A few things stall the long-hyped merger between CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), the first and the third largest parties in national parliament respectively. The most important of them is the dispute over who gets to lead the unified communist party. Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has categorically said in merger talks that unification is happening only is if he gets the post of chairman of the combined outfit. When, back in October, the two parties had announced their pre-poll alliance, and an eventual merger, the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the two party chairmen was widely publicized: while Dahal would be the head of the new party, UML chairman KP Sharma Oli would lead the new government. UML denies any such deal. Moreover, Oli is reluctant to hand over leadership of what would be an all-powerful party, even if he gets to be the prime minister.
This is why UML has now proposed a middle-way solution: making Dahal and Oli duo co-chairmen, even as Oli also leads the new government. When The Express asked a senior Maoist leader if such an arrangement would be agreeable to the Maoists, he said the party prefers ‘one-person-one-post’ formula.
But UML is unlikely to agree to it easily. “During the elections we followed the 70-30 principle for distribution of constituencies between UML and Maoists,” says UML Secretary Pradeep Gyawali. “We would like to continue with this arrangement”. In other words, Dahal and the Maoists must accept their junior status in the merger process.
Gyawali concedes the Maoist concerns over equitable distribution of portfolios are valid, and something to be expected. “But we also need to give a serious thought to the psychological impact on UML rank and file of a sudden change in party leadership.”
Senior Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha, for his part, believes the hurdles to unification are two-fold: disagreement over the political line of the new outfit and over the shape of the new party organization. “But the two parties continue to talk and discussions so far are extremely positive,” says Shrestha, “A breakthrough is imminent.”
The Maoists are pressing for a merger before the formation of the new government, which, if the current schedule is followed, could happen as soon as the end of the second week of February. But if Oli becomes the prime minister before the merger, the Maoists fear the loss of their leverage over UML. Perhaps for the same reason UML wants to delay the merger.
Asked when we should realistically expect the merger, Gyawali replies: “Sometime at the end of February.”