UML’s poll agenda centred on the creation of a welfare stateAs the UML fights the polls against strong alliance, how is the party preparing for the upcoming polls and what is its assessment?
With less than a month until the voting day for November 20 elections, the CPN-UML, like other parties, is working in a full swing to devise election strategy and its execution. The UML that emerged as the largest party from the previous election fought forming a left alliance and has split now and is in an election race without forming nationwide alliance like the 2017’s poll though it has partnered with some fringe parties in some constituencies. The party leadership has been claiming it will retain its position as the largest party. Going by the local election results, the Nepali Congress-led five party alliance is ahead of the UML in most of the constituencies. As the UML fights the polls against strong alliance, how is the party preparing for the upcoming polls and what is its assessment? The Post’s Thira Lal Bhusal and Binod Ghimire talked to the party’s deputy General Secretary Bishnu Rimal, who is also the secretary of the Election Mobilisation Committee, for the answer.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
1. How is the party’s election preparation?
We have formed a 451-strong Election Mobilisation Committee, led by the party chairperson, which includes representatives from across the country including leaders from the provinces and party’s sister wings, among others. This is a large body for election preparation and execution of the party’s poll strategy. There is a 35-member secretariat for the coordination for election mobilisation. Similarly, the election manifesto preparation is in the final stage which will be made public after Tihar and Chhath. The eight member manifesto preparation committee is giving a final touch to the manifesto based on the suggestions from different party committees.
The manifesto not just lists out visions and plans for the next five years but also points out the challenges the country faces to tread on the path of development and prosperity. Based on our experience, we have highlighted the need for policy reforms and institutional reforms. For instance land accusation, environment impact assessment and clearance for clearing trees pose grave challenges to build development projects. Similarly, without institutional reforms we are not going to progress as per our expectations.
As envisioned in the constitution, our focus is on the welfare state. However, the state needs huge resources to fund the welfare programmes. Our manifesto not just talks about promoting welfare activities but also the ways to find the resources for them.
2. Several pledges such as building railway lines, running ships with Nepal’s flag from the previous election couldn’t materialise? What are you going to tell the same people this time?
The manifesto has reviewed that. We fought the 2017’s elections jointly with CPN (Maoist Centre) with a single manifesto unlike the present alliance of the five-parties. People trusted us with a comfortable majority. However, our government couldn’t function for a full five-year term due to several reasons. All the pledges, therefore, couldn’t get implemented. Our party chairperson, who was also prime minister, couldn’t work full-fledged for around a year due to health reasons and when he recovered, the party leaders started conspiring against him and regularly hindered him from working smoothly.
We saw the Congress, who ridiculed our pledge of inter-country railway line, to flaunt the railway image in the cover of its election manifesto. That means we are on the right track and have raised the right agenda. Therefore other parties are following us. People know the UML can deliver if it gets a chance to work. We will come up with our agenda and want to hold discussions and debates on them. Therefore, our Chairperson KP Sharma Oli has also made an open call for the live debates on the election agenda. The debate however should be between people with the same stature. Chairperson Oli is our prime ministerial candidate and he wants to debate with the leader of the same status from the ruling alliance.
3. You talked about public debate but the UML is criticised that any leaders wanting debate within the party are kicked out?
No leader who wants genuine debate leaves the party. If you are referring to Ghanashyam Bhusal, who recently quit the party, then you are giving a wrong example. The party has always entertained his criticism. We are even incorporating his suggestions, as outgoing head of the party’s finance and planning department, in our election manifesto. We haven’t disowned it because Bhusal submitted them.
However, everyone must abide by the party discipline and there is an appropriate time to raise an issue. The sole aim of the entire party line should be towards strengthening the party during the election time. If someone brings the idea of weakening or changing the party leadership at this point, it will be rejected outright. We need to analyse what issues are raised at what time. Any agenda that is aimed at weakening the party certainly gets rejected. The allegation that UML doesn’t entertain debate is levelled only by those who aren’t with the party anymore.
4. Even those who are with the parties say so.
Then tell me which party gives the platform for the policy debates as much as the UML does. However, UML held its separate statute general convention where thousands of party leaders and representatives debated on party policy. It unanimously endorsed the statute in presence of leaders like Bhusal and Bhim Rawal as well. We organised separate general convention to elect the party leadership. Did the Congress debate on the party’s policies during its general convention? No.
The general convention in Chitwan elected the Central Committee through voting in the positions that couldn’t be finalised unanimously. Despite this clear evidence, attempts are being made to project that there is no space for dissent in the UML. This is nothing but a “grand design” (to quote the famous phrase of the late Congress leader and Prime Minister Gririja Prasad Koirala) against UML.
5. What is the UML’s assessment for the upcoming election?
There is no confusion that the people will establish the UML as the largest party. The party is winning 150 seats including from the proportional representation. Our goal is to achieve the target by increasing the vote share by six percent from existing 34 percent. If vote share is not increased as per our target, the seats will decrease in the same proportion.
In the five party alliance, the Congress is contesting in 91 seats. Ask the party insiders they say the Congress is going to win 45 seats. That means it is losing 46 seats to the UML. The Maoist Centre is winning 17 out of 47 seats it is contesting while the CPN (Unified Socialist) is winning only around two among 17 seats allocated for it. This means the ruling alliance has already conceded 91 seats to the UML.
In addition, we have our own good will and trust of the people to increase the seats. We have an agenda, leadership, clear direction and a goal. The sole goal of the ruling alliance is to defeat the UML and Oli while our goal is to establish a welfare state. The voters know the fact. In addition, for the first time, in years, the UML is contesting the election in a unified manner. On the other hand, there are several differences in the five-party alliance. Our projection is based on all these facts which put us in a better edge against our rivals.
6. The recently held local elections, however, show a completely different picture. The five-party alliance is ahead of the UML-led alliance in around two-thirds of constituencies.
I agree the May polls give some indications. However, a lot of water has flown under the bridge since the local elections. Neither the Unified Socialist nor the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party are going to retain the votes they had got then. We are the second largest party in Madhes where we are going to fare quite better in the upcoming elections.
We need to understand that the local elections were fought on local agendas. The national election is something different. The general people, the business community and intellectuals are frustrated with the way the present alliance is ruling the country. They are looking for the change and it is the UML that drives their longing for change.
7. The UML has split since the previous election. Some leaders quit the parties when the elections round the corner and there are also dissident voices within the party and rebel candidates in several constituencies. Don’t you think these are challenges for the party?
The UML is the only party which has no issues in party leadership and party committees. There were some problems in the local elections that have been resolved now. The party is contesting the elections in a unified manner. The UML has a culture of debating before the decisions; but once the decisions are taken everyone puts their body and soul to execute them. Those who disagreed have already quit the party. Yes, the party had lost in some places earlier but that has been recovered and it has become even stronger. I reiterate the party is consolidated now.
8. You sound so confident about the party faring excellently. Yet, the UML has partnered with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party where your party chairperson is contesting. There is an alliance with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Janata Samajbadi Party. Why so?
Many wished that the UML would be left to contest the November elections alone. Every party has its own election strategies. However, we haven’t formed any electoral alliance centrally. We left up to our local committees to decide whether they deem it necessary. There is a partnership with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party in Jhapa but that was decided locally. The partnership with the Janata Samajbadi Party too was decided as per the wish of the provincial committee. If it was a national level alliance we could have supported the Rastriya Prajatantra Party candidates in the places other than Jhapa or the Janata Samajbadi candidates in Kathmandu for instance. My point is the UML, largely is contesting the election, on its own strength.