Storm is brewing over UML as factions up the ante against each otherWhile Oli appears prepared to drive the Nepal-Khanal group into a corner, the latter, though at a loss on the way forward now, is attempting to consolidate strength.
Tension is building up in the CPN-UML.
With party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in no mood to spare his rivals Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal and their major supporters, the ruling CPN-UML most probably will face a split sooner or later.
While Oli appears to be clear about his game plan, the Nepal-Khanal faction seems to be lost.
Leaders from the Nepal-Khanal faction, however, say they will keep their fight against Oli on unless there's a resolution. But they are unclear as to what moves they are going to make in the face of Oli’s what they call "high-handed" approach.
Bijay Poudel, a Central Committee member close to the Nepal-Khanal group, said Oli has refused to show any signs of being an accommodative leader and has taken things too far.
“Given the way Oli has shown his regressive and suppressive attitude, it is becoming difficult to stay with him," Poudel told the Post.
Ever since the UML and the Maoist Centre, which had merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), were revived by the Supreme Court on March 7, Oli has taken a slew of decisions aimed at driving the Nepal-Khanal faction into a corner.
Oli has already amended his Parliamentary Party statute, authorising him to take action against lawmakers.
Oli has also secured sweeping powers to change the closed list of proportional representation candidates, which means he can, if he wishes, replace any lawmaker elected under the system with someone of his choice. Before the statute was amended, such an authority rested with the party’s Central Committee.
Currently, the UML has 120 members in the lower house, including 41 members elected under the Proportional Representation system.
Of the 38 lawmakers from the Nepal-Khanal faction, 15 were elected under the Proportional Representation system.
With the new rule, Oli now can replace those from the rival group represented under the proportional system with party members of his choice.
And if he does so, it could further weaken the Nepal-Khanal faction in the party.
According to Poudel, the leader of the Nepal-Khanal faction, right now their strategy is to assess and consolidate strength.
“Let’s not rule out a broader communist force which will consist of various communist parties that are currently scattered,” Poudel told the Post.
On Thursday, the Nepal-Khanal faction submitted their clarification as sought by Oli.
Party General Secretary Ishwar Pokhrel had, on March 22, sought clarification from Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Ghanashyam Bhusal and Surendra Pandey for attempting to split the party.
In their clarification, the four leaders, however, have also questioned Oli about the latter’s various decisions, including a unilateral Central Committee meeting on March 12 and his December 20 move of dissolving the House of Representatives.
The Nepal-Khanal faction has been asking Oli to withdraw the decisions of the March 12 Central Committee meeting.
According to leaders close to Oli, the party would take a decision after studying the clarification furnished by the four leaders.
Meanwhile, the Nepal-Khanal faction has been holding its own meetings for the last few days. The faction earlier held a national gathering of its leaders and cadres, where it had decided to form parallel committees at all levels.
Leaders close to Oli say if the Nepal-Khanal faction refuses to fall in line and continues to hold its own meetings and form separate committees, they will face further action.
“They will be punished if they continue to defy party orders,” said Suman Pyakurel, a Central Committee member close to Oli, who is also a member of the National Assembly. “There’s a saying that sometimes the cancerous part has to be removed so as to protect other organs of the body. That applies to our party as well. Madhav Nepal used to demand that due process should be followed in the party. Our party will follow the due process before taking action.”
Meanwhile, Oli has called a meeting of the Parliamentary Party on Friday, just as the Nepal-Khanal faction is planning to hold a Central Committee meeting.
In the 201-strong Central Committee, Oli now controls a majority after a number of members went to his side. Before the merger with the Maoist Centre in 2018, the Nepal-Khanal faction claimed that the two sides were on par. Number-wise, Oli has become even stronger after forming a 264-member national convention organising committee, inducting 23 leaders from the Maoist Centre.
“We have been discussing the current situation from various angles and we are ready to face any action,” said a Standing Committee member from the Nepal-Khanal faction. “In the worst-case scenario, we will part ways [with Oli]. However, if the party splits, Oli would be the cause, not us. For now, our fight against the Oli tendency will continue.”
The Nepal-Khanal faction controls around 40 percent of Central Committee members but it does not have the numbers in the Parliamentary Party.
As per the Political Parties Act-2017, to split a party, a group needs at least 40 percent of members in both the Parliamentary Party and the Central Committee.
And with an amendment to the Parliamentary Party statute, Oli can easily replace the 15 lawmakers elected under the Proportional Representation system. In that case, if the Nepal-Khanal group decides to split, at the cost of losing the post of lawmakers, Oli’s UML will lose 23 seats in Parliament.
It could make Oli’s task of remaining in power a bit difficult. At present, with 120 members in Parliament, even if the Maoist Centre withdraws support, Oli will need the support of just 15-16 members for which he has been trying to cultivate the Janata Samajbadi Party, which currently has 32 seats in the House.
Leaders close to Oli, however, appear confident. They say there is no way Oli will capitulate before those who once made every attempt to unseat him.
“And they [the Nepal-Khanal faction] are still trying to do so,” said Krishna Rai, a lawmaker and Central Committee member from the Oli faction. “The prime minister and party chair has already said that he won’t stay idle when he is attacked by someone with a sharp weapon.”
According to Rai, the leaders from the Nepal-Khanal faction don’t have a future now.
“They are left with just two options,” he said. “Either they have to fall in line and remain in the UML whose leader is Oli or they can defect and join the Maoist Centre led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal.”