Nepal-Khanal faction mulls forming a party and joining broader alliance, insiders sayWith its leaders suspended from the UML and Oli in no mood to compromise, the cornered faction has few options before it as its leaders’ political future is at stake.
The cornered Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction of the CPN-UML is in a fix.
Nepal and three other leaders of the faction have been suspended from the party as UML chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli consolidates his hold on the country’s largest political party.
Following the Supreme Court’s March 7 invalidation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the revival of its constituents—CPN-UML and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Oli has left no stone unturned to get back at Nepal and his faction.
He held a meeting of the Central Committee of the revived CPN-UML on March 12 but did not invite Nepal, Khanal and their supporters. The meeting not only removed party positions, including those of vice chairs and secretaries which a number of Nepal supporters held, but also expanded the Central Committee to include those that belonged to the Maoist Centre and had switched their allegiance to side with Oli.
Following opposition to these decisions, a March 15 meeting between Oli and Nepal ended inconclusively.
In another meeting of the party, again held in the absence of Nepal, Khanal and their supporters, Oli was given sweeping powers like the authority to recall lawmakers elected under the proportional representation system and to appoint members to the party’s Standing Committee.
Meanwhile, Nepal and Khanal continued to call their own parallel meetings of the party.
Oli hit back, suspending Nepal and Bhim Rawal, as well as Surendra Pandey and Ghanashyam Bhusal.
The Nepal-Khanal faction for the moment has no choice but to expedite formation of parallel committees throughout the country before deciding to form a new party.
“While consolidating our strength to restructure the CPN-UML, we will appeal for a broader communist alliance,” said Vijay Poudel, a Central Committee member of the Nepal-Khanal faction.
On Saturday, a Standing Committee meeting of the faction decided to launch a two-month-long party strengthening campaign across the country to make leaders and cadres aware of Oli’s activities. The faction has also discussed filing a contempt of court case against Oli for refusing to implement the March 7 decision to revive the UML and the Maoist Centre in their pre-merger states as his decisions since then have been unilateral.
The meeting also decided to counter Oli’s move of forming parallel committees down to the ward level.
Insiders in the faction say that without a political presence—in the form of a new party or as part of a broader alliance, their political future is at risk as the country could head towards polls anytime.
“After we raised the issue in party meetings, leaders have been convinced so now they are doing necessary homework for the same,” said a Central Committee member requesting anonymity. “Now some leaders are busy with developing political documents for the party and a communist alliance as well.”
But the Nepal-Khanal faction will also challenge Oli’s unilateral decisions.
The faction is discussing a reorganisation of the UML and registering it at the Election Commission with a similar name.
Factional leaders argue that they represent the UML as Oli’s meetings of the party after March 7 are illegal for not informing all the members of the Central Committee.
The faction, according to insiders, will employ article 68 of the party’s statute that talks about the special situation when 51 percent of the Central Committee remains vacant—in this case the supporters of Oli.
The article states that in such a situation, the Central Committee will be automatically dissolved.
“In such a situation the remaining members will call a national representatives’ council and form a central organisational committee as required including the central members,” the article states. “The committee can use full authority of the Central Committee and hold national convention within six months.”
But leaders close to Oli have brushed aside claims that the Nepal-Khanal faction truly represents the UML.
“This is laughable,” said a leader close to Oli on condition of anonymity. “They were seeking an excuse to split the party even as most of the leaders and cadres have refused to do so. They will employ every tactic to take a part of the UML and join Dahal’s party soon.”
Leaders of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist Centre, however, say that a broader communist alliance may be possible but not a merger between the Maoist Centre and the Nepal-Khanal faction’s would-be party.
“I said at our informal Standing Committee meeting on Thursday that we should better focus on forming a broader communist alliance than unifying the parties,” said Pampha Bhusal, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “As our recent history shows that bigger parties cannot survive for long, forming a big political party is not a good idea.”
The euphoria following the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) with a merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) in May 2018 was short-lived as even before the dissolution of the House of Representatives on December 20 last year, the party had been on rocky grounds for more than a year.
Going back more than two decades, the CPN-UML became the largest party in Parliament following the 1994 general elections but by the time next elections were held in 1999, it had split into two and could not recapture that glory of becoming the largest party until it joined hands with the Maoist Centre for an alliance during the 2017 general elections.
But if such a broader communist alliance were to be formed in the future, a number of fringe communist parties like the Mohan Bikram Singh-led CPN Masal, the Mohan Baidya-led CPN Revolutionary Maoists, the Rishi Kattel-led Nepal Communist Party and the Gopal Kirati-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) could join, according to analysts.
“A broader communist alliance is possible among communist and socialist parties not as a party but as a front that could form an electoral alliance as well,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst. “They could go to the next polls with the same election symbol and manifesto.”
According to Chitra Bahadur KC, a leader of Rastriya Janamorcha affiliated to the CPN Masal, unity among the communist parties has not been possible due to their differing ideological issues but they could forge an electoral alliance besides a political alliance on certain issues.
“We have been forming an electoral alliance earlier as well and will continue coordination with communist forces, which is our policy,” KC told the Post. “Such an alliance is necessary.”
But political analysts say such an alliance could take some time to materialise as the Nepal-Khanal faction has not clarified its issues and a formal proposal has yet to be floated.
“First of all, the Nepal-Khanal faction should come up with their proper stance on various issues including ideology to show how they were different from Oli,” said Hari Roka, a political economist. “Only after the Nepal-Khanal faction makes their position clear could the parties think of such a communist alliance.”
Roka added that just like parties don’t easily trust Dahal even to form a new government, the Nepal faction could face a similar situation if he fails to convince the fringe parties to join an alliance.