As its convention date nears, Congress keeps a close eye on fresh developmentsThe party awaits court verdict on House dissolution just as it keeps track of talks in the UML between Oli and Nepal factions, as a lot depends on how the situation unfolds.
The Nepali Congress is keeping a watchful eye on the goings on.
It is waiting for the Supreme Court verdict with bated breath—its President Sher Bahadur Deuba had led a petition against the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the Office of the President’s rejection of his bid for the post of prime minister. It is closely following the talks between the two factions of the CPN-UML. It is also taking note of the questions raised against the legitimacy of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), as a complaint has been filed against the Maoist party at the Election Commission saying it has failed to abide by the constitution and Political Parties Act-2017.
The Congress itself runs a risk of becoming an illegitimate party if it fails to hold its general convention within three months. The party has announced to hold its 14th general convention from September 1 to 4 in Kathmandu, but preparations for the same are not adequate. And growing factional feuds have made things worse.
Multiple leaders from rival camps told the Post that there are some internal issues, but external factors too are “affecting” the party’s general convention. They said they are still not sure if the convention will take place on the scheduled date.
“Internally we can sort things out and the party is committed to holding the general convention on the announced date, but we need to take into account some external factors as well,” said Minendra Rijal, a Congress leader and aspirant for the post of the party general secretary. “We are eagerly waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on House dissolution.”
According to Rijal, if the Supreme Court endorses the House dissolution, the country will head for polls declared for November.
“In that case, our convention in September is unlikely,” Rijal told the Post.
Oli dissolved the House on May 21, for a second time in less than six months, after President Bidya Devi Bhandari rejected his and Deuba’s claims for the post of prime minister.
Deuba, backed by 145 lawmakers from the dissolved House, has filed a petition at the court demanding that the lower house of Parliament be restored and he be appointed prime minister.
After completing the hearing from the petitioners and defendants and taking briefs from the amici curiae, the Constitutional Bench said on Monday that it would sit next on July 12. Many, including Congress leaders, believe a verdict is likely on that day.
Within the Congress party, the general understanding is that the court would restore the House. But whether the court would go to the extent of ordering Deuba’s appointment as prime minister is anyone’s guess.
For the Congress party, early elections under Deuba’s leadership will be a godsend. The grand old party for the last three years has been licking its wounds after facing an unprecedented drubbing in the 2017 elections, as it could win just one fourth of the total seats in the House of Representatives. Early polls give hope to the party to make a comeback in less than five years and it will also mean it does not have to hold the general convention immediately.
The party’s general convention is fraught with challenges as there are too many aspirants. The party has not been able to complete the basic task of updating the list of active members.
“The row over distribution of active membership is yet to be resolved. That is one major factor to ensure the general convention,” said Rijal. “If Deuba becomes prime minister, the scenario will change. There is a pandemic too.”
The party has constituted a task force led by Ramesh Lekhak, a leader close to Deuba, to look into the active membership issue. As of Wednesday, the Lekhak-led team has been able to look into the active membership issue in around three dozen districts.
To kickstart the ward-level election, the Lekhak panel has to resolve the active membership issue within 20 days.
“Lekhak and his team, however, are not doing their job fairly,” said a leader close to Ram Chandra Poudel, who leads a rival faction in the Congress party. “In some districts where Deuba is weak, the Deuba faction is creating unnecessary trouble. It seems Deuba is not interested in holding the general convention on time and wants to hold it only when the situation becomes favourable for him.”
Within the Deuba camp, leaders are upbeat about the court possibly giving a verdict in their favour–restoration of the House and the party president’s appointment as prime minister.
Even if the court stops short of appointing Deuba as prime minister, leaders see the likelihood of him succeeding Oli, provided that the Madhav Nepal faction continues to back him.
But the dynamics in the UML appears to be changing. UML chair Oli has now made a volte-face, and he has been trying to appease the Nepal faction. If the court tells Oli to go for floor test as per Article 76 (4) and all 23 members of the Nepal faction, who have thrown their weight behind Deuba, decide to vote for Oli, the prime minister will survive.
In that case, the Congress will have to hold its general convention in September at any cost, or else the party will be illegal.
As the convention date of the grand old party nears, Congress leaders now are pointing fingers at other parties.
“It’s not just us, look at other parties–the UML and the Maoist Centre,” said a leader close to Deuba who wished to remain anonymous. “When did the UML hold its last convention? Seven years ago. What about the Maoist Centre? It’s last convention was held nine years back. The law should apply to all equally.”
But political observers and some leaders within the party believe that the Nepali Congress should follow the law and the constitution instead of pointing at others. According to them, a general convention is not just about abiding by the law, it is also about electing a new leadership, rejuvenating the party and giving it the right direction as per the changing times and needs.
Many say Deuba should have stepped down soon after the party faced defeat in the 2017 elections. Deuba instead is eyeing yet another term, and this time some stalwarts like Bimalendhra Nidhi, Prakash Man Singh and Shekhar Koirala are challenging him.
Geja Sharma Wagle, a political commentator, said the Nepali Congress general convention is still up in the air, especially because the Supreme Court verdict on House dissolution is due.
“Deuba is strategic, others are divided,” Wagle told the Post. “If the Supreme Court orders the appointment of Deuba as prime minister, then the general convention might happen only when he feels it is convenient to hold it.”
According to Wagle, the equation in the Ram Chandra Poudel camp is not clear yet.
“If Deuba becomes prime minister, he will buy time by managing the dynamics in the party,” said Wagle. “Even if the court does not appoint Deuba prime minister, his chances of leading the government are still there. The situation could be different for the party, and we can expect some changes in the internal dynamics of Congress.”