Dhankuta mass resignations hint of dogfight in Maoist Centre for poll ticketsPolitburo member Hemraj Bhandari says he will contest as an independent after sensing his likely snub as a direct-election candidate from the coalition.
As many as 150 district leaders of the CPN (Maoist Centre) in Dhankuta announced their collective resignation on Monday protesting against the party’s decision to forge alliance with other political parties.
A group of leaders led by the party’s politburo member Hemraj Bhandari announced the resignations and also declared that they would field Bhandari as an independent candidate in Dhankuta’s only lower house seat. Maoist leaders in Kathmandu see the move as a tactic to put pressure on the top leaders into giving election tickets to leaders from Dhankuta.
Former Maoist lawmaker Bhandari, who is a strong contender from the district, said he has also submitted his resignation to party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
“I had handed over my resignation two weeks ago, expressing my dissatisfaction over an unnatural electoral alliance,” Bhandari told the Post. “Though the party chair had asked me not to make the decision public, I had told him that I would do so only after consulting our leaders and cadres in the district.”
Ruling Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha have forged an alliance for the federal and provincial elections scheduled for November 20. They also fought the May 13 local elections as an alliance.
Bhandari, who is seen as a straight-talker, is a popular Maoist leader in the eastern region.
He said the decision was made public on Sunday after other leaders and cadres of the party in the district were also convinced with his proposal and promised to support his independent candidacy.
“All the members in the district coordination committee including politburo members, central members, office bearers of the provincial committee, provincial members and district coordinator have decided to resign en masse,” states the press release issued by Dilliraj Rai, the immediate past convenor of the party’s Dhankuta district committee.
This pressure from Maoist district leaders comes at a time when the five-party coalition has been struggling to reach an understanding on seat-sharing.
Although, a month and a half ago, the ruling alliance formed a task force to prepare a blueprint for sharing lower house and provincial assembly seats among the partners, the team has failed to finalise it.
The leaders of the ruling parties have been saying that they have reached an understanding on the percentage of seats to be distributed among the parties. But they are under tremendous pressure to accommodate more aspirants of coalition partners.
The 11-member task force led by Congress leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula was formed on August 5 with the mandate to submit a report by August 16. Even after the task force submitted its incomplete report on September 9, both its members as well as the top leaders are working hard to strike a deal, but to no avail.
Among the five parties in the coalition, CPN (Maoist Centre) is under tremendous pressure to manage dissidents as there are a large number of senior leaders in the party who may challenge party leadership if they do not get election tickets. The Maoist party started participating in elections from 2008.
Those who had quit the party to join other splinter factions have returned to the mother party adding to the list of ticket hopefuls. Also, Baburam Bhattarai-led Nepal Samajbadi Party has decided to contest the upcoming elections with the Maoist Centre’s election symbol.
Although the Maoist Centre has been demanding around 60 of the total 165 FPTP seats in the House of Representatives, leaders privy to seat-sharing negotiations said that it could hardly get around 40-45 FPTP; the Congress seems in no mood to settle for fewer than 90 seats for itself. Its leaders have been openly warning that if they don’t get around 100 seats, many of the hopefuls may contest as independents, spoiling the coalition’s electoral plans. Congress leaders have also warned that the party’s loyal voters could support rebel candidates if they feel the alliance threatened the party’s base.
Though Bhandari said he had reservations about the party’s decision to forge an electoral alliance, local leaders said he decided to resign after sensing that he may not be picked as the party’s FPTP candidate from the district.
Bhandari also told the Post that he wouldn’t hesitate to contest as an independent candidate with the support of the Maoist leaders and cadres in the district.
According to party insiders, Bhandari employed the pressure tactic as Nepali Congress leader Sunil Bahadur Thapa and Janata Samajbadi Party leader Rakam Chemjong have also been laying claim to the only lower house seat in Dhankuta.
Sunil Thapa is son of the late Surya Bahadur Thapa, a multiple-time MP from the district who became prime minister five times. Senior leader and former minister Chemjong is a member of the taskforce entrusted with the seat-allocation task.
Haribol Gajurel, a deputy general secretary of the Maoist party, said the leaders are still weighing options given the multiple contenders for the ticket in the district.
“I have heard that Congress cadres may not support our candidate if the situation in Dhankuta isn’t handled judiciously. Therefore no decision has been made on Dhankuta,” said Gajurel. “We will discuss the matter in the party and also in the coalition meeting. We are having a very tough time managing ticket aspirants with limited seats to be shared among a large number of aspirants in our party.”
According to Gajurel, his party has to manage seats not only for the leaders from Bhattarai’s party but also those who quit the Netra Bikram Chand’s outfit to join the mother party.
According to Dilliraj Rai, the outgoing convener of Dhankuta district committee of the Maoist Centre, members of the district coordination committee decided to resign en masse at their meeting on Saturday. One politburo member (Bhandari), one central committee member (Dhanmaya BK), office bearers and members of the provincial committee are among those resigning.