UML congress: Oli and his ilk form the nucleus of the partyInternal democracy, well practised in the communist force for years, reaches a nadir, as one man appears to be callingthe shots, restricting dissent and competition.
Tika R Pradhan
It was just a matter of time before it became official. KP Sharma Oli on Tuesday made a comeback as the CPN-UML party chair for the next five years. Though he wished to take the leadership unopposed, his newest bete noire Bhim Rawal played a spoilsport.
Voting had to take place because of Rawal’s nomination for the post of vice-chair. As expected, Oli, however, beat Rawal hands down. Oli garnered 1,837 votes against Rawal’s 223 votes. Oli has also to install leaders of his choice in all key office bearer positions, consolidating his grip on the party.
Oli failed to stall elections for the vice chair and secretary posts as well as Central Committee members.
There were 2,153 representatives who made up the voters. But only 2,096 votes were cast, according to the party’s Central Election Committee.
Yubaraj Gyawali, Asta Laxmi Shakya, Ram Bahadur Thapa, Subas Nembang, Bishnu Poudel and Surendra Pandey have been elected vice-chairs of the party. All were proposed by Oli for the posts.
Bhusal, who had challenged Oli’s “consensus proposal”, fought for a vice-chair post, but lost. Bhusal secured only 725 votes.
The revised party statute envisions six vice-chairs.
Yogesh Bhattarai, Gokarna Bista, Chhabilal Bishwakarma, Raghubir Mahaseth, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Lekhraj Bhatta and Padma Aryal have been elected secretaries. They also were proposed by Oli.
Bhim Acharya and Tanka Karki, who had challenged the consensus list proposed by Oli, lost the polls.
Voting did not take place for senior vice-chair, general secretary and deputy general secretary posts.
Ishwar Pokhrel and Shankar Pokhrel were elected senior vice-chair and general secretary, respectively, unopposed as per Oli’s proposal. Similarly, Oli’s favourites Pradeep Gyawali, Prithvi Subba Gurung and Bishnu Rimal were elected deputy general secretaries unopposed.
As per the revised statute, the party has one senior vice-chair, one general secretary and three deputy general secretaries.
With the election of the leadership, or selection at the behest of Oli for that matter, the UML’s 10th national congress ended on Tuesday.
Observers and party insiders say the UML saw what it had never seen before in any of the conventions as what happened in Sauraha of Chitwan has made it an individual-centric party where dissent and democratic exercise do not hold any value.
For the 18 office bearer posts up for grabs, Oli late on Sunday night took out a list of leaders, who then were installed–either unanimously or through voting. Most of the 301 members for the Central Committee were picked as per Oli’s wish.
Though there is 33 percent representation of women in the Central Committee, the composition of office bearers looks poor in terms of inclusivity.
Asta Laxmi Shakya and Padma Aryal are only two women among the 19 office bearers. Senior vice-chair and general secretary, two key posts in the party, are held by two Pokhrels—Ishwar and Shankar.
Subas Nembang, a Janajati leader, who was staking claim to the senior vice-chair post, has settled for vice-chair. The other Janajati leader who has become an office bearer as deputy general secretary in the UML is Prithvi Subba Gurung besides Asta Laxmi Shakya.
One Dalit leader, Chhabilal Bishwakarma, has made to the club of office bearers as one of the seven secretaries.
“The UML has failed to ensure inclusiveness while choosing its office bearers,” said Uddhab Pyakurel, a professor of political sociology at Kathmandu University.
Oli has also managed to “adjust” three former Maoist leaders, who joined the UML only a few months ago, in some respectable positions.
Ram Bahadur Thapa is one of the six vice-chairs in the party. Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Lekharaj Bhatta have become secretaries.
In the Central Committee, there are 100 women, 37 Adivasis/Janajatis, 17
Madhesis, 10 Dalits, 8 Tharus and 8 Muslims. With 100 women, the UML has managed to ensure 33 percent women’s representation in the Central Committee.
A majority of the Central Committee members were also elected as per Oli’s “consensus proposal.”
Ghanashyam Bhusal, one of the dissenters in the party along with Rawal, too has managed to secure his seat in the Central Committee. Rawal has declared that he won’t remain in the Central Committee.
All those elected were sworn in on Tuesday. Later on Tuesday, the UML announced the end of its 10th general convention by endorsing a 17-point resolution.
In its 17-point resolution, the UML has said the main duty of the party is to achieve the goal of “prosperous Nepal happy Nepali”.
“The UML expresses its commitment to develop itself as a strong party and move ahead simultaneously to fulfil its responsibility of making Nepal a prosperous nation,” states the proposal endorsed by the national convention.
The resolution has stated that the participation of the people in such huge numbers during the inaugural session of the national congress is a testimony to the fact that the UML is a prominent party of the country.
The resolution says the leaders through the convention have pointed out that organised anarchy that provides fodder to natural differences in the party to grow as factionalism is the main hurdle to the party’s growth.
Even though the UML had gone to Chitwan on Friday with a pledge to hold the 10th national congress as its “unity convention”, the party now is set to see factionalism–all because of Oli.
Some within the party and observers say Oli has sown the seeds of factionalim by not allowing dissent and not tolerating opposing voices in his bid to become the numero uno in the party.
Oli may have managed Shankar Pokhrel and Bishnu Poudel by giving them party general secretary and vice-chair, but this could lead to a conflict, say analysts.
“Now the fight between Bishnu Poudel and Shankar Pokhrel is likely for the party’s leadership,” said Hari Roka, a political analyst. “Since many other leaders would have to retire due to the age limit by the next convention, Poudel will do whatever possible to undermine Pokhrel.”
From the statute congress held two months ago, the party adopted a 70-year age limit for executive positions.
While Shankar Pokhrel is seen by many in the UML as Oli’s successor, Poudel is said to be one of Oli’s favourites. After the UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Poudel was given the post of general secretary, to the surprise of many, as there were too many senior leaders already deserving the post. But after the Supreme Court invalidated the NCP in March this year and revived the UML in its pre-May 2018 stage, Poudel became the deputy general secretary. Shankar Pokhrel was the chief minister of Lumbini at that time.
Pyakurel, the professor, said that the UML from its 10th congress has departed from what it had practised for the last 25 years—internal democracy.
“Oli has tried to adopt a more authoritarian approach,” Pyakurel told the Post. “From this convention, Oli has chosen a leader [Shankar Pokhrel] who has been following in his footsteps for quite some time, as his successor. But sooner or later, Oli might find himself cornered by party members.”
According to Roka, the recently concluded convention has made Oli, who already was an authoritative chairman, more autocratic.
“Nonetheless, it’s quite strange that Oli harped on about ending groupism in the party but because of him factionalism is likely to raise its head within his own coterie,” Roka told the Post. “This UML convention was completely devoid of any political programme or ideological discussions. When there is no ideology left in a party, everyone fights for positions. That’s exactly what happened.”