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2023: A year to forget for major parties

2023: A year to forget for major parties

As we step into 2024, it's crucial to reflect on the tumultuous journey of 2023, a year marked by degeneration and pessimism for major political parties — the Nepal Congress, CPN-UML, and CPN (Maoist Center). These parties faced strong criticism from both their cadres and the public at large, revealing a deep-seated dissatisfaction with their performance.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and KP Sharma Oli, who are at the helm of these parties, find themselves wrestling with tarnished public images and a looming sense of party fragility.

At the start of the year, the Nepali Congress worked hard to dismantle the alliance between the Maoist and UML. By throwing its support behind Dahal as prime minister, NC succeeded in positioning itself as a key coalition player. The elevation of Ram Chandra Poudel as the country's president further solidified its influence. While these accomplishments are touted as major wins, the party struggles to instill hope and optimism among its ranks, contending with persistent intra-party rifts and organizational challenges.

Deuba continued to prevail in the party’s decision making process. Despite being a dominant power in all three levels of government, leaders and cadres largely feel that the party is on a downward journey. They are of the view that people are gradually losing their confidence in the major parties due to the government’s failure to deliver.

In the face of this, a disconcerting trend emerges—local-level leaders and cadres are feeling the heat from new parties and the resurgence of royalist forces. The once-enthusiastic cadres are noticeably absent from party activities, even as the leadership attempts to renew active memberships. 

A senior NC leader said that though the party has launched a campaign of renewing membership, a large chunk of cadres has not shown interest in it. This is very concerning for the future of the party.

The call for a special campaign to breathe life into the party structures falls on deaf ears, further fueling concerns about the party's downward trajectory. In order to provide an ideological and organizational guideline, the NC was supposed to organize its much-awaited Mahasamiti meeting, but it has been postponed time and again. This year, the party also saw the emergence of a third faction led by youth leaders including Gururaj Ghimire and Madhu Acharya. The faction has been running parallel activities inside the party.

This is not a good sign for the NC, which is already grappling with factionalism. Senior leader Shekhar Koirala and General Secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa are competing to wrest the reins of power from Deuba, whose supporters dominate the party committees.  The rivalry between senior Koirala and Thapa has further affected the party’s organization. 2023 was also the year the NC saw one of its influential leaders Bal Krishna Khand arrested in the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal. It was a serious blow to the party’s public image. Khand’s arrest also raised fear among several other leaders who were allegedly involved in corruption activities in the past. 

The internal strife within the Congress is not unique; the UML also grapples with its share of setbacks. Losing power both at the center and in provincial governments, the party attempts to rejuvenate itself in the face of challenges from emerging parties. Throughout the year, the party tried to dismantle the current government by offering premiership to NC, but to no avail.

Soon after the elections, the UML launched a grassroots campaign in order to resolve the party's internal problems and other issues.  At the end of the year, it launched the Sankalpa Yatra (Resolution March),  which covered the mid-hill districts of Nepal. According to the UML, the march helped to counter forces that have ramped up their activities in recent years. But the truth is despite the hard efforts, the party still faces significant challenges. The "Mission-84" initiative signals a renewed focus on the elections to be held in 2084 BS (2027), with aspirations to emerge as the largest party. However, corruption scandals involving senior leaders cast a shadow over their efforts.

On the Maoist front, 2023 witnessed a lack of substantive change. While the party launched a nationwide campaign to bolster organizational strength, the notable absence of leaders and cadres raised eyebrows. Despite facing criticism, Dahal's dominance within the party stifles significant dissent against the government.

In essence, 2023 posed significant threats to the major parties. Despite holding onto power, a pervasive sense of vulnerability lingers. The specter of the 2027 national elections looms large, and the three parties feel that regressive forces are actively trying to dismantle the 2015 constitution. 

As we step into 2024, the apathy of top leaders in mending their ways suggests a continuity of challenges. The failing performance of the Dahal-led government on economic and other fronts is poised to escalate people's frustration, further eroding the major political parties' standing. The year ahead will be critical for the three major parties, as they will have to resolve their own internal disputes as well as work with renewed vigor to meet the aspirations of the people.