Post-convention, UML eyes set on elections

K P Oli’s re-election as leader of his CPN-UML party has been portrayed by critics even within his own party as just the latest example of his authoritarian streak, but Nepal’s former prime minister has not done anything other party leaders have not done to consolidate internal power.

Oli did try to get himself and his supporters appointed unopposed into leadership positions in the central membership and Central Committee. But after a rival faction led by Bhim Rawal pressed for a vote, he agreed and went on to win hands down.

But had the much-delayed UML general convention been pushed back only three months more, Oli would not have been allowed to stand for party chair since he would have crossed the age limit of 70 for executive positions.

Oli, who has undergone two kidney transplants, will therefore be leading the country’s biggest party till 2025. But this is the trend in all of Nepal’s main parties which are led by elderly male politicians who have clung on to power by sidelining rivals and bending rules.

Oli beat his main rival Madhav Kumar Nepal in the previous general convention seven years ago by a slim margin, and relations between the two were never good. When the UML united with the Maoists to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) after the electoral victory in 2018, things started to sour between Prime Minister Oli and  Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who found a convenient ally in Nepal.

Cornered by the Nepal-Dahal faction, Oli used all the tricks in the book to stay on as both party chair and prime minister. But running out of trump cards, he dissolved the Lower House not once but twice, both times reinstated by the Supreme Court which also ruled earlier this year that the UML-Maoist party alliance was null and void.

Nepal then split from the UML and set up his own Unified-Socialist party and teamed up with the ruling five-party alliance with Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC).

It is with this background that the UML party election this week has to be analysed – Oli has placed himself as the helmsman to steer the UML towards victory in the 2023 elections. The criticism against him from the other parties (by calling him authoritarian, and one cartoonist even portraying him as Adolf Hitler) is because they see him as a formidable foe.

As it turned out, 2,153 votes fell at the UML general convention for various party positions, so whatever give-and-take happened behind the scenes, the outcome was democratic.

Among the candidates for senior party functionaries, Asta Laxmi Shakya with 1,976 ballots for deputy chair, and Gokarna Bista with 1,974 for secretary topped the list of those with the most votes from delegates. Surendra Pandey for the second largest number of votes for deputy chair with 1,925 votes and Yogesh Bhattarai came second for secretary with 1960.

Needless to say, Shakya, Bista, Pandey and Bhattarai were all Oli’s critics and in fact were once in the Madhav Nepal faction. Neither Thakur Gaire and Ushakiran Timsena who were elected to central membership used to be pro-Oli, either.

It was even more symbolic for Oli to try to get former Maoists into the top echelons of his party, which is why he fully backed the candidacies of Ram Bahadur Thapa for deputy chair, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Lekhraj Bhatta as secretaries.

On 28 November, the close door meeting of an 11-member committee drew up a list for the 19 member Secretariat high command and candidates for the central membership. Questions can be raised about Oli having manipulated the process in his favour, but even if he did it, it did not go against party rules. And the fact that his candidates got the most votes makes the point moot now.

With his eyes firmly set on elections, he deliberately promoted the Nepal-faction candidates and ex-Maoists to top party positions. Even his detractors within the party understood that strategy and went along with it.

And by not allowing Oli to elevate his candidates to the central membership and Secretariat unopposed, Bhim Rawal and Ghanshyam Bhusal actually helped him gain legitimacy, and earn credit for upholding internal democracy. That Oli and his supporters would win was a foregone conclusion, which is why Rawal and Bhusal actually ended up strengthening the UML.

To be sure, Oli pushed his own blue eyed boys as well: Ishwar Pokhrel as senior deputy chair, Shankar Pokhrel as general secretary, as well as Bishnu Rimal as deputy general secretary and Padma Aryal as secretary.

Ironically, the most dissatisfied with Oli were his close allies Bishnu Poudel, Subhas Nembang, Lalbabu Pandit, Binda Pandey, Radha Gyawali, Goma Devkota, and Bishal Bhattarai who did not get the positions and seniority they thought they deserved.

  • Most read