With Congress leading government, its general convention becomes uncertainDispute over party membership, focus on governance, pandemic, natural calamities and Deuba’s desire to lead party for another term could mean it will be postponed.
The 14th General Convention of the Nepali Congress, already delayed by six months, is likely to be further pushed back after the party decided on Saturday to reschedule its ward conventions with disputes over the distribution of active membership.
The general convention was scheduled to be held in Kathmandu from September 1 to 4 and the ward level conventions on Wednesday.
“The meeting of the party’s senior leaders has decided to reschedule the ward convention,” said party spokesperson Bishow Prakash Sharma. “But this does not mean that we have postponed the scheduled general convention of the party.”
However, other party leaders said that the general convention on the scheduled date is unlikely as election schedules of the local level, electoral constituency level, district level and provincial level will also be affected.
“Although the party and our senior leaders have committed to holding the 14th General Convention on the stipulated date, I see little chance of that happening,” Arjun Narsingh KC, a Central Working Committee member of the party, said.
A meeting of the party’s incumbent and former office bearers on Saturday decided to sit again on Tuesday to fix the new date of holding conventions in all 6,743 wards of the country.
At the meeting, a seven-member probe committee headed by Ramesh Lekhak is expected to submit a report on the row over the distribution of active membership certificates.
Controversies over the distribution of active membership have been reported in at least 10 of the country’s 77 districts.
Hunger strikes by different groups of the party are being staged at the party headquarters in Lalitpur for one week now demanding a settlement of the dispute.
Active members of the party elect ward representatives who in turn elect local unit representatives. The local unit representatives elect representatives at 165 electoral constituencies and these elect the central leadership of the party as well as in the districts and the provinces.
Only if the findings of the Lekhak report are accepted by party President Sher Bahadur Deuba and his rival faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel, will the new date for ward level convention be announced, according to party leaders.
“If the dispute continues, the possibility of holding ward level conventions becomes even more uncertain,” said a member of the probe committee on condition of anonymity.
At present the proposed dates of holding conventions to choose representatives at local units—metropolitan cities, sub-metropolitan cities, municipalities and rural municipalities—electoral constituencies, districts and provinces have not been changed.
Besides the dispute over the active membership, other issues also make the general convention on the scheduled date unlikely, according to party leaders.
“Covid cases are rising, and the country is facing several kinds of natural calamities due to rain,” said KC.
With party President Deuba becoming the prime minister his focus is now on governance.
“Had we not had a chance to lead the coalition government, we could have held the convention on time but I see it next to impossible to complete the conventions of all layers by September because the prime minister is still struggling to expand the Cabinet and is yet to form his team of advisers,” said a senior Nepali Congress leader who did not want to be named.
“His priority is also to maintain rapport and good relations with alliance partners and most importantly, the Deuba government has the Herculean task of containing the pandemic, procuring vaccines and managing other pressing governance issues.”
Deuba is also eyeing another term as party president.
“He is therefore carefully weighing different options before choosing ministers in the government,” said a leader close to Deuba.
As things stand, leaders see the whole election process beginning only in September.
“We have to provide the lists of active members to all wards from Karnali to Darchula to Taplejung. Then we have to hold ward level conventions across the country in one day. Then we have to complete all other conventions of local units in one day,” former general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula told the Post. “In my estimate, we can begin holding the ward conventions from September 1, the day we were planning to hold the general convention to elect the new party leadership. This means the date of the central general convention will be pushed back to October-November.”
This could invite legal complications.
If the party cannot hold its general convention before mid-September, the legitimacy and legality of the party will be under threat as per the provisions of the constitution and the Political Party Act-2017.
Although, according to the Political Party Act, a political party must renew its central and provincial party committees within five years, the Nepali Congress statute requires its convention to be held every four years. If any political party cannot hold its general convention within five years or the due date, the party’s elected bodies’ tenure can be extended by one year.
As per the constitution, political parties that cannot hold their general conventions after the one-year extension shall be given six months of grace period to renew their central and provincial committees.
Nepali Congress held its 13th General Convention in the first week of March, 2016. After all elected bodies of the party completed four years, the party’s extended term and mandate of one year expired in February.
Some Nepali Congress leaders close to Deuba have already started consultations with the Election Commission and some senior constitutional and legal experts about the possible consequences if the party misses the September deadline to hold the general convention, according to the leader close to Deuba.
Senior leader Poudel, who leads Deuba’s rival camp in the party, told the Post that the general convention should be concluded by the scheduled date in September or else the party registration will be scrapped.
“We do not have the luxury of postponing the general convention from September. If we cannot conclude the conventions of all levels in time to meet the constitutional and legal requirements, we can only hold conventions of provincial and central levels,” said Poudel. “Otherwise we will face serious constitutional and legal questions and paty registration will be at risk.”