The Khanal-Nepal faction of CPN-UML has started final preparations to form a new party.
The voice for forming a new party is getting stronger inside the faction following House dissolution Friday midnight but a few leaders of the second generation are adamant that efforts should still be made to return to the state before unification with CPN (Maoist Center). Senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal has not been able to announce the new party due to their pressure.
Nepal has asked student leader Jeevan Rai, who is close to him, to register a new party with the Election Commission. CPN Unified has been registered with the Election Commission proposing pen as the election symbol a month back under Rai from Sankhuwasabha who was secretariat member of the student wing of the then CPN formed after unification of UML and CPN (Maoist Center). But the party has yet to receive registration certificate.
The election symbol pen was used by Khim Lal Devkota from the Khanal-Nepal faction who recently defeated Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa of UML in the National Assembly by-election contesting as an independent candidate with support of the opposition parties.
Devkota's victory upended the recent détente between Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli and Madhav Kumar Nepal who had formed a task force to resolve the dispute, pushing the party to the brink of split.
"We are not preparing to announce a new party soon. But we must be ready if it is needed. We have kept an option if the election were to be held, we were not accepted inside UML and we don't get to even register a new party," a youth leader of the faction confided with Setopati. "Jhala Nath Khanal and Nepal are waiting as a few second generation leaders are insisting there is still possibility of party unity. We cannot wait forever. The new party will be announced even if a few leaders were to join KP Sharma Oli's faction."
A standing committee member confirmed with Setopati that the faction is currently stranded in the middle of the sea but efforts will continue for party unity. The leader, however, conceded that the recent developments make unity unlikely. "The so-called task force also does not seem will work. The final option, therefore, may be forming a new party," the leader lamented. "It seems we cannot remain with Oli. But it is difficult to leave the party we built with hard work. The new party has been stopped due to such uncertainty."
A lawmaker from the faction said that the top leaders cannot go against the wish of the cadres at the grassroots. The leader claimed that sister organizations and district committees are in favor of split.
"Oli's disciples are terrorizing them at the local level like Oli is doing to us here at the center. Friends who got into committees by winning party elections have been removed. We, therefore, do not have an alternative to forming a new party."
The number of lawmakers in the faction, meanwhile, is going down after Nepal's instruction to remain ready for a new party. Only 28 lawmakers abstained on the day of floor test for Oli even though there were 43 lawmakers with the faction at the time the party's unification with Maoist Center was invalidated.
Only 26 of those 28 lawmakers signed in support of Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba on Friday, and some of them still seem unhappy. "We decided to help thinking we can create an environment to make Nepal the PM. Our objective is not to make a new party. We are fighting with Oli, not trying to fight with UML," one such lawmaker said. "A few of us lawmakers won't join the new party. That doesn't mean we will support every wrong step of Oli. We will continue to fight with Oli however few we may remain."
The faction is under pressure for new party from its sister organizations and cadres at the grassroots who believe they will become weaker the longer they wait to form a new party.
"Our real strength will be known in the election. We have said that we should not wait longer. the second generation leaders also should not always remain undecided and should soon take a decision," a leader of a sister organization close to the faction told Setopati. "We have asked for formation of a committee including only those second generation leaders who agree to join. It is us who will ultimately have to fight at the grassroots."
Jeevan Rai, meanwhile, has claimed that he has not registered the new party on instruction of anyone. "I am not in any party body for a few years. I have, therefore, formed a new party. Please do not link me with anyone as I didn't consult anyone."
He revealed that the Election Commission will confirm name of the party and election symbol in 45 days. Kalpana Gurung of Kaski has been named vice-chair of the new party, Binod Kumar Khulal of Kavre general secretary, Ain Kunwar secretary and Sushil Khanal treasurer.