Thursday, 28 October, 2021

SC Verdict To Seal UML Fate?

Narayan Upadhyay

Amid lingering differences among its leaders, the ruling CPN-UML is awaiting the Supreme Court (SC) verdict on the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR) with bated breath. In a week, the constitutional bench of the apex court will deliver its judgement, setting a new political course that would decide the fate of political parties, especially the unity of the CPN-UML. At present, the two factions of the UML, the establishment and the rebels, have been biding their time. If the court verdict favours them, they will utilise it to fortify their position in the party and elsewhere.
The court ruling on the most pressing issue of the time, the House termination, would have significant ramifications on the future of UML leaders. Many believe if the court ruling goes against the Nepal-Khanal faction, several leaders of this bloc may prefer to stick to the establishment 'for the sake of party unity.' Any favourable ruling would embolden the establishment and the party chair Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. He would capitalise on it for consolidating his clout in the party and national politics.
The abrupt termination of the Lower House on May 21, 2021, aggravated rivalry between the UML factions. In a move against the House dissolution, the Nepal-Khanal section allied with the opposition parties and demonstrated the guts to submit their signatures to the writ petitions, seeking the SC to appoint the Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba as the prime minister as per Article 76 (5) of the constitution. The faction said it was 'constrained to extend their loyalty to Deuba to defend democracy, constitution and the parliament.

Stern warning
The UML chair and Prime Minister retaliated by issuing a stern warning that the rebel members must withdraw their signatures from the writ petition. PM Oli cautioned the future of the party unity rested on the withdrawal of the signatures and 'any failure to revoke them would break the party.' And 'those who would fail to retrieve the signatures by Monday evening (today) would not remain in the party.' The rival Nepal-Khanal group has stuck to their guns: they would not take back the signatures, as it would be tantamount to a death knell to them. However, the rebels would help create an atmosphere conducive to party solidarity by keeping all options open. 
While maintaining their unity plank, the rival faction proposed the establishment to return the party to the status of May 16, 2018, when it was still a single entity with 203 central committee members. Expressing their dislike for the induction of the former Maoist leaders into the party's central and standing committees, the group also termed the establishment’s formation of the party's 10th General Convention Organising Committee an illegitimate one. The establishment was later compelled to 'dissolve this committee' after the SC ruled against it. 
Even after the committee was dissolved to facilitate the rival bloc to participate in the party meeting, the predicament regarding party unity has persisted. The rival group avoided the central committee meeting as 'the party establishment failed to return the party prior to the May 16, 2018 status denying the original 203-member UML central working committee to function. The rebels appealed to the establishment that any decision to manage the status of the former Maoist leaders in the party must be taken by the original central working committee. All urges of the rebels fell on deaf ears after the establishment went ahead with a central committee meeting 'unilaterally’ allowing the former Maoists to attend it.
Despite the second generation leaders of the divide having rounds of parleys aimed at building lasting consensus, the existing level of bitterness between chairman Oli and senior leader Nepal prevented them from achieving such a goal. The rivals seem more interested in squeezing space for them in the party in case the ongoing conflict between the two factions is laid to rest. The Nepal-Khanal section has come up with another demand - if the party unity has to be maintained then the party must take all decisions in packages, meaning the disgruntled group must have an equal stake in the party's decision-making.
Senior leader Nepal recently revealed that he was offered the prime minister and the party boss positions by the establishment. Chair Oli rejected this claim, stating that 'a rabid dog' had not bitten him to offer PM's position to his arch-rival, who has now turned himself a simple worker of Prachanda.' These utterances hinted that bitterness among party top leaders is at its height at present. Given such a scenario, the ruling party will take substantial time to see any improvement in the present noisome situation within the ruling party. And, while the opponents and establishment remain stuck to their 'battle of attrition to wear down each other, the SC is likely to come up with its 'epochal ruling' on the HoR dissolution.

There are conjectures that the constitutional bench of the SC can reinstate the dissolved House so that it can decide on the election of the new prime minister. Or, it may issue a mandamus to the President asking the latter to designate the NC president as the next prime minister because the majority of the then HoR lawmakers (146 out of 275 HoR lawmakers) had thrown their weight behind Deuba by being physically present at the SC. Or, it may simply issue its verdict upholding the PM Oli's House dissolution move.
No matter whichever side the SC ruling will fall, it will set the ruling party on a fresh course by shaking its present fabric. The same decision can encourage the feuding UML rivals to make peace with each other. Or, the rival faction may break away to create or enter other parties. All these scenarios are plausible once the apex court's constitutional bench issues what may turn out to be its historic judgement. 

(Deputy Executive Editor of this daily, Upadhyay writes on contemporary issues.