Sunday, 25 February, 2024

UML’s Possible Split Not Averted Yet

Ritu Raj Subedi


The raging intra-party conflict within the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) continues to send disastrous signals to national politics, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision of March 7 to invalidate the existence of Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The NCP was created through the merger of erstwhile CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre. The revival of UML and Maoist Centre has turned the national politics topsy-turvy. The legal dissolution of the NCP has not only dealt a lethal blow to Nepali communist movement but it is also likely to push the country on the path of instability as no single party is in a position to form a government at the moment. If the past experiences are any guide, Nepal’s democracy had suffered a lot when the country ran under a number of coalition governments. Our political leadership has not yet cultivated desired level of constitutional conduct and culture necessary for leading the coalition government efficiently.
Following the revival of the UML, PM KP Sharma Oli has emerged as the most powerful figure within his party, enabling him to concentrate most of it in his hands. He has also wielded the special right to suspend the lawmakers, which is seen to tame ‘anarchist’ parliamentarians from the rival faction. Much to the chagrin of Nepal-Khanal faction, he gave its influential figures the heave-ho from the post of office-bearers and provincial in charges. Former Maoist leaders were awarded some of their posts for their loyalty to Oli in the time of crisis.

Factional infighting
For UML functionaries, the new situation appears more agonising as fierce factional fighting has shaken its fragile unity to the core. As party chairman and Prime Minister Oli has refused to show leniency towards his opponents, the latter defied his warning of not conducting factional activities. They held the national gathering of their cadres on March 17-18 and formed their parallel committees in an open challenge to the establishment, prompting Oli to seek clarification from four UML leaders – Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Surendra Pandey and Ghanshyam Bhusal - considered vociferous critics of his moves. Nepal and Rawal have furnished their clarification to the party but chairman Oli said their replies were highly ‘negative’ and therefore, they deserve the disciplinary action.
The party had asked Nepal why he was involved in conspiracy to overthrow Oli-led ‘popular’ government. He was charged with collaborating with Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda against the government and abusing the party name, flag and statute. The charge-sheets against Nepal related to all activities he was engaged in his capacity of NCP leader, not the UML leader. However, in their replies, Nepal and Rawal have accused Oli of trying to divide the party by illegally reconstituting the central committee and divesting them and their colleagues of responsibilities. They have instead demanded action against Oli, citing that he flouted the statute and showed autocratic character.
On Friday, lawmakers from Nepal-Khanal faction attended the Parliamentary Party meeting of UML that was a semblance of reconciliation between the two factions but PM Oli turned down their proposal to repeal all decisions taken by the meeting of CC members close to the establishment on March 12, 2021. It had amended the statute to bestow sweeping rights on chairman and announced the date of party convention, among others. Nepal-Khanal faction has made the bottom line that all decisions of March 12 must be revoked if the party unity is to be kept intact. Their request to return to pre-unification period - May 16, 2018 and forget all ‘dark’ chapters prior to March 7 did not go well with Oli. He has apparently refused to take reconciliatory approach towards his nemeses which is unlikely to defuse the intra-party conflict in the near future.
Even if Oli heads the largest party in the federal parliament, he needs the backing of other parties. The situation is now hazy as the Maoist Centre that is dead-set to overthrow the Oli government has not withdrawn its support to his government. Oli is in favour of roping Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) in the government to avert his possible exit from power. UML and JSP leaders held several rounds of talks but they are yet to reach an agreement. However, it is like a hard nut to crack for the PM to meet the preconditions of JSP to win its support for his government. It had demanded that the government release its detained cadres, including lawmaker Resham Chaudhari, from jail and withdraw legal cases against its implicated cadres. The court has sentenced Chaudhari to life imprisonment for his involvement in a massacre in Kailali district some years back. Apart from this, JSP has also sought amendment to constitution and release of a report of the Lal commission.

Constitutional integrity
The other day Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa visited Maitighar Mandala where the members of Tharu Welfare Society and Tharuhat-Tharuwan Joint Struggle Committee Central Agitation Mobilisation Committee were picketing and he said that the government was serious about meeting their demands that include the release of Chaudhari. It has also formed a talks team to this end. If the government decides to give amnesty to Chaudhari whose case is yet to be settled by the Supreme Court, it will draw legal wrath and raise a question on the government’s constitutional integrity. Some time back PM Oli had himself said that he would not bow to unethical demands just to stay in power. Now it is a big challenge for him to lead the government without undermining the ethical norms and constitutional values.

(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues)