New UML leadership : Time to move together

The 8th general convention of the CPN-UML formally concluded with the formation of 115-member Central Committee led by Jhala Nath Khanal. Khanal had been nominated as party general secretary after Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned from the post following his defeat in the CA polls in April last year. Almost all the senior leaders of the party have been elected central committee members, including Madhav Nepal and K P Oli. All the candidates who had lost the election for eight key central leadership posts were elected central members. Out of 1,820 delegates, 1,793 had voted. The election for eight key positions along with 111 central committee members and two central commissions was held last week after the top three CPN-UML leaders failed to reach consensus.

The CPN-UML leadership has been chosen by direct election after the party adopted a multi-post leadership with an executive Chairman for the first time in its history. The general convention in Butwal had made an amendment to the party statute in order to create the post of chairman, three vice-chairmen, a general secretary and three secretaries. Earlier, the party had a ceremonial chairman. However, the post had remained vacant since the death of the then party chairman Man Mohan Adhikari on April 26, 1999. Established in 1991, the CPN-UML has embraced the presidential system in order to democratise the party. The convention elected Jhala Nath Khanal as party chairman. Bam Dev Gautam, Ashok Rai and Bidhya Bhandari have been elected vice-presidents of the party. Ishwor Pokhrel has been elected general secretary. Similarly, Bishnu Poudel, Shankar Pokhrel, and Yubaraj Gyawali have won the seats of secretary.

All the top leaders have made encouraging statements after the poll outcome. Khanal said that he would uphold the spirit of collective leadership, and work for the expansion of the present coalition and focus on constitution-making in order to strengthen national unity and bring the peace process to a logical conclusion. He also clarified that there will be no amendment to the party’s guiding principle of “People’s Multiparty Democracy”. Oli, on his part, said the establishment of a democratic system and process was more important. Nepal has advised both to move together — neither the winners letting victory get into their heads nor the losers letting defeat wrench their hearts.

As Khanal was considered by many to be relatively lenient towards the Maoists, the Maoists apparently must have wished Khanal to become the new chairman of the CPN-UML. The NC might have wished Oli to be at the helm instead. The delegates, however, rightly gave their verdict by electing candidates of both sides in good numbers, for the eight key posts, as well as for the central committee, thus expressing their wish for collective leadership. A key challenge for the party will be to retain the kind of activism shown in the past. Even a breach of discipline by party leaders and cadres in contravention of the party line has created problems within the party. Quantitative development and expansion of the CPN-UML had been rapid over the past few years, but qualitatively, serious setbacks were observed. The need now is to retain past activism in the party and its leadership, and to inculcate the spirit of commitment and sacrifice in the entire party.

The 8th convention, besides electing top leaders directly, has also institutionalised the process of political inclusion. The reservation policy in the central committee is undoubtedly a historic step towards democratisation of the UML that will likely inspire other parties to be inclusive too. Also, the assumption that the party will now fall into the hands of the Maoists with Khanal’s victory seems feeble as the newly elected CPN-UML chairman Khanal has clearly stated his party will not hesitate to lead the government, if the need arose. The convention has decided the direction in which the CPN-UML should move for the next five years. The electoral processes and the results of the party elections have both given a mandate for collective leadership.

Obviously, there are various camps and factions in the party. One camp thinks the party could foster its democratic facelift by joining hands with the forces for the status quo, while another camp wants close working relationship with the Maoists. Yet another camp wants to play the centrist role in order to build an environment conducive for the drafting of the new constitution. It is important whether the differences within the party will be reconciled and whether the leaders from all factions will be able to realise their weaknesses and correct themselves. Even the Oli faction will not like to topple the current government because itwould pose a threat to the ongoing peace process. Also, all political parties have accepted that the current need is for all to forge consensus in order to create a congenial political environment to lead the peace process to a logical conclusion.

Chalise is a journalist and litterateur