Monday, 24 January, 2022

Surprising Election Results

Narayan Upadhyay

Nepali political parties are abuzz with their internal elections. Many of them have already elected new leadership and top decision-making bodies, while one of them, the Nepali Congress, is set to hold its general convention next week to elect new leadership.

Egged on by a need to meet the constitutional deadline, parties organised their periodic elections. This time around, we witnessed a marked departure from earlier years - the consensus bid among top party leaders to 'select' party leadership and party office-bearers fell flat, much to the delight of those who prefer to assess the true calibre of senior and seasoned leaders. A significant change has happened as top leaders and incumbent office-bearers have to contest the elections held to elect new leadership and top decision-making bodies. The younger leaders and fresh faces did not bow down and agreed to the persuasion, intimidation or coercion to sign on dotted lines to designate new leadership unopposed.

Take the instance of the main opposition party, CPN-UML. After encountering opposition from party rivals, a consensus bid by the UML to elect new leadership and party functionaries unopposed had failed. Some rebel leaders contested elections for various posts, including the party chair, vice-chair, and secretaries. However, UML's incumbent chair KP Sharma Oli engineered a mechanism to get himself and his cronies elected unopposed. But he and his backers were forced to go to the ballot after Bhim Rawal and a handful of aspirants to major party positions threw their gauntlets, compelling about 2,100 representatives to cast their votes to elect the office-bearers to the party's top decision-making bodies. 

However, Oli and his ilk had a cakewalk because he 'brought' most of his supporters as convention delegates from different units of the party. The exercise of ballots in the UML national congress turned out to be a quasi-democratic practice, though it saved Oli and his supporters from being tagged as leaders who were elected through consensus without facing ballots. The outcome was no less than a pyrrhic victory for Oli. A few leaders challenged him, driving him to compete in the elections.

The current NC election has caught the public's attention. The party's establishment under president Sher Bahadur Deuba and anti-establishment are in a tough race to win the next presidential and key posts in the party following its general convention next week. The establishment is gunning to vote incumbent president Deuba for another term.

Aspirants like Ram Chandra Poudel, Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi, Shekhar Koirala and a few others too are eyeing the top position. However, analysts say that if the anti-establishment side, led by Paudel, fails to nominate a specific candidate to fight against the incumbent president, the former has a remote chance of winning the battle against the party establishment. Given the recent outcome of party elections at various levels, the anti-establishment side has felt a necessity to propose a consensus candidate who would have a strong chance of winning against the incumbent president Deuba.

Deuba and his die-hard supporters drew flak for expanding the number of active party members to up their prospects of securing victory in the district, provincial, constituency, and central level. Current results at different levels show the establishment side could have its upper hand during next week's convention, or Mahaadhivesan. Such a situation has compelled Paudel and other to devise an alliance to vie for key party positions. 
Following its unity general convention last weekend, the RPP elected its leadership and party officials. The pro-royalist, pro-Hindu party has surprised many through the election outcome that finally bade adieu to the incumbent president, Kamal Thapa, the long-serving president noted for his authoritarian style, which led to the splits in the party for umpteenth times. Rajendra Lingden, who emerged popular following his win in the last general election, received the steady support of many popular leaders such as Prakash Chandra Lohani, Dhawal Shumsher Rana and Bikram Pandey. Some say former King Gyanendra also threw his weight behind Lingden. After his defeat, Thapa alleged former King Gyanendra for not supporting him, which, according to Thapa, led to his downfall.

For many in the RPP and outside, the victory of Lingden is the start of a process of transferring leadership to a new generation of leaders. Fresh leaders like the newly elected RPP president can instil their parties with fresh ideas, programmes and vitality, boosting the chance of better performance in the upcoming general election. Lingden's victory in the last general election and his firm stance in favour of Hinduism and monarchy did wonders for him in popularising him among the RPP supporters, which came in handy for him in elbowing RPP strongman Thapa out of the reckoning. Thapa’s defeat will usher in a new innings for the RPP in national polity.

 In the meantime, CPN-Maoist Centre too would congregate its national convention to elect new bodies this December. The party would adopt a multi-post system like all major political parties from the upcoming convention. However, analysts guess it would be impossible for any leader in the present Maoist party to challenge the party chair. Supremo Prachanda still calls the shots in the party and there is less chance of having him challenged by any leaders. The party is expected to elect all office-bearers unopposed. 

To sum it up, internal periodic elections without doubt provided political parties with a chance to highlight their democratic credentials. Elections always infuse a party with new vigour and vitality and are crucial to bolstering the internal democracy of a political party. The outcome of the elections will set the tone for their future course of action in the national polity, as the outcome will go miles in improving their chances of putting up a stellar performance in the forthcoming general election due next year.

(Upadhyay is Managing Editor of The Rising Nepal.