Cong factions play favourites as party selects candidates

  • Deuba flexing his muscles in ticket distribution
  • Poudel not happy, Sitaula camp in a tight spot
- KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI, Kathmandu

Oct 29, 2017-When the Nepali Congress (NC) made public constituencies for its top leaders for the federal elections on Thursday, Krishna Prasad Sitaula’s name was missing from the list. 

Sitaula, according to party leaders, was keen to contest the federal elections under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system from Jhapa-3. But his name was included under the proportional representation category. 

Senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel is also said to be unhappy with the way seats are being distributed under the FPTP category in the Congress party. 

Some NC leaders said party President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s dominance in ticket distribution is so high that leaders close to rival factions led by Sitaula and Poudel have been sidelined. 

It is believed when the NC comes up with the final list of FPTP candidates, the Poudel faction may not have 40 percent share, while the Sitaula group could see itself driven into a corner. 

In the past, the Congress party has followed a tradition of sharing seats in 60:40 ratio for the establishment side and the rival faction. 

The party has so far finalised constituencies for the top leaders for the second phase of elections scheduled for December 7, nominations for which have to be filed on Thursday.

The candidate selection has further cemented Deuba’s grip on the party organisation, according to some leaders who said Deuba himself is reaching out to senior leaders of rival camps. 

For instance, Deuba is directly dealing with General Secretary Shashank Koirala, senior leader Prakash Man Singh and Joint General Secretary Sita Devi Yadav who are known as the pillars of the Poudel faction. 

“This means rival factions are weak and they have not done sufficient homework to ensure candidacy for their leaders,” said a Congress leader requesting anonymity.  

Some leaders say the Parliamentary Board, the apex body of the Congress party mandated with selecting candidates, has become a charade, and top leaders close to Deuba are taking decisions unilaterally. 

Relations between Deuba and Sitaula soured after the party president barred the latter from contesting under the FPTP system from Jhapa-3.

In ticket distribution for the upcoming federal parliament and provincial assembly elections, the Sitaula camp has appeared weak after leaders close to him were not picked for the FPTP system. 

Party sources say Sitaula’s supporters Shiva Humagain, Taraman Gurung, Umakanta Chaudhary and Bhimsen Das Pradhan are unlikely to get tickets. According to some party insiders, Deuba is offering the post of party spokesperson to Gagan Thapa, an influential and youth leader of the Sitaula faction, only to weaken the Sitaula camp. 

Leaders close to Deuba, however, said that as the party has already assured that it would support the candidate of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a coalition partner, in Jhapa-3, Sitaula “should understand the situation”. 

“In each and every meeting, Sitaula has been asking the party president to ensure his candidacy, but no final decision has been taken yet,” said Gagan Thapa. 

RPP Chairman Kamal Thapa has reportedly conveyed his message to Deuba that Jhapa-3 is the only constituency where the RPP has chances of winning. To get the status of a national party, it is mandatory to win at least one seat under the FPTP system, and the RPP is banking on the NC for the same. “If Deuba fails to convince Kamal Thapa—or Kamal Thapa refuses to withdraw for that matter—Sitaula won’t be able to contest under the FPTP category,” said Gagan Thapa.

Sitaula, who closely worked with the late NC president Girija Prasad Koirala, formed his own faction in the party during the party’s 13th general convention held in 2016. After the convention, Sitaula is claiming share for his faction in party organisations and political appointments. 

As the NC has to counter a left alliance of the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) in the upcoming polls, rival factions in the Congress party are playing down their differences and stopping short of speaking openly about their grievances against the party president. 

Political analyst Puranjan Acharya, who closely follows NC’s political dynamics, agrees that Deuba is gaining ground and rival factions are losing

“But it is not going to be a big issue in the party this time,” he said. “Deuba has a strong organisational base across the country and he can offer multiple candidates in the Parliamentary Board meeting. In case of Poudel, he has limited number of leaders to push forward,” said Acharya. “If there is no consensus in the Parliamentary Board on a particular name, the Poudel faction cannot give alternatives. And this is an advantage to Deuba,” he added. 

The saga of faction feud in the Congress party’s does not end here. 

There are two other influential leaders--Bimalendra Nidhi and Khum Bahadur Khadka--and they are also making a pitch for ensuring candidacy for leaders of their choice. 

However, in most of the constituencies, Nidhi and Khadka have agreed on common candidates. “The final list of candidates shows Khadka’s influence candidate selection,” said Gagan Thapa. 

Khadka is a corruption convict and has served a jail term. 

Published: 29-10-2017 07:25

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