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Will top brass sink three big parties?

Will top brass sink three big parties?
The top leaders of major political parties are incorrigible lots. They can’t change if their life depended on it. It’s a pathology of sorts, which, if left untreated, can sink their parties. The writing has been on the wall for several months. The first sign was the general elections outcome of November last year, when the newly formed Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) emerged as a moderate political force and the pro-monarchy right-wing Hindu force Rastriya Prajatantra Party also made a comeback. The two parties decreased the size of mainstream political parties: Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center). More tellingly, none of these parties could secure a simple majority in the federal parliament; this was despite the Congress and Maoists forging an electoral alliance.

After the election, the major parties remained busy in forming and breaking the ruling coalition. It showed where their priority lay. They wanted power and the people wanted political stability.

No wonder, the government formed under Pushpa Kamal Dahal failed to instill hope in people, particularly at a time when the country was staring at a serious economic crisis. Then came the results of the by-election, in which the RSP secured resounding wins in two (Tanahun-1 and Chitwan-2) of the three constituencies where the polls were held on April 23. The margin with which the traditional parties lost the election was yet another clear indication that the people are deeply frustrated with the old guard. The latest incident that could put Nepal’s major parties to the sword is the fake Bhutanese refugee scam involving top political leaders, their close relatives and aides, among others. Nepal Police has so far arrested former home minister and NC leader Bal Krishna Khand and former deputy prime minister and CPN-UML secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi for their alleged involvement in the case. The scandal has been termed by many as a state-sponsored human trafficking case, and there is a widespread suspicion that the leaders of the three major parties—Prime Minister Dahal, Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, and UML leader KP Oli—are trying to influence the police investigation. The trio has been meeting on an almost regular basis. As public anger and suspicion continue to grow against major political parties, youth leaders find themselves in a bind. They want to reform their parties, but their bosses are adamant to change. More than Dahal, Deuba and Oli, it is the youth leaders that seem worried about the future of their respective parties. The next generation leaders of these three major parties fear that Nepali voters will punish them in the 2027 general elections. Their apprehension is valid, given that scores of youth members from their parties are defecting to the RSP. While the UML has decided to launch a campaign to attract youths to the party and become the largest party in 2027, it appears to be a far-fetched dream. The popularity of RSP that started in urban centers is catching up in rural Nepal, which could potentially affect the UML’s campaign. The Nepali Congress seems to be in the most difficult position. Some youth leaders have already started a drive to reform the party. General secretary duo of the party, Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, have warned of a revolt against the incumbent leadership, but they know that Deuba is too powerful. The dilemma of Thapa and Sharma is that they cannot leave the party, nor do they have hope that Deuba will change. The NC has not even suspended Khand from the party, which has further eroded the party's image and credibility. A senior NC leader says: “Probably for the first time, President Deuba is serious about the party's future and his own image. But he is still not ready to give up his position and pave the way for the younger generation to lead the party.” The CPN (Maoist Center), meanwhile, is trying to gain some sympathy votes with the Dahal governemnt prosecuting the accused in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam. But that will happen only if the leadership of Prime Minister Dahal showed the grit to investigate and prosecute all politicians and senior government officials involved in the case. The Maoist party is already weak, with just 32 seats in the federal parliament, and its organization is in a mess. Instead of strengthening the party, many say Dahal is busy building his personal image. It is not lost on the people that UML leader Rayamajhi, who is currently in police custody in connection with the refugee scam, and former home minister and another UML leader Ram Bahadur Thapa, who has also been linked to the case following the arrest of his son, were both former Maoist party leaders. Bishnu Rijal, a youth leader from the UML, doesn’t agree that the old political parties are losing their relevance, though he admits that they should change their ways. “The major political parties of Nepal have a long history, they have a sound ground and they must have a clear vision for the future.” He doesn’t believe the new parties like the RSP have a long-term future. “They are carrying populist agendas, whereas we have a robust system that is capable of filtering our politicians.” He went on to claim that Rayamajhi and Khand got arrested because their parties had robust systems in place. The emergence of RSP has also renewed the call for unity among communist parties of Nepal. The CPN (Unified Socialist) and CPN (Maoist Center) are already in talks to explore ways for the possibility of unification. Talks are also underway between second-rung leaders of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) for possible collaboration—if not unification. If that happens, the Congress party will once again find itself in a fix. The grand old party that espouses democratic values is already losing its support base to the RSP. There is a choice for Dahal, Deuba and Oli: Make way for next generation leaders or leave behind horrible legacies.