UML leaders in tug of war as Lumbini convention kicks offThe provincial election is seen as show of strength for future leadership.
The Lumbini provincial convention of CPN-UML, an event keenly watched by party insiders and observers alike, kicked off in Butwal on Saturday.
The convention is viewed as a test of strength of key UML leaders Bishnu Paudel and Shankar Pokhrel, who are the party’s vice-chairman and general secretary, respectively.
This is the first provincial gathering organised after the second-largest party’s tenth general convention was held in Chitwan last year and also the first after the UML aligned its organisation with the country’s federal structure.
Both Paudel and Pokhrel, who are believed to be among potential successors of party chair KP Sharma Oli, are based in the province. They have a stake in Lumbini politics to help their trusted comrades be elected to the provincial leadership.
Lumbini is a stronghold of the UML. Party leaders who have a sway over provincial politics can have prominent roles at the centre, with the support of thousands of party workers in the region.
After many factional meetings, Paudel and Pokhrel fielded their candidates to lead the provincial committee. Incumbent provincial committee chairman Radha Krishna Kandel of Palpa is the candidate from the Paudel faction while the Pokhrel camp has central member Hari Rijal of Pyuthan as the chief contender.
The Paudel faction was upbeat after Pokhrel fielded Rijal, a central member elected from the tenth general convention who also became a provincial minister.
A leader close to Pokhrel claimed that Rijal would take the provincial leadership if the party made a unanimous decision as his faction has 60 percent of the total representatives to the convention.
All eyes are now on Chairman Oli as his support to any one of the candidates will be decisive.
At the chairman’s direction, party secretary Padma Aryal, who is in charge of the UML’s Lumbini provincial committee, is working hard to convince the leaders to agree to a common candidate for the provincial chief. This, according to party insiders, is a tough ask.
Both factions are confident of their victory and are thus not ready to accept the candidate from the other side. However, leaders want to select the leadership unanimously in order to set an example for other provinces as well.
As many as 1,004 representatives are participating in the convention from 109 local units across Lumbini’s 12 districts.
The party has already scheduled conventions in other provinces too. The convention in Madhesh will be held on September 22 and 23, Bagmati on September 25 and 26, Karnali on September 27 and 28, Koshi on September 29 and 30 and Gandaki on October 2 and 3, at Kathmandu Valley Special Province on October 6 and 7 and Sudur Paschim on October 8 and 9.
Addressing the inaugural function of the convention, both Paudel and Pokhrel tried to refute reports that they were engaged in factional rivalry.
The two leaders claimed to be working hand in hand to strengthen the party at the provincial and national levels. They also told the participants to select their leader unanimously.
In his inaugural speech, Paudel praised party chair Oli. Paudel said there was no dispute over Oli’s leadership and that would not change anytime soon.
“The entire UML party is united on its leader, policy, procedure and ideology. There is no ambiguity,” Paudel told the gathering. “Nobody should think of change as the party is conducting its Mission 84 [next general elections] in the leadership of Chairman Oli. There is no dispute on leadership today, and there won’t be one tomorrow.”
In the last general convention, there was intense competition between Paudel and Pokhrel, both trusted lieutenants of Oli, for the general secretary post. At the last minute, Oli chose Pokhrel.
Addressing the inaugural session on Saturday, Oli urged the representatives to elect the provincial committee unanimously.
“We have so many leaders here, so sit together tonight and come up with a solution acceptable to all,” Oli said in his appeal especially to Paudel and another vice-chair Yubaraj Gyawali, General Secretary Pokhrel, Deputy General Secretary Pradeep Gyawali, Secretaries Gokarna Bista and Chhabilal Biswakarma. All these prominent leaders are from Lumbini.