Poudel aspires to be prime minister after Thapa, as Deuba unlikely to give wayCongress senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel who lost 2017 polls, is making an all-out effort to win this time. Insiders say aspirations are fine but there’s party charter too.
As Nepali Congress local committees have been recommending candidates and some are filing applications showing their interest to run for general elections, senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel has expressed his “desire” to become prime minister.
This makes him the third aspirant for the top post from the Congress, as party president and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba clearly wants to make a comeback, for the sixth time, and General Secretary Gagan Thapa too has said he would lay claim to the post.
Addressing a function in his home district, Tanahun on Saturday, Poudel said that the “country is looking for his executive role in order to deliver social justice, good governance and socialism.”
Poudel lost the 2017 elections from Tanahun-1.
While he may have expressed his desire for public consumption, this comes days after the main opposition, CPN-UML projected the party chair, KP Sharma Oli, as its prime ministerial candidate.
Poudel’s claim also comes at a time when calls are growing from various sections to vote the older faces out to make way for new generation leaders.
Deuba is 76 and Poudel 78.
Congress’ another General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma too has said publicly that he would second Thapa, 46, in the latter’s bid.
In Nepal, there’s no such trend among parties to go to polls by projecting a leader as the prime ministerial candidate. Nonetheless, the general assumption is that the top party leader is the one to take up the top position.
In the corridors of the Nepali Congress, there are also talks about Arzu Rana Deuba’s aspirations to become prime minister. Arzu, 60, is the spouse of Prime Minister Deuba.
Party leaders said that the Congress is unlikely to go to polls by projecting any leader as the next prime minister.
A Central Working Committee member said there’s no alternative to Deuba at least for now.
The general and provincial elections are scheduled for November 20.
“I don’t think that the party will announce someone as future prime minister and go for the elections,” said Dr Shekhar Koirala, a senior Nepali Congress leader who leads the rival camp in the party. “There’s no meaning in announcing the prime ministerial candidate.”
Deuba became prime minister, for the fifth time, in July last year as per the Supreme Court order, and he clearly wants to return as an elected prime minister.
However, CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Deuba’s key coalition partner, has also made his desire public to lead the country at least for one more time.
The aspirations by two Congress leaders for the prime minister’s post comes amid the struggle in the ruling coalition for seat-sharing.
The declaration by Thapa, who belongs to the Koirala camp, to lay claim to the prime minister’s post has not been owned up by his faction, let alone the party.
Many believe as part of a power-sharing deal between Deuba and Dahal, they might share prime ministership on a rotational basis, but what remains tricky is who will be first.
In an interview with the Post and its sister paper, Kantipur, Maoist chairman Dahal in July said that the tenure of the prime minister can be split for two and a half years between him and the Nepali Congress.
If that happens, the likelihood of any other Congress leader than Deuba becoming the prime minister is low, say Congress insiders.
“Poudel is making an all-out effort to win the election this time,” said a Congress leader. “He does hold the aspirations to become prime minister.”
In 2010, Poudel had unsuccessfully contested the elections to the post of prime minister in Parliament for 17 rounds against Maoist chair Dahal.
Later, Jhala Nath Khanal, then a UML leader who is now with the CPN (Unified Socialist), was elected prime minister in February 2011 with the support of the Maoists as Dahal withdrew his candidacy.
Some Nepali Congress leaders say while having aspirations for the top post is not wrong, there is a need to take into consideration that there is the party charter that defines who becomes the prime ministerial candidate of the party.
“As per the party charter, one should win the election to the Parliamentary Party leader to become the party’s prime ministerial candidate,” said Chandra Bhandari, a Congress leader. “And there’s nothing like declaring oneself as the prime ministerial candidate in the Congress system.”
During the general elections of 1999, then Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala projected Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as the party's candidate for prime minister.
The Congress won a majority of seats and Bhattarai led the government for one year.
But the situation has changed now, say Congress leaders.
“Deuba, Poudel or Thapa … anyone can become prime minister but the fact is first they need to win the party elections, as winning the constituency alone is not enough,” said Bhandari. “Aspirations are not enough; those who want to lead the country should have the vision, plan and goals … how they want to strengthen the system and democracy, how they can improve health and education, how they can address the people’s concerns.”
Another Congress leader said Deuba took a huge political risk by becoming the prime minister in July and managed to steer the party to victory in local elections, as it emerged as the largest party after facing a spectacular defeat in 2017 general elections.
“Deuba has given momentum to the party and has worked to keep the alliance intact. So it’s natural for him to lay claim to the prime minister’s post after ensuring a victory for the Congress,” the leader told the Post. “As far as what kind of power-sharing deal is reached between the Congress and the Maoist Centre, depends on Deuba and Dahal.”
During the 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress that concluded in December, a sizable number of youths made it to the Central Working Committee, the top decision-making body of the party.
Thapa and Sharma’s election as general secretaries was seen as a new change in the party, with many saying the Congress was finally seeing a power shift to the new generation.
However, as far as the prime minister’s post is concerned, it is still a long way to go for the younger generation in the Congress.
Urmila Thapaliya is one of the young members to make it to the Central Working Committee.
She says going to the polls by projecting a particular leader as the prime ministerial candidate is not a bad idea.
“Such a move can help create a positive environment in the party and keep the party united,” said Thapaliya. “But I don’t think that will happen. Since we are fighting the elections under an alliance, leaders are busy working out seat-sharing arrangements.”