Himal: How important are these elections in socio-political terms?
Gagan Thapa: For three reasons: if there are no elections it will be a disaster for the constitution, political instability will increase pressures on society, and it is important to end this prolonged political transition. In other democracies there is concern about who will win, but here we are worried mainly about whether there will be elections or not. These elections will hopefully take us towards stability, raise the public’s trust in democracy, move the constitution forward, and streamline institutions of government. These elections are Nepal’s life-line.
Have you found much interest among the people towards the elections?
The people may still asking ‘what’s in it for us’ because they haven’t experienced good governance due to past misdeeds of the political parties. We have achieved a lot: we have made the constitution and implemented federalism. It’s a miracle. But there has been little improvement in the peoples’ standard of living. This is a problem, and the elections will be a measure of the people’s enthusiasm.
But there is still uncertainty about elections.
I, too, thought so. Even though I was in government, I suspected there may not be local elections. These days, I am campaigning for votes and the same doubts have returned. The reason for this uncertainty is that because the transition the belief that decisions are made elsewhere is deeply ingrained. People suspect a conspiracy. Elections are also being decided by the courts, that could be why.
Is there a conspiracy to postpone polls?
I don’t think so. There may be some power centres and individuals who want that to happen, but I don’t think it will affect the elections. If the NC and the UML didn’t want elections they could have scuttled it earlier. We are accusing each other, but both our parties are focused on elections.
So the main parties are geared for polls?
Absolutely. They are doing what needs to be done to make it happen. But we take every opportunity to accuse each other of not wanting elections. That is politics.
People say the NC is divided about polls because of the left alliance?
There were some who thought it wasn’t necessary to have elections by January, but a large portion of the party was, and is, of the view that the elections should not be postponed. The uncertainty will wipe out the NC as well because it may give time for the UML-Maoists to actually unite.
Will the dispute in the courts over ballot papers affect polls?
It won’t and it shouldn’t. The courts also know this. It is not necessary to postpone polls just because we have only one ballot paper. I don’t think the court will insist on two ballot papers either.
How will the left alliance affect the NC’s performance in elections?
Because of our electoral system and current political reality, no one party will have an absolute majority. That is why we were in talks with the Maoists as well as other parties to forge an alliance. The sudden announcement that a party in the governing coalition would unite with an opposition party was obviously going to have an effect. We had to change our entire electoral strategy. That is why we also want to have alliances with other parties. The left alliance has given us a chance to woo back some of the democratic votes from UML supporters who do not agree with its alliance with the Maoists.
Has the left alliance pushed the UML to the left, or the Maoists to the centre?
I think the UML will shift from centre to the left mainly because of the talk of party unity with the Maoists. They will have to support the Maoist insurgency. So we have an opportunity to pull some UML voters to us, while retaining our traditional vote bank. We need to put forth more clearly our political relevance and principles.
Is geopolitics behind the left alliance?
Many political observers think so. And the democratic alliance that is being formed is also seen by some to be pushed by others. This has made us all weaker. We have to stop blaming everything on outside forces, and say that despite differences we have made our decisions ourselves.
Is there a danger of the NC being pushed to the right because of its alliance with the RPP?
The question is not whether the NC will drift to the right, but whether the RPP and others will come to the centre. But the NC now must change itself, and I am personally glad that the left alliance has given us that opportunity. I am just a little worried that the moderate left will be pushed to the far left.