The most closely watched post in the upcoming general convention of CPN-UML to be held from November 26-28 in Chitwan is that of general secretary.
Deputy general secretary Bishnu Paudel and standing committee member Shankar Pokharel, both Chairman KP Sharma Oli's lieutenants, are the strongest contenders for the post while Surendra Pandey, from the erstwhile Khanal-Nepal faction, also considers himself to be a contender for general secretary.
Many feel that the person Oli proposes for the post will be his political heir. The party's statute has set a ceiling of 70 years for party leadership. Most of the senior leaders including Oli, Bhim Rawal, Ishwar Pokharel, Ram Bahadur Thapa, Subash Nembang, Yuvaraj Gyawali, Ashta Laxmi Shakya and others will cross 70 before the next general convention.
Paudel and Pokharel will both be under the age limit and whoever will be proposed as general secretary by Oli or gets elected this term—as the party looks to elect office-bearers through consensus—will get a head start in the race to become party chief after the 11th general convention.
Both Paudel and Pokharel have not publicly staked claims for general secretary. Paudel told Setopati in a video interview that those close to him are advising he should vie for general secretary as he was general secretary even when UML had united with CPN (Maoist Center) to form CPN. But he stated that he will decide which post to contest for on November 27.
"The matter should not be understood that way. KP Oli has the responsibility to think about what kind of team he will take to further the task of party building. What the question is he will consult friends (sic). Give his suggestion. He will not stop if any friend wishes to go for competition," Paudel responded when asked whether he will agree if Oli proposes to make one out of him and Pokharel the general secretary and the other the vice-chair.
Many in the party feel that Paudel and Pokharel will not contest for the same post and Oli himself will stop them from contesting for the same post even if they decide to fight each other.
"What is the relevance of this question? Why ask this question? What I feel is it is not time yet to ask this question," he stated when asked if he will contest with Pokharel. "We are trying for consensus. But consensus is not a compulsory alternative. We will discuss the situation and which responsibility the leaders should take. We will move accordingly if there is consensus after discussion. We will answer this question in appropriate time. There is no need to hurry."
Oli is trying to elect office-bearers in consensus not just to further strengthen his hold in the party but also to accommodate those who ditched the Khanal-Nepal faction and opted to remain in UML, and the Maoist leaders who joined the party after the Supreme Court (SC) invalidated UML's unification with Maoist Center.
With most of their cadre-base joining the new party registered by Madhav Kumar Nepal, the 10 standing committee members of the erstwhile Khanal-Nepal faction who opted to remain in UML will be hugely handicapped if there were an election for office-bearers while the former Maoist leaders will virtually have no cadres in the party to win election.
"The friends who should come should not be left behind even through competition. No friends should be left behind even in consensus. The friends who should come will come either way," Paudel opined. "There is no pre-existing faction in UML now. One may remember past background as a context. But we all will form a powerful communist party standing together. We will not show prejudice or preference for anyone on the basis of past background."
He also brushed off candidacy of Vice-chairman Bhim Rawal for party chair saying Rawal will reconsider his nomination. "He has expressed wish for candidacy through the media. I feel he will reconsider his proposal by the time we reach the point for filing nomination and will contribute in a way that KP Sharma Oli is unanimously handed over the responsibility of party chair. He will move forward taking appropriate responsibility himself. I don't feel he will maintain this candidacy until the final hour."