Oli’s one last effort at party unity fails to convince dissidentsSpectre of split looms large over the CPN-UML as both sides continue to see each other with suspicion and distrust.
CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli’s one last effort to placate the dissident faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal appears to have fallen flat in what looks like a precursor to a formal split in the party.
A day after deciding to revive the party’s Central Committee as it existed on May 16, 2018, prior to the UML’s merger with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the party on Wednesday took a slew of decisions. They include bringing the dissident leaders back to the party, withdrawing the May 24 decision to remove senior party leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and nine other lawmakers and dissolving the 10th national convention organising committee. The Madhav Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction had been asking for these for quite a while.
“The national convention organising committee has been dissolved from today, and it has been converted into the Central Committee that we had before our party’s merger with the Maoist Centre,” Pradeep Gyawali, spokesperson for the UML, told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting. “With this, action taken against Nepal and other leaders have automatically become null and void.”
Oli’s efforts to make peace with the Nepal-Khanal faction come at a time when his position is becoming untenable, as the dissidents have vowed to rally behind the opposition alliance of the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.
As many as 23 lawmakers from the dissolved House have signed a petition submitted by the opposition alliance to the Supreme Court, demanding restoration of Parliament and appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.
Party members close to Oli said that Wednesday’s was almost a last call by Oli for keeping the UML unity intact. Informal talks with the Nepal-Khanal faction, however, will continue, according to them.
The Nepal-Khanal faction, however, has termed Oli’s call “inadequate” as well as too little too late. It says Oli is still reluctant to meet the demands they have been making since the Supreme Court invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre.
The Nepal-Khanal faction has been demanding that all party organisations be restored to the pre-merger stage (prior to May 18, 2018) and course correction by Oli as party chair and prime minister.
The Nepal-Khanal faction has not made public its official position regarding the call made by Oli, but its leaders said Wednesday’s decisions are not acceptable to them.
“We do not recognise the one-sided decision taken by the Oli faction,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member close to Nepal. “To reach consensus, there must be an understanding between the two sides. But today's decisions are very much one-sided and they do not address our demands.”
The UML has called a meeting of the “revived” Central Committee for Friday. It was not immediately clear whether the Nepal-Khanal faction, which skipped Wednesday’s meeting, will attend the Friday’s Central Committee gathering.
The bitterness between Oli and Nepal had grown long before the Supreme Court invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on March 7. Nepal had sided with Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the Nepal Communist Party against what he called Oli’s highhandedness and unilateral way of running the party and the government.
When Oli dissolved the House for the first time on December 20, Nepal and Dahal had jointly led mass protests. But the March 8 decision to revive the UML and the Maoist Centre came as a shock for both Nepal and Dahal, as they saw their alliance breaking.
Despite reiterating many times that he would not stay with Oli, Nepal refused to desert the UML. Rather his faction started to form its own parallel committees. At one point, as many as 28 members from the Nepal-Khanal faction even warned of resigning as lawmakers. When Oli decided to take a vote of confidence on May 10, the 28 lawmakers abstained.
When Oli prodded President Bidya Devi Bhandari to invoke Article 76 (5) to appoint a new prime minister, 26 lawmakers from the Nepal-Khanal faction backed Deuba, much to Oli’s chagrin.
Oli had formed the 10th national convention organising committee back in December by having 1,199 members, including some former Maoists and excluding the Nepal-Khanal faction leaders.
After Oli’s second House dissolution on May 21, the Supreme Court on June 10 passed an order to invalidate all the actions taken by the 10th national convention organising committee, in a major setback to Oli.
As the Supreme Court has been hearing the cases against the May 21 House dissolution regularly, on a daily basis, a verdict is likely soon, and insiders say Oli is getting increasingly concerned. According to insiders, Oli is realising the importance of the Nepal-Khanal faction for him to remain in power.
Leaders close to Nepal said they have called a meeting of the Standing Committee of their own on Thursday to discuss various issues, including the Oli faction’s Wednesday’s meeting and the Central Committee meeting called for Friday.
“Now it has become evident that the formation of the national convention organising committee was wrong. So obviously its decisions are not valid,” said Pant. “If Oli really wants party unity, he has to form a talks team.”
The Nepal faction has also been demanding that Oli revoke the March 12 decision. On March 12, Oli had decided to induct some Maoist Centre leaders, including Ram Bahadur Thapa, Mani Thapa, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Lekharaj Bhatta, into the party’s Standing Committee. As many as 20 Maoist Centre leaders were inducted into the Central Committee.
“The Oli faction’s unilateral decision today has now formally ended the prospect of us remaining with him,” said Beduram Bhusal, a Standing Committee member close to Nepal. “Today’s decision does not take the party back to the pre-May 16, 2018 stage, it rather echoes the March 12 decision.”
For Oli, revoking the March 12 decision is not easy.
“Former Maoist leaders like Ram Bahadur Thapa, Manu Thapa, Lekh Raj Bhatta and Top Bahadur Rayamajhi had put their political career at risk when they supported Oli,” said a Standing Committee member from the Oli camp. “Abandoning them will be a betrayal. Oli won’t leave those leaders high and dry who supported him during difficult times.”
There is also a realisation in the Oli camp that the Nepal-Khanal faction has gone too far and it would be difficult for its leaders to withdraw the support given to Deuba.
Political observers who have closely followed UML’s politics for a long time say the crisis in the UML was created by Oli.
“What the party leadership has been doing so far is taking one step forward and two steps back,” said Narayan Dhakal, who is well-versed in Nepal’s communist movement and himself a former UML member. “Oli is trying to prove Nepal and Khanal as irrelevant leaders. Some youth leaders are worried about their career and making attempts to keep the party unity intact. But I see minimal proposects.”
According to Dhakal, Oli has no intention to keep the party unity intact, but he wants to show that he made utmost efforts on his part.
Even if the Nepal-Khanal faction is convinced that Oli indeed is trying to mend fences, things don’t look easy, as Oli would ask them to withdraw their support to the opposition alliance.
Withdrawing the signatures from the petition, which is currently being heard by the Supreme Court, would badly hamper the image of Nepal who is already known as a leader who cannot take risks and make decisions.
During an interaction with civil society members on Wednesday, Nepal said that he “would never abandon value-, moral- and rule-based politics.”
“Our fight is against the ‘Oli tendency’ in Nepali politics and we want to eradicate it once and for all,” said Nepal. “Our fight is for democracy, restoration of the constitution and the system. I am not going to deviate from my politics of principles.”