From Chitwan, the UML message is its eyes are on electionsParty’s 10th national congress resembles an election campaign, with Oli prodding members and cadres to start preparing for the looming three-tier polls.
Tika R Pradhan & Binod Ghimire
The 1oth national congress of the CPN-UML kicked off in Chitwan on Friday with pomp and show, not failing even once in providing an impression that the gathering, which will end on Sunday by electing a new leadership for the next five years, is also an exercise for the upcoming polls.
Since the party has already discussed its political issues during the statute convention held on October 1-3, the party’s closed-door session on Saturday is expected to be just a formality.
Incumbent chair KP Sharma Oli is set to take the helm again for five years. Some contests are likely for 15 office bearer posts, but the leaders say they would try to forge consensus till the last moment.
Oli made it clear during his opening address on Friday that the party has already launched its election campaign.
“Polls for all levels are not far away. We will now go for poll preparations, not for the UML, but for the country,” said Oli. “The UML must secure a majority to safeguard and implement the constitution and to protect sovereignty and democracy.”
Oli inaugurated the function by hoisting a flag with a sun, the party’s election symbol, as Pradeep Gyawali, who compèred Friday’s proceedings, said the UML would make a comeback to power through upcoming elections.
During his address, Oli called on party members and cadres to start preparing for the elections. “For the development of the country, the UML must secure a majority,” said Oli. “To fulfill the dream of prosperous Nepal, happy Nepalis, immerse yourself in election preparations.”
The UML convention is taking place a little over four months after Oli was ousted from prime minister.
In the 2017 elections, UML emerged as the single largest party. Since it had formed an electoral alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), both parties had secured a majority. The two communist parties announced their merger in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the largest communist force the country had ever seen.
Oli had nearly two-thirds majority and a clear mandate to govern for a full term. But his misadventures coupled with some stiff opposition from some leaders from the party, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ultimately led to Oli’s fall.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was invalidated by the Supreme Court in March this year, reviving the UML and the Maoist Centre to pre-May 2018 days.
Dahal’s Maoist Centre is currently a key coalition partner in the current government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, the president of the Nepali Congress.
Months after Oli was defenestrated, his party saw a split, with Madhav Kumar Nepal and some other leaders deciding to form the CPN (Unified Socialist), which is also a coalition partner in the Deuba government. The Janata Samajbadi Party, led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai, and the Rastriya Janamorcha are also supporting the Deuba government.
The UML, however, is dismissive of the five-party alliance and appears confident that it would emerge victorious during the upcoming elections, which will be held exactly a year later if early polls are not called.
“More and more people are joining the UML,” said Oli. “If we had arranged a welcome programme for those who want to join our party, thousands would have taken membership today itself.”
The inaugural session on Friday was attended by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and leaders from other parties, including Upendra Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Mahantha Thakur of Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, Lilamani Pokhrel of the Maoist Centre, Kamal Thapa of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Chitra Bahadur KC of the Rastriya Janamorcha.
While Dahal, the Maoist chair, decided to skip citing “a busy schedule”, the UML had not invited Madhav Nepal.
Holding the convention in Chitwan by the UML is also seen as Oli’s one of the strategies against the Maoist Centre, as Dahal had won the 2017 elections from one of the constituencies in the district. Many say it is part of Oli’s bid to drive home the message that the UML is going to reclaim the constituency from Dahal.
Oli also said on Friday that thousands of former Maoist fighters would soon be joining the UML after the convention. At least half a dozen Maoist leaders including Ram Bahadur Thapa, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Lekhraj Bhatta, Mani Thapa, Gaurishankar Chaudhary and Prabhu Sah, have already joined the UML.
While Oli for a while has been wooing former Maoist fighters, Dahal appears to have forgotten them, and the UML chair is capitalising on that.
Observers say the UML, or Oli for that matter, has been making all out efforts to win the upcoming elections. The 10th convention in all ways looks like an election campaign, according to them.
Senior party leaders also said that the inaugural session on Friday gave an impression of an election campaign.
“More than a communist party’s convention, it looks like a mass gathering organized in the lead up to elections,” said a Standing Committee member who did not wish to be named. “Our conventions used to be an important platform for us to discuss ideological issues and party policies. But here the party is totally focused on upcoming polls… everyone is fixated on the sun election symbol and everyone is talking about how to bring the party back to power.”
An eight-minute documentary shown before the inaugural session detailed how the country was making strides on development and other fronts under the leadership of Oli. The documentary barely talked about the UML or its ideologies or party policies, but revolved around Oli.
“I don’t think we need to repeat what we did [when we were in government], as the documentary has made everything clear,” said Oli. “The UML government to be formed after the polls will complete all the works which have been left unaccomplished.”
While counting his government’s achievements, Oli also tried to defend his decision of dissolving the House of Representatives. Oli dissolved the House twice in a span of six months–in December last year and May this year. Both times the Supreme Court restored the House. While overturning the dissolution decision, the Supreme Court even showed Oli the door and ordered Deuba’s appointment as prime minister.
“The UML is not a party that is afraid of elections,” said Oli. “I had declared polls when I was leading the government because our party wanted to seek a fresh mandate from the people.”
“Some parties are scared of going to the people,” added Oli. “Sooner or later, we have to seek the people’s mandate. The UML is not afraid of the people.”
During his 45-minute address, Oli continued to prod his party members to start preparing for the polls.
The UML will be going to the polls when it has lost provincial government in all but one of the seven provinces.
Even though the current ruling coalition of five parties has been saying that it would maintain the alliance, there is no clarity if they can do so.
Observers say the UML is well aware of the fact that the Nepali Congress might not fight the elections under an alliance with the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist), hence it hopes to perform well.
“The sole objective of spending so much money and gathering such a huge number of people is to show the party’s strength. And of course, the UML convention looks like a preparation for the elections,” said Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner. “The party has tried to spread the message to communist voters that even if the Maoists and Madhav Nepal have split the party, there is no alternative to the UML.”
Though the party had claimed to bring around 500,000 people to the convention, around 200,000 people were likely to have been present on the inaugural day.
Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator, said the UML has been successful in what it wanted to show through the convention.
“There is no doubt the convention is aimed at upcoming polls,” Maharjan told the Post. “Such a show of strength does help in sending the message to the masses.”
Some say since the UML has nothing to demonstrate when it comes to ideology and party programmes, it has orchestrated an event in a show of force.
“The UML is putting on a brave face in the wake of the fall of its government and the split it faced,” said Hari Roka, a political commentator. “The party wants to try its luck in the upcoming polls. But questions remain what Oli did when he led a nearly two-thirds majority government and when he led the NCP as a senior chair.”