Deuba eyes second term, consults supportersYouth leaders claim party majority wants new leadership.
With the Nepali Congress deciding to hold its 14th general convention in September, party president Sher Bahadur Deuba has expressed his interest to continue for a second term, creating ripples in the party.
While there are concerns whether the convention scheduled for September first week could be held during the pandemic, a large number of party leaders and cadres, according to insiders, were in favour of a change of guard, alleging poor performance by the existing leadership both internally and nationally.
Deuba has already started consultations with party leaders before he formally announces his candidacy. As part of his preparations, he held consultations with Congress leaders of Province 1 and 2 on Saturday and with those from Bagmati and Gandaki provinces on Sunday.
“A majority of the party leaders and cadres were of the view that the existing leadership should hand over the party reins to the next generation of leaders and assume the role of guardianship,” said Gururaj Ghimire, a member of the Nepali Congress Central Working Committee. “They are free to compete but we will do our best to vote them out.”
As many as 33 percent of the voters, who elect the party leadership, are from the age group of 18-40 years while 37 percent are aged between 41 and 60 years. This shows that 70 percent of voters are between 18 and 60 years.
Meanwhile, popular leaders from the 41-60 years age group representing the rival faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Sitaula are working on their plans to win at least all major office bearer positions in the 14th general convention and the party leadership in the 15th general convention.
While most leaders close to Deuba were in favour of him repeating as party president for one more term, his own supporter Bimalendra Nidhi has expressed his desire to head the party and wants Deuba’s support in the election in exchange for his support to Deuba’s candidacy in the last general convention.
Nepali Congress held its 13th general convention in March 2016 through which Deuba was elected the party president in a run-off, defeating Ram Chandra Poudel, who was then acting party president. It was Deuba’s third attempt.
As per the constitutional provisions and the party’s statute, the Nepali Congress needed to hold its general convention by February last year. But it did not. And then came Covid-19.
The party then decided to extend the terms and mandates of the present central, district and local committees by a year, as per the party’s statute, until February this year. But in February, it again decided to extend their terms and mandates by another six months, as per the constitutional provisions, and proposed the convention date for August 23-26.
Now there is no escaping. The party cannot cross the September deadline but the pandemic is still here.
During Saturday’s meeting, Nidhi had suggested to Deuba to focus instead on becoming the new prime minister and help him get elected to party president. Deuba, however, seemed firm on his decision to once again run for the party presidency.
“Actually I wish the existing leadership to hand over the leadership to the next generation of leaders voluntarily, as there are hundreds of new leaders who can shoulder the responsibility,” said Gagan Thapa, a Central Working Committee member of the party. “They don’t need to worry about the party’s health and democracy. So they should exit gracefully and make way for the new generation to take the lead of the oldest party.”
The younger generation of leaders below 60 years have been trying their best to lead the party, but their attempts so far have not been successful.
But some changes in the existing party statute, which mandates that at least 15 percent of the leadership positions in all levels of the party must be from the 18-30 years age group and 33 percent women, could help the new generation of leaders wrest the party reins.
“During the previous convention, I ran for general secretary aiming to lay claim to the party presidency this time,” said Thapa, one of the popular youth leaders. “But that could not happen because I lost the election.”
He said youth leaders in the party are holding discussions and making plans to secure most of the office bearer positions this time to create the foundation for them to reach the top leadership position in the next general convention.
But Deuba has been working hard to get himself reelected for a second time so that he could make the Nepali Congress the largest party once again with the communist forces faltering.
“President Deuba has told us that he would only retire after making Nepali Congress number one party in the country,” said Sita Gurung, a Central Working Committee member close to Deuba. “If new generation leaders wish to lead the party, they should dare to compete with their agenda.”
Most of the leaders from the Deuba camp have advised him to move ahead with his plan.
But re-election will not be easy for Deuba, given his lackadaisical performance during his existing tenure, party’s dismal performance in the latest polls and his failure to play the role of an effective main opposition party.
Even a leader of his faction —Vice-president Nidhi—has already laid claim to the position, to say nothing of the majority of the party leaders and cadres in favour of change of guard.
“We will definitely attempt to ensure new generation leaders take the reins of the party,” Thapa told the Post. “We want a vibrant Nepali Congress with young leaders.”
Still Deuba seems to be in a comfortable position, as the rival faction, led by Poudel, has a number of contenders for party presidency including General Secretary Shashank Koirala, leader Shekhar Koirala, former general secretary Prakash Man Singh.
From the new generation a Central Working Committee member Kalyan Gurung has already laid claim to party presidency and has started preparations for the same several months ago.