Pressure mounts on Poudel camp as Deuba maintains confidenceInsiders say Congress could see some rapid changes in dynamics before the convention slated next week.
The Nepali Congress has completed its first provincial level elections in the lead up to its 14th general convention scheduled for December 10-12 in Kathmandu.
Results from six provinces, except for Province 2, show Deuba in a comfortable position in four, thanks to a tie-up with a faction led by Krishna Prasad Situala.
Congress has traditionally been a party with factions, and Deuba as the party president is leading the establishment side.
Another group is led by senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel whom Deuba had defeated in the 13th general convention held in March 2016.
Deuba appears to be ahead in four provinces, while the Poudel faction, backed by Shashank Koirala, Prakash Man Singh, Shekhar Koirala and Sujata Koirala and others, has won in Lumbini and Gandaki.
Elections in Province 2 have been halted for now, according to the Central Election Committee of the party.
Bimalendra Nidhi, a long-time ally of Deuba, holds sway over Province 2 which has eight districts and 32 constituencies.
Nidhi also has thrown his hat in the ring against Deuba for the post of party president.
Due to disputes in several districts, elections in Province 2 have become uncertain and provincial elections will take place only after general convention, according to the central elections committee of the party .
The Nepali Congress, which spent a little over three years sitting on the other side of the aisle in Parliament, returned to power only in mid-July after the Supreme Court ousted KP Sharma Oli from office.
Its general convention is being keenly watched by many, which will elect a new leadership for the next five years in the fractious party.
The party is also holding its convention on the heels of the 10th national congress of the CPN-UML which re-elected Oli as party chair, asserting that it would return to power through the next general elections.
Insiders say the Congress general convention this time is significant. First, the party will try to streamline its leadership and second, prepare the ground for elections that are due soon.
The Nepali Congress had faced a spectacular defeat in the last elections held in 2017. The party hopes to make a comeback, with majority seats if possible, or else, as the single largest party.
But the party needs to keep its house in order first, say insiders. According to them, the Poudel camp had been trying to mount pressure on Deuba but now pressure is building on them.
There are too many aspirants for the post of party president within the Poudel camp, including Poudel himself.
Inside the Poudel camp, Singh and all three Koiralas want the post of party president. Despite repeated meetings, they have failed to reach consensus for a common candidate.
“If the Poudel camp fails to unite and find a consensus candidate for party president, Deuba will win hands down,” said a leader who did not wish to be named.
Unlike in other parties in which whoever gets the most votes is declared a winner, in the Nepali Congress, to win the party presidency, a candidate has to secure 50 percent of votes. A failure leads to a run-off.
During the last general convention, Deuba defeated Poudel in the run-off after Sitaula backed him.
The Poudel camp, however, appears to be confident that this time it would be able to mount enough pressure on Deuba.
The rival faction on Monday evening was holding a meeting at Poudel’s residence to hammer out a common candidate for party president against Deuba.
During the meeting, the four aspiring candidates reviewed the election results of the six provinces and concluded that there is no alternative to fielding a common candidate to defeat Deuba, according to one leader who participated in the meeting.
“We have agreed to discuss for two more days to find a common candidate,” the leader told the Post.
Ram Sharan Mahat, a senior leader from the Poudel camp, said they will soon have a common candidate for party president and will announce the line-up of leaders for various office bearer positions before the nominations.
Deuba has been saying that he wants to contest for party president for one more time. And election results from provinces and five dozen districts have encouraged him.
Speaking with some reporters at his residence on Monday, Deuba said that he wants to ensure victory for the party in the next general elections and return to office as prime minister once again.
“This is the last time I will contest. I became the prime minister of the alliance to protect the current political system of the country,” said Deuba, a five-time prime minister. “If I become party president again, I will streamline the party. I have told this to all my friends [in the party].”
As the Deuba camp is encouraged, the Poudel group is in intense discussions to figure out a way to give a strong counter.
“This really is a cause for a concern that when another camp is excited we are divided,” saie Chandra Bhandari, a leader from the Poudel camp. “We lost elections in Province 1 and Bagmati that we should not have.”
Bhandari believes that time has come for the camp to come up with a consensus candidate.
“It’s not just about party polls, we must think about the upcoming national elections,” said Bhandari. “We are devising our strategy.”
As the convention date is nearing, the party is seeing change in dynamics as well, with insiders expecting some upheavals.
Some in both Deuba and Poudel camps suspect Shashank could switch sides.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of Deuba roping in Shashank for party vice president,” said a leader from the Poudel camp. “We will try our best to have Shashank with us.”
If Shashank, the son of the late BP Koirala, changes his mind, a whole new equation could emerge in the Nepali Congress. Many in the party believe Shashank’s legacy as the leader of the party’s founding father holds a great significance and can make a huge difference in the internal politics of the Nepali Congress.
For now, Deuba camp leaders seem confident about the win.
“The overall results are positive and we are encouraged by the elections in provinces,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat from the Deuba group who has announced his candidacy for the post of general secretary. “Our focus is a united Nepali Congress which is possible under our leadership… for the sake of the party and the country.”