December 2, 2019
“They failed to convince the voters as to what they would bring to the table if they were given a chance”.
Nepalis once again displayed traditional voting patterns as they continued to choose the established parties—Nepal Communist Party and the Nepali Congress—while casting their ballots in Saturday’s by-election, as they snubbed newer parties like Sajha and Bibeksheel.
Despite their untiring efforts, focussing primarily on Kaski Constituency-2 in a bid to get a seat in the federal Parliament, both Sajha and Bibeksheel, cut no ice with voters. Both parties have had to fight hard to even secure their deposits, as candidates must garner at least 10 percent of the total votes cast to get back their deposit; a failure to do so is considered humiliating.
By-elections were held on Saturday for 52 positions, including a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, three provincial assembly seats, one mayor, three rural municipality chairpersons, one rural municipality vice-chair, and 43 ward chairs.
As results filtered in, with the ruling Nepal Communist Party clearly leading and the Nepali Congress trailing, analysts pointed at a number of factors for the poor show of the new forces.
Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator, said that parties like Bibeksheel and Sajha had nothing new to offer and that they continued to stick to their old refrain that the country needs a change.
“The only thing that’s new about them is their names,” Maharjan told the Post. “They failed to convince the voters as to what they would bring to the table if they were given a chance.”
Sajha Party is led by Rabindra Mishra, a former BBC journalist, while Bibeksheel Party is headed by Ujwal Thapa, who made his foray into politics after identifying for long as a social campaigner.
Both parties had contested the 2017 local elections separately, but buoyed by the votes they had gathered in Kathmandu and Lalitpur, they decided to contest general elections together and merged. However, their merger did not last long as they decided to split on January 11 after 17 months.
Analysts say the two parties were upbeat about garnering some votes in Kathmandu and Lalitpur but that they would largely have been unable to expand beyond the urban centres.
Their presence is largely on social media and elections are decided in ballots, not in virtual space, said CK Lal, a political analyst who is also a columnist for the Post.
“Whatever votes the Sajha Party has been able to garner in Kaski is because of its presence on social media,” said Lal. “These days, voters take decisions through hard-headed calculations.”
Both Sajha and Bibeksheel have often faced censure for constantly criticising the traditional parties and their leaders, blaming them for all the ills in the country. They, however, have failed to come up with a clear strategy of their own to clean up the mess.
The results show that Nepali voters are still not ready for an alternative to traditional forces, according to Jhalak Subedi, a political observer who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades.
“The fundamental problem with these new parties is they have failed to build an organisational base,” said Subedi.
According to Subedi, unless the parties have a strong organisational base right down to the grassroots level, people will refuse to recognise them.
“Voters alone cannot be blamed,” said Subedi. “In the case of Sajha and Bibeksheel, they function more like social organisations than political outfits and their leaders are more like campaigners and social workers.”
When it comes to the Communist party and Congress, they have their own history and can always cash in on the sacrifices their leaders have made in the past for democracy. Hence, they have political capital, which pays off during election time, say commentators.
“Why would a voter waste their vote,” said Lal. “There should be three major reasons for voters to vote for a party—past performance and track record; personal or national prospects, and future prospects. The new parties have none of these.”