Oli-garchyThe UML’s current factional struggle is more about power than ideology
It has been some time since Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s dominance over the CPN-UML has been causing rumblings of discontent within the party. But this has now erupted into a full-blown dispute. The main reason is Oli’s faction now trying to appoint its members to the majority of the party’s departments. The rival Madhav Nepal faction is deeply aggrieved at this attempt and has accused Oli of flouting the party’s standard procedures and unilaterally appointing loyalists to key positions.
This dispute has already caused problems in the party’s functioning from the central level down to the grassroots. And in the future, the dispute could well lead to instability within the government, especially if the Nepal faction tries to bring down the current ruling coalition.
Such intra-party disputes are nothing new in Nepali politics, however. All of the country’s major parties have witnessed internal power struggles at one time or another. The interesting thing about such disputes is that for decades they have been occurring between the same handful of senior leaders. Ironically, the constant struggles within parties have not been able to lead to any major shake-up of the party structure or enabled younger leaders to rise up the party ranks. Senior leaders in each party have deeply entrenched positions.
Over the years, they have managed to dispense large quantities of patronage to ensure loyalty among their supporters. In the UML, for instance, the same three leaders—Oli, Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal—have been preeminent since the 1990s, ever since the decline of Manmohan Adhikari. The ‘rotation’ of leaders within the party gives the semblance of democratic decision-making. However, the rigid party structures and entrenched position of senior leaders mean that no new ideas or capable persons are able to penetrate the party’s higher ranks.
It also bears mentioning that as during numerous other struggles in the past, the dispute is solely about power and has little to do with ideology. Often, criticisms of policy or ideology are merely pretexts. This can be seen this time around as well. The Madhav Nepal faction now claims that Oli has severely mishandled the Madhes crisis and failed to provide adequate services to the population. But such criticisms were quite evident in the past. It is only now that Oli has tried to take a drastic step to expand his control over the party and sideline other factions that the Nepal faction has decided to boycott party meetings.
It is thus obvious that significant changes in the style of functioning of parties are necessary if Nepal is to evolve in a democratic direction. Stronger adherence to the party’s established procedures would help in alleviating the conflict and allowing a more consensual type of decision-making. Further, it is necessary for party leaders to focus more on matters of policy and less on their own interests and those of their loyalists.