Congress’ pick for President comes down to ‘Paudel v Sitaula’ contestParty insiders say Ram Chandra Paudel is the frontrunner, but Sitaula has the backing of Prime Minister Dahal.
With a green signal from Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his party CPN (Maoist Centre), the Nepali Congress is now gearing up to finalise its presidential candidate for the election slated for March 9.
The nominations for presidential election will be filed on Saturday, but major parties are yet to decide their candidates.
As the CPN-UML is expecting support from the current ruling parties—the Maoist Centre, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party—the Nepali Congress is looking to revive the old five-party alliance with the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha. Congress leaders are upbeat after their talks with Prime Minister Dahal on Wednesday evening and are on the verge of choosing their presidential candidate, with the hope of support mainly from the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
“We have called a meeting of the party’s work execution committee on Friday which will take the final call on the party’s official candidate,” Congress General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma said.
“After our talks with leaders from the Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi, we are confident that they will support to our candidate.”
A meeting between the two sets of leaders from the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre on Wednesday evening reached an understanding to revive the old five-party alliance formed in July 2021 after UML chair KP Sharma Oli’s ouster from prime minister’s office. In the meeting with the prime minister, the Congress leaders claimed that the party should get to appoint the new President. Dahal told them that even though his party has entrusted him to decide whom to support for President, he would again consult his party leaders on Thursday and take a concrete decision.
According to multiple Congress leaders the Post spoke to, two senior party leaders have emerged as frontrunners as candidates for the post of President: Senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel and former general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula. The meeting on Friday will pick one of them as the party’s official candidate, said party leaders.
Both Poudel and Sitaula have equal weightage, but Poudel’s chances are high, a senior Congress leader said. “Prime Minister Dahal prefers Sitaula though,” he said.
Dahal and Sitaula have had cordial relations since the Maoist joined mainstream politics in 2006. It was Sitaula who as home minister reached an undisclosed place to receive and escort Dahal in a helicopter back in 2006, flying him directly to the prime minister’s residence in Baluwatar. Following this, Dahal accompanied by his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, had held talks with then prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, at Baluwatar.
According to Congress leaders, Sitaula also helped the then CPN (Maoist) party on several other difficult occasions. Dahal and Sitaula also worked closely on the peace process and constitution writing.
Poudel is a senior and respected Congress leader and a contemporary of party president Deuba. Party leaders are also sympathetic to Poudel as he has repeatedly failed in his previous bids to become the party president or the prime minister.
“We will wait for the decision of the Maoist Centre and other parties that were part of our previous alliance. But we will be contesting the presidential election, whether or not we are in a position to win,” said Sharma. An aide to Deuba said party president Deuba is holding consultations both in and outside the party on the most suitable President candidate.
Ramesh Lekhak, chief whip of the party, who is close to Deuba, said either Poudel or Sitaula will be picked. “We trust the Maoist Centre and others who were part of the old alliance to extend support to our candidate. The work execution committee will take the final call on Friday,” said Lekhak.
Other Nepali Congress leaders like Gopalman Shrestha, Man Bahadur Bishawkarma, Shukraraj Sharma also have expressed their interest in the presidency but their chances are slim.