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Hindu nation, India vs China… Oli-Deuba’s future will be decided tomorrow in Nepal’s election battle, understand

Dr. Mahendra Kumar Singh: Preparations for the federal and provincial elections to be held on November 20 are in full swing in India’s neighboring country Nepal. This is the second election after the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015. Elections are to be held here for 275 members of the federal parliament and 550 seats in 7 provincial assemblies. Free and fair elections are essential to reinvigorate Nepal’s budding democracy, but worryingly, institutions such as the legislature, judiciary and the president’s office have come under criticism over the past few years for not living up to democratic norms.

As in the previous elections, political parties are forming pre-poll alliances in the upcoming elections too, but political messages coming out of Nepal are pointing to a hung parliament and an unstable government. In the 2017 elections, the left-wing alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) won the election. This alliance won 116 out of 165 seats, while the Nepali Congress (NC), currently in power, could win only 26 seats.

Alliances based on political opportunism

Alliances are also in the fray in the upcoming elections, but alliances are new in terms of structure. On the one hand is the ruling coalition, which includes the NC, the CPN-MC, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Socialist) which broke away from the CPN-UML, the Terai-based Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP). On the other hand, KP Sharma Oli’s CPN-UML has partnered with the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), which are disgruntled constituents of the ruling coalition. It is unfortunate for the democratic polity of Nepal that the two alliances are not based on any common ideological or policy ground, but on pure political opportunism.

Important election issue of Hindu Rashtra
An important turning point has come in the politics of Nepal. There has been a resurgence in calls to restore Nepal as a Hindu state. The RPP has consistently led this demand since Nepal became a secular state in 2007. The RPP seeks to capitalize on the growing enthusiasm for a Hindu state in Nepal, but its senior coalition partner, the CPN-UML, has not publicly called for the restoration of a Hindu state. Communist KP Oli is roaming from temple to temple. Former Prime Minister Oli has mixed religion with nationalistic sentiment to woo the Hindu vote. Oli had to lose his power because of his love for China.

India-China interest in Nepal
Neighboring countries China and India will keep an eye on the election results because of their strategic and economic interests. India is a natural ally of Nepal. There have been decades-old political, cultural and religious ties, but the presence of the US and China in Nepal has been a matter of debate and discussion in the country. Two US-led plans, the $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation and the State Partnership Program, are seen as limiting China’s growing influence. China has signed infrastructure projects with Nepal under its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and plans to link Kathmandu with the Tibetan capital Lhasa via the Trans-Himalayan Railway network.

Many good signs for electoral democracy in Nepal
The upcoming elections in the neighboring country present both hope and despair. Timely elections and participation of youth augurs well for electoral democracy in Nepal. Yet political leaders and parties are what they are, and there is little hope that they will be better stakeholders of democracy or progress after elections. At the same time, there is also the possibility that no party will ever get an absolute majority. In this situation, the elections to be held in Nepal have become very interesting and important.

(Dr. Mahendra Kumar Singh is an expert in International Affairs and Professor in the Department of Political Science at Deendayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University.)

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