Nepali Communists win landslide, but face big obstacles to win change

January 5, 2018
Nepali Communists rally on December 13, after an alliance of hte two largest Communist Parties won a landslide victory in recent elections.

Nepal’s Communists have won a landslide victory in the elections for House of Representatives of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal held in two phases on November 26 and December 7. In the 275-seat parliament, the elections were held for 165 seats under the first past the post system (FPTP), with the remaining 110 seats determined by a proportional system.

The Communist Party Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) won 80 seats under FPTP while its Left Front partner Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Center (which was preceded by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) won 36 seats. The ruling Nepali Congress (NC) could fetch only 23 seats. The Communists won 116 seats out of 165 determined by FPTP.

Two parties based on the Madhesi ethnic people, the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJPN) and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum (SSF), combined to secure 21 seats; other fringe parties won the remaining five seats.

In the proportional system for the rest of 110 seats, CPN-UML got 33.25% vote while Congress came second with 32.78%. The Maoist Center got 13.66% votes.

In total, out of the 275 seats in the House of Representatives, the left alliance holds 174 (121 for the CPN-UML and 53 for the Maoists), the NC 63, the RJPN 17, and the SSF 16.

The Congress was at the losing end in the FPTP system as the Communist united and put up joint candidates under a 60/40 formula in favour of UML. It was mainly one-to-one race in the elections under the new 2015 constitution that made the difference in favour of Communists. This was unlike the past parliamentarian practices, when the three main parties contesting against each other during the previous two general elections.

In the newly constituted seven provinces there was also a huge victory for UML. Six out of seven provinces were won over by UML and the process of forming new provincial governments is under way.

The two main left parties of Nepal, UML and Maoist Center, had decided prior to the elections to not just form the alliance but also to merge within six months to form one united Communist party. This commitment to unite was viewed positively by the people.

There were celebrations in the street of the Katmandu after this historic victory of the Communists. For the first time, the Communists have almost an two thirds majority in Nepal, the most poverty stricken country of South Asia. Although the UML and Maoist Center have been in power several times since 1994, it has always been for a short time as part of coalitions.

The UML’s appeal for a stable and strong government worked very well among the Nepali masses. They are tired of weak coalition government involving groups with opposing ideologies. Nepali Congress was also taught a lesson over the impression it is a pro-Indian party.

Madheshi rights & women

India’s blockade  Nepal in 2015 is well-remembered by the Nepali masses, who were subjected to lines kilometres long to fetch petrol after most of the supplies from India were stopped. This was after the Madheshi community protested in favour of their constitutional rights. Madheshies are mainly located in Trai area of Nepal and were unhappy with the rights within the first constitution of Nepal. The blockade also choked imports of medicines and earthquake relief material.

The united front of Madheshi parties won one province and about 10% of the total votes during the elections.

During the election campaign, Nepali Congress leaders said that a victory by the left alliance would bring a totalitarian regime in power, with a one-party communist system that has already failed miserably in the world. These arguments failed to impress the general public – voters were simply not convinced a victory of the UML would lead to a one-party system.

During the past three decades, CPN-UML has transformed itself into what could best be termed a left social democratic party. It has adopted a commitment to a multi-party system in its constitution.

A total of 41 women candidates contested in the first round of elections to the House of Representatives and State Assemblies, in 32 districts out of 75 districts. Only five women won the elections in the FPTP system on the open seats contest.

The Nepal constitution guarantee at least 33% of women representation in the parliament, which means 91 women in a parliament of 275 seats. Only five were elected via FPTP, rest of the 86 women must come through the proportional system in accordance with the constitution.

Nepal’s Communist movement

The UML is led by 65-year-old KP Sharma Oli, who joined the Communist movement at the age of 13. Inspired by Indian Communist leader Charu Majumdar, known as “father of Naxalbari peasant movement of Bengal”, he spent 14 consecutive years in jail from 1970 to 1984. 

He was elected to parliament first time in 1991. He lost to the Maoists in 2008 general elections, but won comfortably in 2013 and 2017. He has served important ministries and also as Prime minister of Nepal during the past 21 years.

He resigned in 2016 after the Maoists ditched the Left alliance government to join the Congress and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dhar (known as Prachanda) was elected prime minister. However, before the latest elections, Prachanda opted to form the left alliance and the Maoist Centre won 36 seats in the FPTP system and around 135 of the votes in PR system.        

The Nepali Communists are not the traditional communists. Realising the negative effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union, CPN-UML was formed in 1991 through the unification of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist). The party has led four governments before its recent landslide victory.

UML surprised many internationally when they took over the power for the first time briefly for nine months through elections in 1994, at a time when there was a great propaganda about the historic failure of socialism. Many brushed aside this victory as “Communists governing under a King”.

In this present period of a right-wing surge around the world, it is very pleasant to see that Nepal is now the only remaining sizable country where Communist parties of various stripes cumulatively enjoy the support of the majority of the country’s voters.

However, this is not an accidental landslide victory of the CPN-UML and Maoist Center. It took years of hard work with a Nepali touch, unlike the other CPs of the region, to keep, sustain, consolidate and muster this mass support of the working class.

The Communist Party Nepal, formed in 1949 in India, has gone through various phases of development -- from being an exile party to a party with significance presence in every part of Nepal. It has seen dozens of splits and different sectors have allied various international trends within the world communist movement. However, the urge of unity among various factions and groups and identity as Communist was always a key part of the strategy.

From Maoism to a left social democracy, from armed struggle to parliamentarianism, from war to peace, the Communists of Nepal in various forms were always been known as Communists. This Communist identity has been very strong among their ranks and with good reasons. The term has always enjoyed popular support.

The predecessors of UML and Maoist Center have always learned to live and survive in most difficult circumstances and keep their support intact. While all political parties were banned during 1960s to 1980s, they worked through “Panchayats” -- local assemblies established as an alternative to parliament -- and tried to popularise their ideas. The main debate was over how to be popular among the masses with their own name.

The decades-long long rift between the ruling monarchy and the Congress, the main party of the capitalist class, was well-maneuvered by various grouping of Communists in their favour. They played one against the other. However, most were also never afraid to go to jail -- many spending years behind bars.

The Maoists

The Maoists, during the 10 years of armed struggle from 1996 to 2006, the Maoists used a combination of armed attacks on police and official building and personnel while being willing to negotiate with the government and the King. Rejecting negotiations was never part of their strategy. So it was for the UML leaders too, who were always ready to seek a way out of the crisis.

A mass pro-democracy uprising in 2006 eventually forced the end of the monarchy. It was the Maoist determination to abolish the monarchy that won the day in the 2008 parliamentarian elections, when the Maoists surprisingly emerged as the party with the most seats in the Constituent Assembly and led the official abolition of royal rule.

The overthrow of the monarchy was a great victory for Nepal, involving a combined strategy of mass movements, armed struggle and elections.

After abolishing of the office of King, the main challenge was writing a new constitution that could guarantee all the basic rights of all the communities, no matter how small. This challenge has involved years of negotiations and great difficulties for various governments.

In 2015, the new constitution was finally accepted with 90% parliamentary support. It followed a year-long boycott of parliament by Madheshi parties and the economic blockade of Nepal by India. To bring the Madheshi parties back into parliament, the constitution was amending in agreement with the boycotting parties.

For their part,he Maoists were hit by splits during the 2008-2013 periods of being involved in coalition governments along opposite parties and fellow Communists. They were bitterly divided on issue of the path of the “revolution”.

One Maoist faction advocated a boycott of the 2013 elections, a strategy that failed miserably. However, the damage was done as the Maoists emerged in third party in place, losing significant layers and mass support to UML.

The Maoists, under charismatic leadership of Prachanda, have seen various overnight U-turns in terms of forming coalitions and alliances. However, the cleverest, most timely move by the Maoist Center was to form an election alliance with UML prior to the recent elections, deciding to start a merger process of the two parties. Had they not made this move, they would have lost badly in the present elections.

A political scenario of a three-way race in the present election would have benefited Congress and led to another unstable government based on a short-term alliance.

A positive development and a real challenge

The Communists landslide victory is a positive development in the South Asian region. It is like a wave fresh, cool air in a heated region on Indian subcontinent.

But the real challenge begins now. The huge victory has raised huge expectations. Reforms are on the agenda.

However, reforms under capitalism can never be of a permanent nature. The capitalist path on longer run is a road to distraction and losing mass support of the Communists ideology. They have to move ahead on the road of parliament to abolishing of capitalism and remaining elements of feudal society. They know the best how to do it if they want to do it.

[Farooq Tariq is a spokesperson for the left-wing Awami Workers Party in Pakistan, and general secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee.]

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