Ruling party says unification concludes, but leaders see more challenges


Kathmandu : Almost a year after the announcement of a merger between two leftist forces to form the country’s largest communist party, leaders on Monday announced official conclusion of the unification process.

At a programme organised in the Capital to announce a closure of the unification process, Co-chairmen KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal described the development as a major milestone in Nepal’s communist movement.

The programme was scheduled for April 22, to coincide with the establishment day of the communist party in Nepal 70 years ago.

The two parties, which followed completely different ideologies, formed an alliance in October 2017, months ahead of the historic general election under the constitution promulgated in 2015.

After sweeping the elections, the unified Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has the mandate to govern for a full five-year term, something which has not happened in more than two-and-a-half decades.

The delayed unification process, however, had become a major cause for concern.

Leaders termed Monday’s announcement a major development, but they were quick to add there are more challenges ahead.

Concerns are already growing among leaders over the way two leaders are running the party, as they say decisions are being made without following a proper system.

Many leaders–from both the erstwhile CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre)–have long said the unity in 2018 was not a result of conviction but rather a marriage of convenience.

Amid all this, the two parties, especially Oli’s UML, got a factional feud in legacy, which was a major stumbling block to conclusion of the party merger.

The major bone of contention was sharing of leadership positions in the districts, especially between the factions led by Oli and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Following an agreement on the district leadership on Sunday, leaders decided to announce the unification over on Monday.

But leaders say there are more challenges ahead, as they doubt implementation of the decision on the district committees, whose leadership will play a crucial role in power-sharing, and the portfolio of leaders in the districts.

“Today’s announcement can be seen as a positive development,” said Lekhnath Neupane, a central committee member. “But there is doubt this will create ground for leadership development.”

Party leaders have agreed to share chairpersons and secretaries in the unified district committees between those who chaired the district committees in the separate parties. This has created problem in many districts, as juniors have become chairperson while seniors–and some central members–have become secretaries.

“I have already told the leadership to correct the decision,” said Himal Sharma, a central committee member who has been picked the secretary of the Kathmandu district committee. He now has to work under Krishna Rai, chairman of the Kathmandu district committee, but he is a ‘junior’ central member in the party, according to Sharma.

Rai was the Kathmandu district chairman of the former UML while Sharma headed the district committee of the Maoist party before the two parties decided to merge 11 months ago.

At least half a dozen central members from the erstwhile Maoist party have been what they call “demoted” to district secretaries. Leaders said in some districts, provincial committee members have become district chairpersons while central members have been made secretaries.

“Anyone can imagine the situation in districts where such a situation has arisen,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “How can they even hold meetings?”

Some leaders including Standing Committee member Ghanashyam Bhusal boycotted the unification announcement on Monday, claiming that the party did not follow the due process to endorse major decisions, including selection of leadership in the district committees. Bhusal, who is considered an ideologue in the party, has long objected to the activities of the two chairmen, arguing that their greed for power–not ideology–had brought them together.

“The secretariat has no authority to take crucial decisions, but leaders are misusing their power,” Bhusal told the Post. “Crucial decisions must be endorsed through the Standing Committee and then the Central Committee.”

Despite conclusion of the unification process, leaders say factional feud will continue to dog the party.

Leaders of the Nepal faction see Oli as a person who is trying to take full control of the party, while those from the Oli group allege that Nepal and his loyalists are creating unnecessary hurdles.

Nepal had also objected to the formation of provincial committees saying it was done in his absence, while Jhala Nath Khanal, another senior leader, has been expressing concerns over hierarchy in the party, as Nepal has been given a position above him.

Oli was threatening Nepal to move ahead with the list of district leaders as recommended by the party mechanism, but Nepal had warned of forming parallel committees.

However, after Oli agreed to allow senior elected representatives to lead the district committees, things were resolved. The proposal was presented by Dahal in a bid to resolve the months-long indecision that had blocked the entire unification process.

“I think top leaders realised the urgency, which prompted them to reach a deal,” said Bishnu Rijal, a central committee member close to Nepal.

The leaders have also agreed to finalise the party’s Politburo and sister wings at the earliest.

The size of the Politburo will be a third of the 441-strong Central Committee. Leaders have agreed to divide the number of members between the former Maoist party and former UML in the 45:55 ratio. With the conclusion of merger of the district committees, the former Maoists now have 33 chairpersons. Among 44 leaders chosen from the former UML, two are said to be neutral, 25 are close to Oli and 17 are from the Nepal faction.

Addressing Monday’s function, Dahal said the party would hold its unity convention within a year, after completing the conferences of the district committees within eight months.

However, multiple leaders the Post talked to expressed doubt, claiming that there was no record for the party to have followed the time table.

“Leaders chosen for the district committees have been there for several years,” said Neupane. “How are other individuals going to get a chance to lead?”

Leaders also criticised the two co-chairmen for delaying the unification process for so long.

“The party leadership must introspect for holding off the unification for the last 10-11 months,” said Bhusal. “The major challenge ahead will be to restore internal democracy and address discontent that could possibly brew in the changed scenario.