Political stability will be the top election agenda of the left alliance

  • Interview Ishwor Pokharel

Oct 9, 2017-The recent electoral alliance between the CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Naya Shakti Party Nepal had been a largely unforeseen and certainly unprecedented move by the leftist forces of Nepal. Cornered, the Nepali Congress is looking to strike a similar  alliance of ‘democratic forces’ for the upcoming provincial and federal parliamentary elections. Mukul Humagain and Sanjeev Giri spoke to UML General Secretary Ishwor Pokharel, who is also head of the taskforce formed to select  candidates for the upcoming elections.  

What spurred the recent electoral alliance between the CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Naya Shakti Party Nepal?

This was not something that occurred out of the blue. Talks to this end had been taking place between the UML and the Maoist Centre for a while. However, these discussions had, up until now, faced numerous roadblocks, and the spirit of unification in the past was not strong enough to overcome these dissimilarities. The UML and in particular the UML Chairman KP Oli were particularly determined that the dialogue on unification bear concrete results this time around, and so it has. The Nepali public is under the impression that this happened unexpectedly, but it did not. 

Talks of unification have failed numerous times before, so what factors have changed to make them successful at this juncture?

The spaces and differences between the parties who have formed this alliance has been steadily narrowing over the years. There have been a number of leftist forces in Nepal till date, and the public have been vocal about their desire for a broad understanding between these forces. Now the leftist forces realise the need for unification and a strong alliance to fuel stability and prosperity in the nation. Nepal needs a strong party that can fully address the sentiments of nationalism, independence and autonomy, and the rights of citizens. 

The UML and Maoist Centre have agreed to forge an alliance by fielding their candidates in 60:40 ratio of the total constituencies respectively. Some say that the Maoist Centre should not have been accorded this and were on the track to being relegated to the fringes. How is the UML rank and file responding? 

The UML came out on top in the local elections. Even in the Tarai region, in Province 2, we came second to the NC. The UML won the overall popular vote. So given our strength and our performance in elections, we did not have to form an alliance with the Maoist Centre or Naya Shakti Nepal to lend to our electoral power. This alliance was formed because of the need for all of us to stand together, nothing else.

Considering your divergent ideological underpinnings, many wonder if the alliance will hold together beyond elections.

We may have had differing ideologies before, but we are now united by a common ground concerning the state of the nation that we consider far more important at this juncture. Everyone is looking at this unification with slight scepticism but most responses are positive. The public recognise that this is a good move, and that this alliance has honoured the wishes of citizens. We need to make sure that we do not waste this opportunity. The parties have formed a unification coordination committee involving top leaders. This body will prepare an outline on the organisational structure of the new party in the days ahead. A committee to draft the statute of the unified party will also be formed. 

Candidate management is integral to win elections, but it is also very difficult. How will the two parties manage this?

Candidates will be fielded on the basis of their personal presence as well as their standing in the parties, as they were in previous polls and in the recent local level elections. But the party merger is the more important goal in comparison to candidate selection this time. A manifesto for upcoming elections will also be prepared. The 165 constituencies for the election of House of Representatives and 330 constituencies for provincial elections will be divided between the UML and the Maoist Centre at a ratio of 60:40. However, these seats will not be attributed on an arbitrary basis; a systematic manner of distribution will be proposed and followed. 

The Nepali Congress has also decided to form an electoral alliance of ‘democratic’ forces for the upcoming elections. How will this factor in with the alliance of the leftist forces?

It has to be understood that those who stand for similar things and who have similar agendas are within rights to stand together. The ‘democratic’ and leftist forces have similar thoughts and agendas within our separate alliances. However, while differences between the Democratic and leftist forces may exist, we should aim to find common ground on salient issues. Our two alliances may have differing philosophies and commitments; however, as national parties, we have things in common because they are for the interest of the country. So only seeing the differences between the two alliances is wrong. But just because we have formed an alliance does not mean we [within the left alliance] have no differences at all. Still, the need for a unification have outweighed the differences. 

How have geopolitics figured in these alliances?

As Nepalis, we lack faith in ourselves. We believe that international powers have a greater say in actions that occur within our country. We have to maintain cordial relations with our two immediate neighbours, India and China. We cannot take sides and must maintain our independence. However, we also have to realise that we rely on India and China for a number of things, and as such, we need to treat our relationship with both countries with respect. It seems that the international community regards these new alliances with optimism; they wish for parties to work together and resolve our differences. 

How will the new alliance function after the elections?

We will follow a systematic process in the coming days. We will work according to the manifesto that is formulated by the unification coordination committee. We will also be adhering to a public working calendar with various agendas. Issues always arise in a governmental system, and we will discuss how to tackle these issues as they present themselves. Just as we have decided to unite and form a stronger front, we will also work together and address problems in a just manner that follows a set procedure. 

This unification has five former Prime Ministers, and other senior leaders who may have issues with power sharing. Won’t this affect the organisational structure?

There has to be an organisation structure. We may face challenges along the way to establishing a stable, unified party; however, we will overcome these problems. My history in political parties has shown me that no matter how big the magnitude of the challenges, they can still be overcome. Change is constantly occurring in life, and change and evolution has to occur to ensure longevity of any institutions and polity. Parties too have to evolve to get stronger. The UML believes that Nepal is facing a great number of challenges, and as a singular party, we cannot overcome these challenges.  

The UML and Maoist Centre had differing stances in regards to the demands of the Madhes-centric parties. What is the new stance on the issue?

The UML’s stance is that amendments have to be made to the constitution, as long as they are reasonable. And we stand by this view. For example, one amendment demanded that Article (7) of constitution, stating that “Nepali language written in Devnagari script shall be the language of official business in Nepal” be amended. However, there is also a provision that allows provinces to “select one or more national language that is spoken by majority of the people in that province as the language of official business, as provided by the provincial law”. Our constitution does not promote one language over others, so the argument used by the Madhes-centric parties that it promotes Nepali language and discriminates against others is flawed.

The second issue the Madhes-centric parties have is concerned with the Nepali citizenship. Our constitution proposes that foreign women married to Nepali men can obtain naturalised citizenship after initiating the process to renounce their citizenship.

This is a very progressive system in comparison to other countries. So what fault can be found with this? 

The Madhes-centric parties have also found fault with the 22 districts in the Tarai being allocated 47.27 percent of the total constituencies for the federal Parliament even though the region constitutes about 51 percent of the national population. However, population is not the only thing that has to be taken into consideration. The geography also factors into the equation of delineating constituencies. 

Published: 09-10-2017 07:46

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