A Catch-22 Situation for Madhav Nepal

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A Catch-22 Situation for  Madhav Nepal

--BY VISHWASH THAPA

The factional feuding within the CPN-UML has reached new heights following the decision of the party’s central committee to seek clarification from its four senior leaders including former chief of the party Madhav Kumar Nepal, also a former prime minister.

The party on March 22 wrote to Nepal along with Bhim Rawal, Ghanshyam Bhusal and Surendra Pandey asking for a written clarification about their role in tarnishing the image of the party and its leaders. Nepal and CPN (Maoist Centre) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had been campaigning against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli faction of the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) before the Supreme Court’s verdict handed over the name of the party to Rishiram Kattel.

The division of the court on March 7 said the NCP formed after a merger between the UML and the Maoist Centre in May 2018 was illegitimate and decided to revive the two parties. The decision came as a respite to Oli and his faction which was in the minority in all the bodies of the NCP. He is relieved because he has the upper hand in UML.

Oli holds an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary party with around 80 of the 120 lawmakers from the House of Representatives supporting him while he also commands a majority in the Central Committee. Though the Nepal-faction has a majority in two bodies, the office bearer and Standing Committee, these two bodies don’t hold a strong significance when making party decisions in comparison to the Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party. As KP Sharma Oli continues to consolidate power within the party, the prospects are grim for the UML faction led by Nepal. Never in his five decades of political life, has Madhav Nepal faced a situation as crushing as today.

When the Nepal Communist Party was still intact the Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepal-faction in January sacked Oli as a general member of the party though the Election Commission was yet to validate the decision before the party got divided following the apex court’s verdict. The move to seek clarification from Nepal, along with Rawal, Bhusal and Pandey who were very vocal against Oli, is a step towards taking action which could be as far as sacking them from the party’s general member.

“The action will depend on how the clarifications are furnished and how their activities move ahead,” said Khagaraj Adhikari, a Central Working Committee member of the Oli-faction. “They will be welcomed in their respective capacity to work in the party if they apologise for their mistakes.” The Central Committee of the Oli-faction on March 10 relieved the leaders from the Madhav-Nepal faction of their responsibilities as the office bearers and the in-charge of the provinces. Similarly, it added 23 members in the Central Committee who joined the UML from the Maoist Centre.

The Oli faction has a feeling that the Nepal faction will ultimately defect from the UML and join hands with the Maoist Centre. It believes the dissident faction is consolidating power in the UML. It is sceptical about the parallel organisational activities the dissident Nepal faction is carrying out. The dissident faction has formed parallel committees of its sister organisations including the youth and student wings.

The level of scepticism has increased after the Maoist Centre chief Dahal on the second of March said the Nepal faction has been humiliated in the party, therefore, they won’t stay with Oli for a long time. Some of the questions in the clarification depict scepticism regarding the regular meetings between Nepal and Dahal.  

Currently, Oli’s motive is to weaken the dissident faction to whatever extent he can. The Nepal faction has been trapped as it doesn’t have the numbers to split the party legally. The faction has 38 lawmakers which means the UML will have 82 lawmakers if the faction defects. That will still make it the largest party in the House of Representatives. Currently, the Oli government holds a majority in parliament as the Maoist Centre is yet to withdraw its support. If the party (Maoist Center) with 53 lawmakers withdraws its support and the Nepal faction with 38 lawmakers defects to the UML, the Oli government will be short of 56 lawmakers to keep the government intact. The support of the Nepali Congress which has 62 lawmakers will be a must to ensure Oli continues as an executive head.

This, however, can be instrumental in forming a separate coalition alliance between the Congress, the Maoist Centre, Janata Samajadi Party and the splinter faction of the UML. However, there could be a scenario where the 38 members from the Nepal faction lose their seats because it doesn’t have the strength to form a separate party.

The Political Parties Act-2017 makes it mandatory to have representation of 40 percent both in the Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party to form another party. The faction that detaches itself without ensuring that number can lose its representation in parliament. That means 38 lawmakers who are with the Nepal faction can lose their seats if they leave the UML.  

Clause 32 of the Act authorises the party’s Central Committee to sack its members after allowing them to present their clarification. Sub-clause 5 says if the clarification submitted is not satisfactory, based on the provisions in the party statute, the Central Committee can sack such members.

If the UML sacks its leaders who are in the federal parliament, it needs to inform the Parliament Secretariat in writing. According to Clause 34 of the Act a notice will have to be presented before the Speaker of the Lower House or the National Assembly chair.

The Speaker or the National Assembly chair has to inform the respective houses about the decision of the party within 15 days while the Secretariat, based on Clause 36 (1), publishes a notice saying that the respective lawmakers have lost their posts.

The secretariat has to inform the Election Commission about the decision within 15 days of issuance of the notice. There is a belief within the establishment faction of the UML that some lawmakers from the dissident faction will join it if a situation arises where they have to lose their parliamentary positions.

“We don’t want a split in the party. It is the establishment faction that is humiliating us,” said Ram Kumari Jhankri, a lawmaker from the Nepal faction. “It is creating a situation for defection. However, we will continue to fight against the monopoly in the party without defecting.”

Contrary to her remarks, some leaders from the dissident faction say they might defect if the humiliation continues no matter what happens to their parliamentary seats. “It is increasingly getting harder to stay with the Oli faction,” said a leader on the condition of anonymity. “It seems the party will split. Whether it will split immediately or during the election, however, is hard to say.” The leader said there is a high chance that they will form an alliance with the Maoist Centre during the general elections which will be held in two years maximum.

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