A month after local polls, the Election Commission has proposed provincial and federal elections be held in the third week of November.
This has stirred individual hopefuls to try to cash in on the momentum generated by independent candidates who were elected mayors — like Balen Shah of Kathmandu, Harka Sampang of Dharan, Manoj Shah of Janakpur, and Gopal Hamal of Dhangadi.
The popularity of Mayor Balen Shah in Kathmandu in particular has prompted young aspirants to announce candidacies in the capital’s 20 constituencies, even before poll dates are announced.
One of them is former Bibeksheel Sajha Party member Ranju Darshana who in 2017 finished a respectable third in Kathmandu’s mayoral race. Pukar Bam as well as Milan Pandey from the same party have also announced they will be running from Kathmandu 1 and 9.
Former police chief Ramesh Kharel is standing. Manushi Yami Bhattarai, daughter of former PM and Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai is also in the race.
Independent candidates who lost the mayoral race for Kathmandu in May do not seem deterred either. Suman Sayami who finished fourth wants to stand for the federal parliament.
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Media personalities, economists, as well as celebrities and social media influencers are also expected to announce their candidacies.
Independent candidates did well in the May polls because of public disenchantment with established parties – proving that younger Nepalis are now more informed, engaged and interested in politics.
Scandals this month involving the finance minister, embossed license plates and other scams will further harm public perception of the 5-party coalition.
However, dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians has reached a point where those who have declared their candidacy run the risk of forming a cult of personality which could overshadow their platform and agenda.
Even as the country gets ready for November, Nepali politics is once more embroiled in a geopolitical debate about whether Nepal should be part of the American State Partnership Program (SPP) for military disaster response.
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The opposition UML and even members of Prime Minister Deuba’s Nepali Congress (NC) have demanded clarification in Parliament. Deuba tried to soothe ruffled feathers within the governing alliance on Wednesday, assuring partners that he will not entertain the American program.
Coalition members NC, Maoists and Unified Socialists did well in local polls. But the coalition is also in trouble because JSP and the breakaway LSP lost their Madhes Province strongholds like Janakpur and Birganj. And now JSP leaders Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai are having a public spat.
The SPP is polarising Nepali politics just as the US-supported MCC did in previous years.
This could once again bring together the Maoists, UML and Unified Socialists, which were all part of the monolithic Nepal Communist Party in 2018.
What worries some Congressites is that if the SPP debate escalates, it could break the coalition, and leave their party to fight elections alone.
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