Voters are angry with the old guard

Nepal’s new political outfit Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) has performed overwhelmingly well in the recently held by-elections.

RSP President Rabi Lamichhane secured 54,176 votes to win the election in Chitwan-2. His vote share is a whopping 69 percent. Old parties like Nepali Congress and CPN-UML got lesser votes than in the November elections. Another RSP candidate Dr Swarnim Wagle won Tanahu-1 constituency by securing 34,911 votes, far ahead of his nearest contender.

Bara election is a different case altogether as RSP has not been able to penetrate the core Madheshi area till now. RSP candidate Ramesh Kharel has garnered paltry number of votes so far. However, Shiva Chandra Kuswaha of Janamat Party, a new political outfit, has been giving old hand Janata Samajwadi Party Supremo Upendra Yadav a run for his money.

Different analyses have been put forth for the groundswell of support for the RSP. The most common analysis is that voters are angry with the old parties and have expressed their rage by supporting RSP. Young and educated people are fed up with the same old parties whose only achievements so far has been corruption and misgovernance. Lamichhane and his group of Young Turks have promised removal of corruption, delivery of governance and implementation of people-centric policies.

So what? Skeptics may ask. Every political party promises similar things at the hustings. But RSP is different in the sense that its President Rabi Lamichhane had carried out exemplary deeds (in the eyes of common people) before joining politics. As a popular TV personality, Lamichhane facilitated in rescuing migrant workers stranded in Gulf countries. This gesture touched the sentiment a huge segment of the Nepali populace.

As a TV host that asked uncomfortable questions to authorities, Lamichhane had gained a popular following. He continued this populist streak in politics with rousing speeches that were full of emotions and sentiments. Common voters are not interested in high-sounding ideologies and Lamichhane never hammered them with jargons. The opponents’ attacks with different allegations turned out to a boon for him as it further entrenched voters’ confidence.

Another interesting thing about Lamichhane and RSP is that they never promised big things like the communist alliance did in 2017 elections. Riding on the wave of nationalism and assuring the people of a stable governments, big communist parties had won over the voters. But their promise turned out to be a mirage and ugly political games were played throughout the five years.

Even after the 2022 elections, established political parties didn’t mend ways. People were further disgusted with them when they were indulged in forming and bringing down governments within a short period of time.

Voting pattern in both the constituencies where RSP won with handsome margin has shown that even the cadres of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML seem to have voted in favour of RSP. This goes on to prove that old parties have not been able to keep their own cadres satisfied and faithful. The top down dictation of party bigwigs who ignore the ground reality is the reason why the cadres have been indifferent to their own party candidates.

This crisis of trust on old parties should serve them a lesson to improve themselves. In fact, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has admitted that big parties have to bring change to their working style. But it is easier said than done. Big leaders themselves are the hindrances to meaningful progresses. This time too the party high-command may blame the candidates for not being popular enough to win the election.

RSP can become a formidable alternative force and make the old parties shaking in their boots if it keeps its image clean till the next general elections.

The results of the by-election have also exposed the limitations of mainstream media. Legacy media had been putting a narrative that attraction for RSP had been waning after its president was alleged of different controversies. But social media trends had been showing continued strong support for Lamichhane and Swarnim Wagle. The Kathmandu-centric big editors, just like the top leaders of old parties, took voters for granted and made wrong conclusions. Further, they belittled the voters by saying that followers of Lamichhane are unruly hoodlums, akin to Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables”. One big editor even termed support for Lamichhane as “mass hysteria.”

But what these elitists forget is that anger and indifference towards old political parties are rising by the day. One needs to sit with the people to fathom the anger of the general populace. People complain about having no opportunities in the country while the bigwigs have been cornering massive benefits. How would the anger created by this situation get expressed? Through votes!

Having won the elections, Rastriya Swatantra Party now has a huge challenge on its hands. It needs to keep this momentum alive by becoming a force for good. Addressing the voters’ aspirations while remaining in the opposition is challenging. Joining the government and providing meaningful delivery to the people is ideal but the party needs to avoid the past mistake.

One thing is sure, RSP can become a formidable alternative force and make the old parties shaking in their boots if it keeps its image clean till the next general elections.

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