General Conventions: Old parties, old faces

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

General Conventions: Old parties, old faces

The sentiment both in and outside these parties is that incumbent leaders must go and new ones with new vigor and dynamism should replace them. Unfortunately, such sentiments are being sidelined

This is the season of political parties’ general convention (GC). Both big and fringe ones are holding their conventions to elect new leaderships in the coming weeks. With the number of Covid-19 cases dwindling, parties are now rushing.

The sentiment both in and outside these parties is that incumbent leaders must go and new ones with new vigor and dynamism should replace them. Unfortunately, as parties are approaching their respective conventions, such sentiments are being sidelined. Almost the same set of leaders who have been at the helm of parties as well as successive governments after 1990 are set to continue for the next five years.  Despite their high-sounding rhetoric, youth leaders are not contesting party presidency.

Take the main opposition CPN-UML whose convention is to take place in Chitwan from November 26-28. Party leaders and cadres are projecting KP Oli (69) as an indispensable leader for the next five years, and he is likely to be elected unopposed.

Candidacy by some second-rung leaders cannot be ruled out but Oli is sure to win and lead the party for the next five years, says UML leader Deepak Prakash Bhatta. After the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction formed a separate breakaway party, Oli found himself in a position to monopolize the UML.

In Nepal Congress, there is a strong sentiment that Deuba must go due to his age and inability to lead. Additionally, there are voices that as Deuba (75) has become prime minister five times and also got to lead the party, he should pave the way for someone else. Efforts are underway to arrive at a common anti-establishment candidate to weaken and defeat Deuba. But he is still likely to hang on.

Even if Deuba goes, youth leaders are unlikely to come to the helm. After Deuba, the likes of Ram Chandra Poudel, Shekhar Koirala and Prakash Man Singh, all fast-aging leaders, are in a race for party presidency. Says political analyst Puranjan Acharya, Shekhar Koirala could emerge as a formidable challenger to Deuba this time if anti-establishment factions come together. “Shekhar has gained ground in selection of general convention representatives. But his triumph depends on Ram Chandra Poudel and others responding to him.”

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Chances are high of Deuba winning the presidency again due to his strong hold on the organization. He is in a position to dispense favors as prime minister and the anti-establishment faction remains fragmented. So come NC convention on December 10-12 in Kathmandu, Deuba could again rule the roost. Youths are unlikely to ascend to the top from this convention. “Some youths are likely to be elected office bearers but the same old leaders would continue to dominate the party,” says Acharya.

CPN (Maoist Center) is preparing to fulfill its own constitutional obligation of five-yearly general convention. Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (66), who has been at the helm of the party for three years, has clearly said that he will not retire. And no party leader will dare to file candidacy against Dahal.

Even in fringe parties, leadership change is unlikely. CPN (ML) led by CP Mainali held its General Convention in Chitwan, once again electing him party general secretary, a position he has been occupying since the 1970s.

CPN (Unified Socialist) led by Madhav Kumar Nepal (68) is also preparing to hold its convention, even though exact dates are yet to be finalized. As it is a new party and there are no other towering political figures, Nepal is likely to lead the party himself for the next five years.

As Rastriya Prajatantra Party led by Kamal Thapa (66) prepares to hold its own general convention in Kathmandu on November 13-16, there are demands of leadership change, which, again, is not happening given Thapa’s stranglehold on party machinery.  

All parties are holding their general conventions in the run-up to the three-tier elections, which will probably take place in 2022. And all those vying for party presidency either close to or above 70. The younger leaders will continue to have to wait for their turn, at least for the next half-a-decade.