Kathmandu: Sher Bahadur Deuba is the president of Nepali Congress once again. The 14th General Convention elected him to the top post of the party on December 15.
Deuba, however, did not have a smooth sailing this time around. In the first round of election, he was far short of 51 percent of votes which he required to secure victory, for he was challenged by three other leaders from the opposition camp of the party–Dr Shekhar Koirala, Prakash Man Singh and Bimalendra Nidhi.
As such Dr Koirala was expected to give a neck and neck challenge to Deuba or even win the second-round election. In the first round of voting, Deuba clinched 2,258 votes, while his closest contender Dr Koirala secured 1,729 votes. Similarly, Prakash Man Singh bagged 360 votes, Bimalendra Nidhi 239 and Kalyan Gurung 20.
Koirala himself was confident enough as other aspirants Bimalendra Nidhi and Prakash Man Singh had spoken about forming an alliance against Deuba for the second round of election. But, the table turned within hours. Nidhi and Singh–who had delivered loud and fierce speeches against Deuba–switched their allegiance overnight and declared that they would now support Deuba.
That unexpected move by Nidhi and Singh changed the election outcome in his favor in the second round–Deuba secured 2,733 votes against his rival Dr Koirala who secured 1855 votes.
Destined to win
Political analysts and commentators say that Deuba was destined to win as the opposition camp was divided. As there was no possibility of a common candidate from the opposition camp before the election, it would have been no surprise if Deuba had won the election in the first round itself, said Uddhab Pyakurel, a political analyst. “If the opposition gets divided, voters will have a mentality to vote for the establishment with a strong candidate with a sure shot 40% votes.”
CK Lal, a columnist and political commentator, sees Deuba’s victory as the continuity of the status quo (yatha sthiti) in the Nepali Congress. Deuba had no scarcity of resources as he was the incumbent PM and president of NC, according to him. “It was almost sure that he would win the election.”
During those hours in which Nidhi and Singh decided to go against their own words, Deuba allegedly misused the executive power. Influential leader Chandra Bhandari, who belongs to the opposition camp, has accused Deuba of using ‘money, muscle and power’ to secure victory amidst the reports that Deuba offered powerful positions to Nidhi and Singh in exchange for their support for him in the second round of election.
Status quo ante
Deuba won the presidency in Nepali Congress but he has failed to come up with agendas and visions to set up the future political course for the party.
A leader who has failed repeatedly in the leadership has again gotten a chance to lead the oldest democratic party but he is devoid of any agendas at a time when Congress is in dire need of change.
Deuba’s speeches, during canvassing, were more of an outcry than a reflection of strong visions to make Nepali Congress a better party in a situation when people’s faith in political parties is fading rapidly.
Deuba’s speeches, during canvassing, were more of an outcry than a reflection of strong visions to make Nepali Congress a better party.
Analysts agree that NC is still a traditional and conservative party. Pyakurel sees the prevalence of conservative and traditional factors in Nepali Congress.
“Hesitancy to bring women and young leaders to leadership, and focus and priority only to the age-based seniority is evident in the NC. Rejecting new and alternative ideas and agendas is a political culture in all the political parties including NC,” added Pyakurel.
The status quoism in Nepali Congress, says CK Lal, started after 1990. In 2006, it emerged as a force of movement turned into a status quoist power after that, again. The agenda of the transformation of society is not brought up in NC which shows the incapability of the party and the leaders, added Lal. “It is not so significant who won or who lost, and there is no reason to get excited or sad. Nepali Congress has been failing to bring transformation agendas.”
Deuba is already facing a lot of questions regarding his inability to bring transformation agendas and a vision to lead the oldest democratic party effectively.
“Deuba does not have any vision, but has only an agenda of getting into and continuing in power,” added Lal. “NC and other political parties are detached at the grass-root level and with general people. When people look at Nepali Congress, they see no hope.”
Pyakurel agrees that Shekhar Koirala, who was not in any prominent post and was only a central member before, has now emerged as the most powerful leader in the opposition camp. “His visions, ideas, and leadership quality are yet to be tested though,” said Pyakurel.
Many challenges exist for Deuba in the days to come. Till the election, he had to deal with two major factions–one led by Ram Chandra Poudel and another by Krishna Sitaula. Nepali Congress will have many factions in the days to come. “Factions will appear in his own camp sooner or later. Other prominent leaders including Nidhi and Singh are also forming their own factions. Around 40% is now in the hands of Shekhar Koirala,” stated Pyakurel.
Challenge for NC, according to Lal, is that the party should bring up agendas and programs to continue the parliamentary system, address nationality issues and demands of Madhesh, strengthen the democracy, conduct cost-effective and fair elections, reduce the gap between the rich and poor in the society and create employment opportunities for the nation’s youths.
Will Deuba care to address these challenges? Will he even recognize these as challenges? “Deuba does not have any interest in the aforementioned challenges,” said Lal. “He only seems to care about rising to and remaining in power. His only challenge will be to provide election tickets to his loyalists for upcoming general elections so that he will again have control inside the party.”