Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba has been elected parliamentary party leader getting more than double the votes secured by contender Prakash Man Singh.
Everyone inside and outside Nepali Congress (NC) knew that Deuba’s win was a foregone conclusion. But very few would have estimated that Singh will get just 19 votes and Deuba 44.
The majority of the 23 elected to the House of Representatives (HoR) through the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system were not from the Deuba faction. Deuba, therefore, had picked most for the proportional representation (PR) from his faction to ensure a comfortable majority in the parliamentary party.
But both from Deuba faction and outside concede that the majority of those elected through FPTP system also voted for Deuba.
Leaders close to Singh estimate that eight elected through the FPTP system and 11 through PR system voted for Singh even as 12 of those elected through FPTP system are not from the Deuba faction.
Narayan Khadka, Minendra Rijal, Bhimsen Das Pradhan and Uma Kanta Chaudhari among those 12 did not vote for Singh.
Pradhan and Chaudhari are from Krishna Sitaula faction. There is acrimony between Singh and Pradhan in politics in Kathmandu. Pradhan, therefore, openly voted against Singh.
Rijal and Khadka, during internal discussions, had also said they cannot vote for Singh due to his ‘intolerant’ personality.
The biggest blow to Singh was lack of support from General Secretary Shashank Koirala. Singh wanted Koirala to propose his candidacy. Not only did Koirala refuse to propose Singh’s candidacy, he also did not genuinely campaign for Singh.
Deuba, on the other hand, talked with all those from outside the faction who could vote for him and requested for vote.
NC had contested the recent general election under the government of Deuba who was serving his fourth term as prime minister. The left alliance almost mustered two-third majority in the election.
There was voice inside the party that Deuba must quit the party leadership but he has been elected parliamentary party leader with more than two-third majority. He showed himself to be even stronger.
Now, who can challenge Deuba inside NC?
There is little chance of someone from Deuba camp challenging him. The natural successor in the camp is Bimalendra Nidhi. Nidhi has been with Deuba right from the time Deuba transferred the leadership of Nepal Students Union to him in 1979.
There is little chance of Nidhi challenging Deuba or telling Deuba to make way for him to fight in the next general convention to be held in two years.
Who from outside Deuba camp will challenge him is also yet to be decided. As leadership of Ram Chandra Paudel is getting weaker and irrelevant, there is question about who should challenge Deuba from this faction.
General Secretary Shashank Koirala should be the obvious choice after Paudel. But questions have been raised against Koirala due to his role in the recent parliamentary party election and his competence.
There is question about what Koirala himself wants after he did not support Singh in the parliamentary party election, an NC leader said. “Koirala seems to believe that he should go along with Deuba who may later leave the post for him,” the leader added. “Koirala, therefore, has not been able to decide whether to fight with Deuba or try to please him.”
Singh and many other leaders after Koirala’s role in the parliamentary party election have questioned why they should now accept Koirala’s leadership.
Questions about Koirala’s leadership capacity have been raised long before this. “He does not seem to have the necessary energy to build organization and to fight against the opposition,” another NC leader said. “Nor does he seem to have political knowhow.”
Those outside the Deuba camp have now started to discuss who should lead the challenge against Deuba. Paudel, Arjun Narsingh KC, Ram Sharan Mahat, Sitaula, Singh, Shekhar Koirala, and youth leaders Gagan Thapa and Pradeep Paudel have held many rounds of discussions on that, according to a leader.
Some of them have leadership aspirations but have not been able to openly reveal the aspirations.
What Sitaula exactly wants is still unclear. There is no chance of those outside the Deuba faction coming together under him. He, therefore, will face the question of whether to join Deuba or make the opposition camp stronger. He has been travelling across the country and talking to party cadres in recent times.
Singh feels that he should be the leader of the anti-Deuba camp as he has challenged Deuba in the parliamentary party election.
There will not just be the question of party leadership in the coming general convention. More important will be the question of who will lead NC’s challenge against the unified communist party in the next general election.
“The pair of Deuba and Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar will not be able to take NC to power through the parliamentary election five years from now,” a leader said. “We should, therefore, bring on new faces inside the party as an alternative to Deuba and Gachchhadar, leaders who can lead the party in the next general election.”
Shashank and Shekhar Koirala are the only NC leaders who have been at the party forefront but have yet to be old. The equation between the two cousins, who are heir to the Koirala family, has yet to be revealed.
Shekhar during the last general convention had told his younger cousin, “I will contest for general secretary. You make way for me.” Shashank replied a day later saying he has moved far ahead and cannot make way. Shekhar himself had made way after hearing Shashank’s answer.
Shekhar seems to be in mood to claim for party president in the coming general convention. “I am ready to move forward if you all back me,” he has been telling in internal discussions.
Shekhar seems to be the only leader who has openly stated he is ready to fight against Deuba in the coming general convention. Other leaders have yet to speak. They have neither supported nor opposed him.
Some youth leaders also seem to be in favor of a team of youths and experienced leaders under Shekhar. But what to do about Shashank and what he will do have yet to be known.
It will take some time for the issue of leadership in the anti-Deuba camp to be clear as the discussions have started only recently.
“We cannot rally the cadres without deciding about party leadership. We must, therefore, decide who should lead the challenge against Deuba as soon as possible,” a leader of the camp said.