Oli sweeps UML party polls

The main opposition UML’s leader K P Oli has been sworn in again as party chair after elections on Tuesday, and he in turn has sworn in 14  central members who are all his supporters.

Oli and his loyalists all got elected by a comfortable margin, or were unopposed in the lavish convention in Chitwan’s Sauraha where 2,152 delegates have been in attendance for the past five days.

Oli had tried to make the process of getting new party functionaries unanimous, but was challenged by a rival faction led by Bhim Rawal. In electronic balloting that started at 4AM on Tuesday, Oli got more than 95% of the votes. His loyalists Shankar Pokhrel (General Secretary), Ishwar Pokhrel, Pradeep Gyawali, Prithvi Subba Gurung and Bishnu Rimal (deputy General Secretaries) have either been voted in, or won uncontested.

Oli had beaten Madhav Kumar Nepal with a slim margin in the previous party convention in 2016. Nepal split off from the UML earlier this year and set up his own party, the Unified Socialists, which is part of the ruling 5-party coalition with the Nepali Congress. 

Seven of the leaders elected as secretaries of the UML are also all Oli supporters, including Yogesh Bhattarai, Gokarna Bista, Chabilal Biswakarma, Parma Aryal, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Lekharaj Bhatta Raghubir Mahaseth. Rayamajhi and Bhatta are former Maoists. 

Besides those two, former Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa who defected to the UML was elected vice-chair of the party, defeating Ghanshyam Bhusal. All three former Maoists were in Oli’s panel. 

Meanwhile, four UML leaders who were not supported by Oli all lost — they are Bhim Rawal for chair, Ghanashyam Bhusal for vice chair, and Bhim Acharya and Tanka Karki as party secretaries. 

Oli had been grooming the former Maoists to also show that the Maoist Centre party of Pushpa Kamal Dahal is a spent force. Even after the united Nepal Communist Party (NCP) returned to its former UML and Maoist parties after a Supreme Court order in April, the Thapa, Bhatta and Rayamajhi had stayed loyal to Oli, who rewarded them with his crucial support in Tuesday’s party election.

So much so that Oli sidelined Bhim Rawal to make Bhatta the party incharge for the Far-west Province. One of the reasons for Madhav Nepal splitting from the UML was Oli’s induction of the former Moaists into the party in place of Nepal’s supporters.

If the UML general convention looked like an election rally, that is also what it was. In fact, the elevation of the former Maoist to senior party positions appears to be Oli’s careful calculation for local and federal polls ion early 2023.

Among the 301 Central Committee members elected on Tuesday is Ishwari Gharti Magar (pictured) who defied the Maoists during the insurgency to be a staunch UML party member in Rolpa’s Nuwagaun. She has now become the youngest member of the UML Central Committee.

She started her political career while a student leader in the Arnico High School, and became a journalist for a few years before being a party cadre. 

Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress is getting ready for its own party convention in Kathmandu next week. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is expected to win the party chairmanship just like Oli did in the UML — despite a challenge from Ram Chandra Poudel and Bimalendra Nidhi.

RThe Hindu-right Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) is also heading for a convention, and current leader Kamal Thapa is facing a challenge from Rajendra Lingden for the top party post.