How intra-party factionalism weakened the strongest government Nepal has seen in decades
Until the general elections in 2017, nobody in Nepal believed that the communists would be able to grab power and would prove to be an unchallenged force in the country. Therefore, it was rather surprising when the alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), led by KP Sharma Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist Centre (CPN-MC), led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, together, won close to two-thirds (64 percent) of the seats in the 275-member House of Representatives (HoR), the Nepalese Parliament. The communists consolidated their strength further after these two major communist parties—the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC—merged and a new party, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), was formed in May 2018.
The communists not only formed the government at the federal level but also in six out of seven provinces and most of the 753 local bodies of the village councils/municipalities. Because of the unprecedented victory of the communists in the elections, KP Sharma Oli emerged as one of the strongest Prime Ministers of Nepal, placing him in the same league with Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana (1846-1877) and Prime Minister BP Koirala (1950-60).
The unprecedented victory of the communists in the elections, KP Sharma Oli emerged as one of the strongest Prime Ministers of Nepal, placing him in the same league with Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana (1846-1877) and Prime Minister BP Koirala (1950-60).
However, it was an irony that the leader of the NCP, KP Sharma Oli, lost his credibility just within three-and-half years, though he had a mandate to run the government for five years. This development was confirmed after Nepal’s Supreme Court, in its historic verdict in early July, appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba, who leads the Nepali Congress Party, as the Prime Minister of the country and reconstituted the Parliament that was dissolved by Oli in May this year.
As for the constitutional arrangement, Sher Bahadur Deuba took the oath of Prime Minister on July 13. Soon after, he also won the vote of confidence in the 271-member Parliament on July 18. Though he needed the support of only 138 lawmakers in the Parliament, 165 lawmakers voted for him against 83 lawmakers who supported Oli. In the confidence motion, apart from 61 lawmakers of Nepali Congress, 48 lawmakers of CPN-MC, 32 lawmakers of Janata Samajbadi Party, 22 lawmakers of Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of CPN-UML, eight lawmakers loyal to Oli factio, and three independent lawmakers also voted for Deuba.
In the tussle for the supremacy within the NCP, Dahal formed some kind of informal alliance with another powerful leader in the party, Madhav Kumar Nepal, to dislodge Oli from power.
One of the main factors that led to the downfall of communism in Nepal was the absolute power that KP Sharma Oli enjoyed on account of his hold on the party, the government at the Centre, provincial governments, and the local bodies. Oli, after becoming Prime Minister in 2018, concentrated all power in his hands by bringing different constitutional bodies under the Prime Minister’s Office. Though some kind of understanding had been arrived at between Prime Minister Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the co-chairs of NCP, to head the government for two-and-a-half years each, Oli reneged on his end of the deal.
Therefore, in the tussle for the supremacy within the NCP, Dahal formed some kind of informal alliance with another powerful leader in the party, Madhav Kumar Nepal, to dislodge Oli from power. Growing factionalism within the Communist party on the one hand, and corruption at all levels of the government on the other, badly eroded the image of the government. Amidst this situation, the most significant NCP split occurred when the Supreme Court ruled that the merger between CPN-UML and the CPN-MC in May 2018 was illegitimate. Following this development, the two factions of the Communist parties—the CPN-UML led by Oli and the CPN-MC by Dahal—revived their pre-merger status as two separate political parties.
Nevertheless, the factionalism within the CPN-UML did not stop. A senior leader of this party, Madhav Kumar, felt like he had received step-brotherly treatment in the party as his followers were getting marginalised in the rank and file of the party. Taking advantage of this situation, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba attempted to weaken the opposition party, the CPN-UML, further. For this, he brought an ordinance that allowed any faction in the political parties to split if it commanded the support of a minimum of 20 percent members of the Parliamentary party or in the Central Committee.
Nepal—which had restored political stability after such a long period—is now likely to give way to political instability as the chance for any political party to get a majority in the forthcoming elections seems to be only a remote possibility.
Earlier, any faction in a political party had to get the support of at least 40 per cent of the members of the Parliamentary party and in the Central Committee to split the party. So, it was difficult to split a party earlier, but it became far easier to do so after the new ordinance came into effect. As per the provision of this ordinance, the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led faction of the CPN-UML registered a new party—CPN (Unified Socialist)—with the Election Commission on August 26, with the support of 29 lawmakers and 55 Central Committee members.
Had there been no splits in the NCP, the communists would have ruled the country for a long time. But due to their differences, they lost the government at the centre and further fragmented into smaller parties. This was mainly on account of the ego and factionalism that existed amongst the leaders. Still, the greater loss for them is that they lost credibility amongst the common people for their failure to check the mounting corruption at different levels of administration and address the growing COVID-19 cases in the country. They paid very little attention to the welfare of the people as they became engaged in an internal power struggle. Given some of these developments, a further split of the communist parties cannot be ruled out. Such splits in the Communist bloc have weakened the communist movement in the country to the great advantage of the present ruling party, the Nepali Congress, as it is likely to reap the dividends in the forthcoming elections. However, Nepal—which had restored political stability after such a long period—is now likely to give way to political instability as the chance for any political party to get a majority in the forthcoming elections seems to be only a remote possibility.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).