After a recent deal, Dahal is setting sights on becoming sole leader of the partyFor Pushpa Kamal Dahal, getting the executive chairmanship is half the battle won, and his intentions are clear: strengthening grip on party either through consensus or election.
A Cabinet reshuffle and an agreement last week to let Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli run the government for the full term and to allow Pushpa Kamal Dahal to lead the party in the executive role has brought some semblance of stability in the ruling party.
Oli appeared to have addressed the concerns of various factions, including the one led by senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal who emerged in recent months as his bete noire.
The leadership has claimed that Wednesday’s decision sent the message of party unity and stability.
But party insiders say there’s still a lack of clarity on various issues and that the recent decision temporarily hides the simmering dynamics behind the facade of stability. No one knows what the chairmanship with the executive role for Dahal actually means, according to them.
When Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s Maoist party decided to merge in May last year, the deal was that the new Nepal Communist Party (NCP) would be run by the two leaders and that a general convention to be held within two years from the date of unification would select the new leadership, including the chairperson.
If that understanding is anything to go by, the party should be holding its general convention in about six months from now.
While the decision of an executive role for Dahal, who had a bit of an axe to grind with Oli for not getting a concrete role in the government and the party, may have come in his favour, party insiders say they are not clear about how it is going to work.
Dahal, in an interview with Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, said all the confusion has been cleared as there is now a clear division of work between the two co-chairs.
What, however, could come as an irritant sooner rather than later is Dahal’s assertion that the earlier understanding of electing the leadership through consensus still remains intact.
While for Dahal the Wednesday agreement allowing him to lead the party in the executive role may come as half the battle won, it won’t be easy when it comes to implementation, according to some leaders.
Leaders, especially those with the UML background, may hesitate to accept Dahal as the sole chairman unless he is elected through the convention.
According to them, it is not appropriate to undermine the rights of the representatives of the national convention through any sort of agreement.
“How can leaders dictate the sovereign representatives of the party’s general convention beforehand?” said Raghuji Panta, a standing committee member who has close relations with Nepal. “It’s the representatives who decide. They could opt to select the leadership through consensus, but no leader has the right to tell them what they should do prior to the convention.”
Some former UML leaders also say the former Maoists might want the leadership to be selected on the basis of consensus because if elections were to be held, the former Maoist leaders would be defeated. The former Maoists are already in minority in party committees, as their merger was based on a 60:40 ratio.
Nonetheless, the current situation in the party, a leader said, suits Dahal in many ways. For now, he has been able to extract whatever he wanted—an executive chairman’s role—from Oli—and now he is setting his sights on becoming a leader with the sole authority, according to the leader.
“For any leader, trying to get hold of the party is but common in politics,” said Krishna Rai, a central member who has close relations with Oli. “Dahal will do his best to be the sole chairman of the party through the convention as well.”
Dahal who in the recent past repeatedly brought up a gentleman’s agreement reached with Oli has ruled that out now, calling it null and void. The deal had it that Oli and Dahal would take the government reins in turn.
In his interview with Kantipur, Dahal also said he is not in a hurry to become the prime minister. In return for the executive chairman’s role, Dahal seems to have readily agreed to let Oli continue in Singha Durbar for the full term.
Another leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said given Oli’s health condition, there was nothing for Dahal to bargain. “Even if a situation of government leadership change arises, Dahal will be happy to let any other leader take over, as long as he gets to lead the party solely,” said the central committee member who represents the former Maoist party.
Even if the leaders disagree with the idea of selecting the leadership on the basis of consensus, the convention is still far off and there is no binding agreement as such that calls for holding it in May next year.
“He would rather try to strengthen his grip on the party and project any other leader for the government leadership,” said the leader. “But he might also run the risk of opening a can of worms.”