also declared their intent to merge afterwards into a single party—nominally a leftist one, although ideological tags mean very little in Nepali politics at present. Going by the numbers from local-body elections held across the country earlier this year—the CPN(UML) received the most votes of any single party, with the Congress a close second and the CPN(MC) a distant third—the new force could control an insurmountable share of popular support. To smooth the way for the elections, the CPN(MC) vowed to continue its support for the present government until they were concluded. That was the only good news for the Congress, which, by all indications and like almost everyone in Nepali politics, was caught cold by these developments.

Several commentators have since said that the new leftist force will essentially make Nepal a two-party state, putting an end to the rapid-fire changes of government of recent years. Since 2008, when the country abolished monarchy in the wake of a civil war, it has seen ten changes of rule amid notoriously fickle political alliances. Just since September 2015, when Nepal formalised a new constitution, Prachanda’s party has supported a government under the CPN(UML), brought it down by siding with the Congress to create the present administration, and now allied with the CPN(UML) again. The fluid allegiances of many of the country’s smaller parties make for even more dizzying reading.

Shubhanga Pandey is a journalist who writes on politics and culture. He was an assistant editor at Himal Southasian, and has written for Jacobin, Newslaundry and The Record, among others. He tweets as @shubhangap.

Keywords: Nepal left election Prachanda Madhes Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) Rastriya Janata Party Nepal Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal
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