After poll loss, UML chief has some answering to do within his partyInsiders say the chair needs to take responsibility for the poor show in local elections.
When the CPN-UML held its 10th general convention in November last year, it made it clear that it had its eyes set on elections. Party chair KP Sharma Oli, during his opening address, proclaimed that UML’s election campaign had begun.
Little did the party know that odds were not stacked in its favour. Even if it translates all the leads into victories, it will end up securing just 205 wins to become a distant second after the Nepali Congress which has over 320 wins.
For Oli, things do not look good.
From the last convention, Oli established himself as the numero uno. He handpicked office bearers and central members. He made collective leadership a thing of the past. It became like: Oli is UML and UML is Oli.
Even insiders say democratic space had hugely shrunk in the party, with little or no room for debate and discussions.
It’s the ego of the top leaders that led to the party’s loss in local elections, says Asta Laxmi Shakya, a Standing Committee member.
“The party chair should take responsibility for the defeat, as he would have taken the credit if the party had won,” Shakya told the Post. “Now we will evaluate how much the chair’s working style and nature affected the polls.”
According to her, the party failed to adopt an institutional decision-making process.
According to leaders, the party’s priorities were misplaced.
As elections neared, the UML launched a campaign to welcome members from different parties, instead of focusing on developing other necessary strategies for the polls. The party was in a bid to show itself bigger than others, especially after the Madhav Nepal faction split and formed the CPN (Unified Socialist).
“Actually we tried to recover the loss caused by the split and launched a party entry campaign, which was a wrong strategy,” said Rachana Khadka, a central member. “The leadership spent most of its time discussing party entry programmes instead of focusing on other productive strategies.”
Oli, however, continued to make tall claims of a major victory. During the party’s Standing Committee meeting in March, Oli briefed that the party would win 60–70 percent of the local units against the ruling coalition, and in the worst situation the party would win at least 50 percent local units.
The biggest irony for Oli is the party has lost in almost all those places where he addressed election rallies—be it Jhapa or Kathmandu or Butwal or Jumla or Bharatpur or Pokhara.
“Who is to blame now?” said a UML leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The internal power tussle between our middle-rung leaders is also equally responsible for the defeat.”
The UML has not called any official meeting yet to assess the elections and its performance. In his first public appearance on Sunday since the polls, Oli refrained from making any comments on the elections and the results.
Two days after the polls, the party on May 15 came up with a statement with charges of ballot rigging. In the statement, party general secretary Shankar Pokharel said that the government and the ruling alliance rigged the elections in three different stages—before voting, during voting and after voting.
Shyam Shrestha, a left-leaning political analyst, said that there were two reasons behind the UML’s defeat.
“Oli and the alliance,” said Shrestha, “Oli’s ego and his desire to lead the party single-handedly, and the five-party alliance, handed down a defeat to the UML.”
The UML was pitted against the alliance of the Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the Unified Socialist, the Janata Samajbdai Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Only when elections came closer, the UML also thought of an understanding with some parties like Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Pariward Dal. But that did not help the UML much.
“Our party chair’s earlier announcement to fight against the ruling alliance on our own could not be implemented and we had to forge an alliance with some fringe parties,” said a Standing Committee member asking not to be named fearing retribution. “It’s obvious that the party chair must take all the responsibility for the loss.”
According to him, the party chair has a lot of answering to do, as the country will go to two other polls later this year.
Shrestha, the political analyst, said the way Oli was leading the party was giving rise to dissatisfaction and creating divisions.
“He was overconfident. He did not believe in collective leadership and enjoyed being in a small coterie of some leaders who never questioned him,” he said.
Insiders say that as the results started trickling in, Oli immediately sensed that the party was heading for a defeat and had shared with some leaders close to him that he was wrongly reported about the party’s strength before the polls.
According to Ghanashyam Bhusal, a fierce critic of Oli’s working style, the party could face even a bigger disaster if the leadership fails to mend its ways.
Bhusal believes a left alliance is still the need of the hour.
“I have been proposing at party meetings that the UML’s only option ahead is to go for a left alliance but no one paid heed to my suggestions,” Bhusal told the Post, insinuating an alliance similar to what was forged in 2017 with the Maoists. “Now the results are out. We need to think of the way forward seriously and urgently.”
In Pokhara, reports suggest, UML supporters voted for Unified Socialist’s mayoral candidate instead of the party’s candidate as there was a conflict in the selection of candidates.
Oli’s decision to change the mayoral candidate and field Krishna Thapa had not gone down well with many UML voters, according to insiders.
Prithvi Subba Gurung, a deputy general secretary of the party who was the chief minister of Gandaki until May 2021, said UML candidates were defeated in the local polls in many places including Pokhara because of a faulty selection of candidates.
“He [chairman] said the candidates he had chosen would certainly win,” said Gurung. “And he rejected my suggestions.”
In Humla, Dabal Bahadur Rokaya, party’s district secretary, has tendered his resignation saying he failed to secure expected results in the district.
Rokaya, however, has said he would continue to fight increasing chaotic situations, individualism and arbitrariness in the party.
Oli had said after the last federal and provincial polls that the people had voted for the UML because of his popularity.
“Now he should take the responsibility for the party’s defeat,” said Bhusal.