Candidate hopefuls in Congress could rebel if party settles for fewer seats, leaders and observers sayDissidents including Shekhar Koirala insist party should keep around 100 lower house seats for itself.
In the 2022 local elections, several influential local Nepali Congress leaders rebelled against the party’s decisions about candidacies and contested the elections as independents. This happened after the Congress, which fought the elections under an alliance with four other parties, was unable to give tickets to many hopefuls in the party.
Since the party has decided to continue the alliance in the upcoming federal and provincial elections, candidacy hopefuls in the party have threatened mutiny if the party fails to field enough candidates by itself.
In last May’s local elections, the Congress’ official candidate in party President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s ward in Dadeldhura district lost to candidates from the party’s splinter faction led by Karna Malla which fought the elections on Nepali Congress (BP) tickets. Malla had partnered with the main opposition CPN-UML in the local elections.
Malla—previously Deuba’s personal secretary who led the Dadeldhura district unit of the Nepali Congress twice—is vigorously pursuing his campaign to defeat Deuba in the upcoming elections.
In Chitwan, the Jagannath Paudel faction of the Nepali Congress is planning to field its own candidates against those of the ruling five-party alliance.
Paudel was in the spotlight after he contested as an independent candidate in the last local elections against the common candidate of the ruling alliance. Many top Congress leaders had travelled to Chitwan ahead of the elections to bring Paudel’s camp on board.
Nepali Congress may face a major rebellion in the crucial elections if the party cedes more seats to alliance candidates in areas where it has a strong vote base, leaders and observers say.
Paudel claimed that the Chitwan Congress has 25,000 to 30,000 loyal supporters but the party leadership has repeatedly undermined the strength. “Congress can easily secure majority votes in Chitwan. Why are they fielding candidates from other parties in the name of a coalition? Other parties in the coalition should instead support Congress candidates in Chitwan,” he told the Post.
He warned that they would field rebel candidates if the party did not heed their demand. “In the local elections, they fielded Renu Dahal. And now they are trying to field Prachanda. This will harm the Congress organisation in the district,” he said.
The Congress has remained a divided house of late over seat-sharing—some leaders including Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel are ready to adopt maximum flexibility to save the coalition, but party dissidents including Shekhar Koirala insist that the party should not settle for less than 95 lower house seats.
Leaders say if the party gets less than 100 seats, then it would not be possible to secure tickets for the party’s aspirants and this may lead to a rebellion.
Speaking at a function in Janakpur a week ago, Congress leader Koirala reiterated his demand for 100 lower house seats. “We must get 100 seats to ensure a majority for the party. Otherwise, how will we get a majority? Other parties are not willing to give us 100 seats. But even the whole of 165 seats will be inadequate considering the candidacy aspirants in the party,” he said.
Radheshyam Adhikari, a former National Assembly member from the Nepali Congress who is also a senior advocate, said ceding 65 lower house seats to other parties could put the Nepali Congress in difficulty and settling for fewer seats will only increase the odds of troubles and rebellion.
“It is an arduous task for the Nepali Congress to keep the party organisation intact in the current context. It would be better for the party to partner with alliance members in certain constituencies and engage in a friendly contest in other constituencies,” he said.
To work out a seat-sharing formula, the ruling alliance had formed an 11-member task force on August 5 and it had been given until August 16 to submit its report. After the task force failed to reach consensus, it asked the top leaders of the alliance to conclude the seat-sharing deal.
Chandra Bhandari, a Nepali Congress leader, said the party’s top leadership is losing its own leaders’ trust due to its power-centred nature, ultimately giving birth to rebellions.
Also, according to him, the old generation Congress leaders have always prevented or discouraged the younger generation leaders from rising to power. This has, he added, led to rebellion in many cases and will cause more problems to the party if corrective steps are not taken on time.
“The leadership wants to stick to power and as a result more rebellions will occur in the party in the future,” Bhandari told the Post.
The Congress parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday decided to bar the candidates in the last local elections from becoming proportional representation (PR) candidates for both provincial and federal elections. And also those elected under the proportional representation (PR) system in the federal and provincial polls in 2017 will not be allowed to be PR candidates this time.
Recently, the party’s lower level committees have also started taking disciplinary action against its leaders. Party joint general secretary Uma Kanta Chaudhary and lawmaker Amresh Kumar Singh have already been punished by the local level committees for acting against the party's interest in the local elections.
Such developments can also bring more troubles in the party, say insiders.
According to former National Assembly member Adhikari, the likelihood of rebellion in the Congress is high in areas where the party leadership ignores the concerns of its lower rung units. “This is already happening in some places.”
Nepali Congress became the second largest party in the 2017 general elections with 63 seats—23 under the direct election system and 40 under the proportional representation system.
The Maoist Centre emerged as the third largest party with 53 seats—36 under the direct election system and 17 under the proportional representation system, with an alliance with the CPN-UML.
In the 2017 general elections, many Congress candidates lost with small vote margins. Some of them had lost to Maoist Centre candidates. As the ruling coalition is mulling over giving priority in candidacy this time to the winners of the 2017 general elections, the Congress is in deep trouble, according to observers.
“Key Congress leaders had lost in the 2017 general elections to the candidates of the communist alliance [of the UML and Maoist Centre] in many areas,” said Adhikari. “If the party fails to manage such leaders appropriately, they could rebel.”