After consensus eludes UML, Oli asked to select leadershipObservers and insiders call it an undemocratic process as leaders who aspire to be elected to top party positions are being pressed to fall in line with the chairperson.
Two days before heading for Chitwan, in an interaction with editors on Tuesday CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli said that he won’t let anyone come under pressure not to contest for any posts and that whoever wins will be his favourite leader.
He was responding to questions whether exercises were on to select new office bearers through the 10th general congress of the party. Oli appeared confident that the leaders would be able to reach consensus, even though Bhim Rawal, current vice-chair, had already announced his candidacy for party chair, the post Oli is certain to win.
The national convention kicked off on Friday in Chitwan.
But Saturday’s closed session, which was supposed to start early in the morning, was delayed by hours, largely because there were too many aspirants for the 15 office bearer posts as determined by the party’s statute convention held in the first week of October in Godavari, Lalitpur.
The statute was adopted last month after discussions among 6,000 representatives.
But the last meeting of the Central Committee on Friday midnight decided to revise the statute.
The meeting decided to expand the size of the central Central Committee to 301 from 225 and increase the number of office bearers to 19 from 15.
The statute convention had decided that there would be one chair, one senior vice-chair, four vice-chairs, one general secretary and deputy general secretary each and seven secretaries.
Now there will be one chair, seven vice-chairs including one senior vice-chair, one general secretary, three deputy-general secretaries and seven secretaries.
The meeting increased two vice-chairs and two deputy general secretaries.
Sher Bahadur Tamang, secretary of the party’s central secretariat, told the Post that there the Central Committee also decided to have a 99-member politburo.
Earlier, there was no provision of politburo as it was scrapped by the statute convention.
“Now, there will be a 45-member Standing Committee, a 99-member politburo and 301-member Central Committee besides 19 office bearers,” said Tamang. "The Central Committee took these decisions to ensure that the leadership of the party could be elected through consensus.”
Despite increasing the number of office bearers and Central Committee members, consensus, however, eluded the UML until Saturday night.
The party could not agree on unanimous candidates for some key posts as those staking claim to the positions are considered close to Oli.
For example, Subas Nembang refused to yield to Ishwar Pokhrel for the post of senior vice-chair. Both are Oli’s close aides. Party leaders say Ishwar is Oli’s preferred person for the post of vice-chair, but Nembang refused to budge.
Similarly, the party statute envisions only general secretary. The claimants are Bishnu Poudel, Shanker Pokhrel and Prithvi Subba Gurung.
Poudel and Shanker Pokhrel are considered Oli’s trusted lieutenants.
Leaders say Oli wants Shankar Pokhrel, the former chief minister of Lumbini Province, as the new general secretary of the party. But Bishnu Poudel, who was elevated to the post of general secretary after the UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), too has laid claim to the post. Poudel was made deputy general secretary after the Supreme Court invalidated the NCP in March this year and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre to the pre-May 2018 stage.
“If Oli presses Poudel to become vice-chair, groupism will arise between Nembang, Poudel and Prithvi Subba Gurung,” said a Standing Committee member who did not wish to be named. “Let’s see how things unfold.”
According to the Standing Committee member, Oli wants to get elected unopposed and install his core people in key posts like senior vice-chair and general secretary.
“If Ishwar Pokhrel is selected for senior vice-chair, Nembang will return dissatisfied and Shankar Pokhrel’s elevation to the post of general secretary will leave Bishnu Poudel disappointed,” the member said.
Current vice-chair Bhim Rawal so far has maintained that he won’t backtrack on his decision to fight against Oli for the post of party chair.
As the leadership has failed to find consensus, voting is likely to take place, but since the deadline to file candidacy has been postponed until Sunday, elections are also likely to be delayed.
Amid this, questions have arisen over the significance of the statute convention that was held in the first week of October.
Observers say the UML’s move to revise the party’s statute by the Central Committee in search of consensus has undermined the statute convention.
“This is definitely not a decent move,” Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker, told the Post. “The motive is to stop competition among leaders and this is not democratic.”
Lokraj Baral, a former professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, said the UML’s Central Committee decision to revise the party’s charter in less than two months is an indication that the statute convention was meaningless.
“What is the point of having a separate convention spending millions of rupees to devise a statute which is amended so quickly by the Central Committee only for the purpose of adjusting leaders?” Baral told the Post.
Party leaders, however, defended the Central Committee decision, saying increasing the number of office bearers was necessary as the leadership was trying to seek consensus to keep the party united.
“The statute convention didn’t envision the present situation,” Bishal Bhattarai, the party’s chief whip, told the Post. “The decision to expand the Central Committee is very much valid.”
Of the 2,175 representatives attending the party’s national congress, over 500 are aspiring to become Central Committee members, despite attempts from Oli himself to finalise the leadership without voting.
On Saturday evening, during the closed session, leaders entrusted Oli with the task of forging consensus.
Tamang, the secretary at the party’s central secretariat, said delegates have given the authority to Oli to bring the list of names for office bearers and Central Committee members. If anyone objects to Oli’s list, those can contest the election.
Insiders say failure to elect the new leadership unanimously could be a setback for Oli who has managed to emerge as a numero uno leader in the party who appeared to be in complete command.
“I don’t think Oli will return to Kathmandu with the same power, strength and control that he exercised before going to Chitwan,” said another Standing Committee member who did not wish to be named because he feared retribution. “He is definitely in a fix, as things have not turned out as he had planned, and it’s because of his own people.”