The CPN-UML kicks off its 8th National Congress today, with 1,802 delegates set to elect its central leadership, review its past policies, and re-fashion its direction for the five years ahead, with special emphasis on the most vital issues and challenges facing the party and the nation. There has been a radical change in the political and other contexts of the country since its 7th National Congress in Janakpur six years ago, delegated to the central committee the power of deciding whether or not a Constituent Assembly election was the right course of action for the country as a way out of the conflict. The party has been facing more daunting challenges now, particularly since the 1990 pro-democracy movement and restoration of multiparty system. One is the apparent difficulty of making a comeback as the country’s largest Left force, a position now occupied by the Unified CPN-Maoist, by winning the hearts and minds of Nepal’s mostly Left-inclined voters.

The party’s lacklustre performance at the CA polls, from the high point of the votes it had polled in the last general election, the challenge of revitalising itself and creating a new public appeal to reverse the gradual erosion of its support base over the years, particularly after the death of Madan Bhandari and Manmohan Adhikari, the role the party is going to play to ensure

that the constitution is written within time and the peace process is brought to its logical conclusion — these and some other issues are among the most important that the party has to resolve well. The UML is likely to refashion the interpretation of the party’s guiding principle

‘Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad’ (People’s Multiparty Democracy) to suit the present times — this eased the passage of a traditional communist party into the ‘bourgeois’ multiparty democracy within the framework of constitutional monarchy.

It is the UML’s business to decide where to go and how to go. However, its decisions and leadership choices are likely to affect national politics. There have been undercurrents of opinion that the same old faces that took the party ‘downhill’ may be back in the saddle. Some may want the ‘old guard’ to step aside, making way for the younger generation to take over. But unless limits are placed on the number of times somebody can be elected to a post, everybody is free to aspire for it again and again, and as long as the party members go with them, there should be no problem. Leadership is earned. To UML’s credit, it has shown an example in internal democracy even for those who have claimed to be more democratic parties. Its central committee members are all elected, and it would be even better if the current congress decided to choose top leadership posts directly - the chairman, general secretary, and vice chairman. And it would be advisable too if the hopefuls contested instead of seeking a consensus. In its efforts at rejuvenation, the UML should give top priority to the need for closing or narrowing down the gap between policy and practice. In the past, the lure of immediate gains overrode all other considerations while making fateful decisions on a number of occasions. This is a major reason why the UML has shrunk. This temptation must be successfully resisted.