Whoever takes charge will have both a challenge and an opportunity in the next general election, which could bring them the prime minister’s post as well.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
The top leaderships of the two major parties have forwarded a plan for holding the general conventions to pacify the dissident voices within their parties. If they stick to their plan, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) will hold its first unified jamboree in November/December while the main opposition will be holding its 14th convention on 19-22 February next year.
Amid growing pressure to resign as both party chair and prime minister, KP Sharma Oli in mid-July floated the idea of holding the unified general convention. The proposal was backed by the party’s co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal who reportedly got Oli’s assurance for support when he contests as a chair. The deal forged between two party chairs in presence of president Bidya Devi Bhandari averted the possible ‘crisis’ which could have possibly resulted in the split of the party merged merely two years ago.
Though senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal from the dissident faction were against the agreement between the two chairs, which they claimed was done behind doors, they, however, are not against the idea of the convention. Time will tell whether Oli actually wants a general convention or if it is just a tactic to distract from the mounting pressure on him for his resignation.
Though confusion persists, the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) is ahead of the ruling party when it comes to their preparations for the convention.The party has instructed all its district committees to complete the formation of interim party structures in line with the federal set-up.
According to the party's calendar for the general convention, renewal and distribution of new active membership will be completed by December 15. This will be followed by the conventions at the village, town and ward levels on December 21. The convention of 753 local governments will take place on December 23 while the provincial-level electoral constituency convention will take place on December 26, and district-level conventions will be held from December 28-31. The provincial level convention has been slated for January 19.
The sluggish progress in their preparations has raised some doubts if the second largest party can hold the conventions in time. However, as the dissident faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel wants the election at any cost, the party President Sher Bahadur Deuba does not have the luxury to postpone it for a longer time. Deuba, elected as the party president in March for four years, has already postponed the convention by a year enjoying the authority the party’s statute provides.
“We are all set for the convention. Every effort is being made to conclude it in the stipulated time,” said party’s deputy general secretary Prakash Saran Mahat who is close to Deuba. Apparently, there are two dominant factions led by Deuba and Poudel in addition to the less dominant one commanded by Krishna Prasad Sitaula. However, there are a number of sub-factions.
As most of the influential leaders in the party are already in their seventies or late sixties they all are eying the presidential berth in the upcoming convention. Deuba, 73, wants his continuation again. In his mid-seventies, Poudel feels he has been barred from the party presidency and prime minister’s chair despite his huge contributions to the party. His age will not allow him to contest for the party’s leadership in the next convention. Therefore, it’s now or never for him. Winning the party president seat not only bestows him with an opportunity to command the party but also opens up the prospect of becoming the executive head of the country.
The next general elections will be held in 2022 and the party’s president would be an obvious candidate for the prime ministership given that NC emerges at the last opportunity. No leaders in the grand old party so far have publicly announced their candidacy but at least half a dozen have expressed their aspirations to contest for the leadership, most of them coming from Poudel’s faction.
Dr Shekhar Koirala, who considers himself a scion of the Koirala family, has been canvassing the country to survey the mood of the cadres and garner support for himself. However, General Secretary Dr Shashank Koirala, too, is showing his aspirations for the post. Similarly, Prakash Man Singh and Dr Ram Sharan Mahat have also been saying they are also presidential candidates in the upcoming general convention.
NC Vice-President Bimalendra Nidhi is the only person from Deuba’s faction showing interest in the party’s presidency. However, the party leaders believe he will settle for the vice-president for Deuba. The real challenge is for Poudel to settle the many aspirants within his faction.
Those who follow NC’s politics say managing the Koirala family is not going to be easy for him. In the last general convention, Shashank from Poudel’s faction won the contest though Poudel himself was defeated in the presidential race with Deuba. Therefore, there is a perception that Koirala’s command is a sizable share of the cadres.
More aspirants from the dissidents would be welcome news for Deuba as the divided votes of the opponent would mean an easy victory for him.
The story is different in the ruling party where Oli is using the convention as an opportunity to subside the opposition voice in the party and ensure he gets to have a full five-year term as the executive head of the country. He has announced publicly that he won’t be fighting for the party leadership anymore. That means it’sDahal and Nepal, who have ganged up against Oli at present, who would be facing each other for the party leadership in the unified general convention. And whoever garners Oli’s support will register a victory.
Oli is now using it as a tool to take himself out from the deepening crisis, which could cost him both the party’s chair and the prime minister’s position. On the one hand he says he would support Dahal while also saying the one leading the NCP should carry the agenda of ‘janata ko bahudaliya janawad or ‘Jabaja’ which translates as the people’s multiparty democracy propounded by Madan Bhandari. Dahal, who led the revolution based on communist philosophy, will have a hard time to embrace ‘Jabaja’.
However, for Nepal jabaja has been a guiding philosophy. During the party merger Oli and Dahal had agreed that the general convention would decide the party's guiding principle.
Oli’s condition of ‘Jabaja’ shows he wants to split Dahal and Nepal to make his position stronger. The leaders in the NCP say the party will have a convention soon, in April next year if not in November/December. Early 2021, therefore, is going to be eventful politically. It is uncertain who will take the helm in the NCP and NC. Whoever takes charge will have both a challenge and an opportunity in the next general election, which could bring them the prime minister’s post as well.