By S. Binodkumar Singh*
In a historic development, on May 17, 2018, two major national Left political parties – the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center) – at a joint meeting held at Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s residence in Baluwatar, Kathmandu announced their merger and the formation of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The NCP announced a nine-member Central Secretariat including two Co-chairs K.P. Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal; General Secretary Bishnu Poudel; Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha; three senior leaders, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam; and two members Ishwor Pokhrel and Ram Bahadur Thapa. The NCP will also have a 45-member Standing Committee and a 441-member Central Committee. The Standing Committee comprises 26 CPN-UML and 19 CPN-Maoist Centre members, while the Central Committee comprises 241 CPN-UML and 200 CPN-Maoist members.
Earlier, in a dramatic turn of events on October 3, 2017, the CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Center and Naya Shakti Party-Nepal (NSP-N) had formed an electoral alliance, the Left Alliance, to contest the Provincial and Parliamentary elections held in two phases on November 26, 2017, and December 7, 2017. The three parties had also formed the Party Unification Coordination Committee (PUCC) to make preparations for their unification and had also agreed to form an inter-party panel to draft the statute of the proposed unified party. However, on October 13, 2017, NSP-N, led by former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, quit the alliance over disputes regarding seat sharing in elections.
Meanwhile, on February 19, 2018, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre signed a seven-point agreement on the modalities of unification. The next day, on February 20, 2018, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center formed two task forces: one for the organization of the unified party, led by CPN-Maoist Centre leader Ram Bahadur Thapa; and another for the interim political report and interim statute, led by CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, to expedite unification in accordance with the seven-point agreement signed between the two parties. Each of the task forces included 10 members, with five representatives from each party. Ishwore Pokharel, Bishnu Paudel, Gokarna Bista, Bedu Ram Bhusal and Raghuveer Mahaseth from CPN-UML; and Ram Bahadur Thapa, Giri Raj Mani Pokharel, Barsha Man Pun, Matrika Yadav and Janardan Sharma from CPN-Maoist Center, were included in the task force for the organization of the unified party. Similarly, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Subash Chandra Nembang, Pradeep Gyawali and Raghuji Panta of CPN-UML; and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Dev Gurung, Shakti Basnet, Pampha Bhusal and Devendra Paudel of CPN-Maoist Center, were in the task force for the interim political report and interim statute.
The task forces were mandated to submit their reports to CPN-UML Chairman and Prime Minister K.P. Oli and CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal by March 9, 2018. As the two task forces failed to submit their reports, their deadline was extended until March 19, 2018. Finally, on April 3, 2018, the two task forces, during a meeting of PUCC held at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar, Kathmandu, submitted a report incorporating suggestions to merge the two parties by April 21, 2018. During the meeting, Oli expressing his commitment to party unification, declaring, “I don’t care about what others say. We will finalize the party unification.”
Compromises on both sides made quick unification possible. During the candidate-selection process for the Provincial and Parliamentary elections, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Center had settled on a 60:40 formula, with CPN-UML nominating 60 per cent of members in all contested seats and CPN-Maoist Center nominating its candidates for the rest. But, the elections produced a rather curious result. 70 per cent were of the successful candidates were from CPN-UML and only 30 per cent from CPN-Maoist Center. The skew created some disagreements over power sharing, particularly the unified party’s guiding principle, the internal organizational structure, and post-party unification arrangements for top leaders.
While the CPN-UML offered a 40 per cent stake to the CPN-Maoist Center in the unified party, CPN-Maoist Center was demanding equal status, including the proportion of Central Committee members. CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, while addressing his party’s student leaders at Kathmandu on March 26, 2018, asserted, “The unification will only happen if there is equal or 50/50 share of the two parties in party committee. If not, there won’t be unification. Our party wants a dignified status in the new party.” Further, on April 27, 2018, Dahal also asked CPN-UML Chairman Oli to choose between premiership and party leadership.
A surprisingly flexible approach subsequently adopted by the heads of both sides made swift unification possible. It was a kind of give and take among the party chiefs and a commitment to move ahead in accordance with the people’s expectations. Oli softened his position and agreed to offer an almost equal number of positions to the Maoists, and the newly formed party decided to adopt dual leadership. According to the agreement worked out among top leaders, both Oli and Dahal will head the party as Co-Chairs. Oli had also agreed in principal to rotate Government leadership. Oli will lead the Government for three years and Dahal for the remaining two years. Party insiders disclosed that CPN-UML Chairman Oli’s decision to provide 45 per cent of seats in the 441-member Central Committee of the new party convinced CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Dahal to merge the parties.
Separately, on the new party’s guiding principle, the CPN-Maoist Center had been demanding “People’s Democracy for the 21st Century”, while CPN-UML sought to continue with its existing “People’s Multi-Party Democracy” (PMPD) propounded by its charismatic leader Madan Bhandari. Eventually, for the sake of uniting the parties, Oli agreed to “People’s Democracy” as the guiding principle, with a commitment to working towards socialism.
Surprisingly, Nepali Congress (NC), the main opposition party in Parliament, did not respond on this occasion. Earlier, responding to the CPN-UML move to forge the Left Alliance for the Provincial and Parliamentary elections, NC President and the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba observed, on October 31, 2017, “The communist alliance is trying to undermine democracy. Democracy has given people all sorts of rights. But under communism people’s right to protest against injustice is usurped. There is not even right to cry in communism when there is injustice.” Similarly, NC senior leader Ram Chandra Paudel, while addressing an election rally at the Rainas Municipality in Lamjung District on November 20, 2017, stated, “Communists exercising in multi party system are trying to forge consensus to push the country toward anarchism, to stop the nation from being ruled by autocratic rules, the democratic forces should emerge victorious to safeguard democracy in the nation (sic).”
Significantly, on May 17, 2018, addressing a Press Conference organized at City Hall to make a formal announcement of party unification, NCP Chairman Dahal, stated, “The unification between CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre is like forming water by combining hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen cannot be separated once they turn into water.” Dahal termed the unification between the two communist forces as a ‘great step’. Similarly, Prime Minister Oli presiding over the first meeting of the NCP lawmakers at the Parliament Building in New Baneshwar, Kathmandu, on May 19, 2018, observed, “We want to project Nepal in 10 years from now as a heaven on earth crafted through the joint efforts of humans and nature. There would be a situation in which foreign tourists coming to Nepal would return home praising it.”
This historic unification has created a single political party in the country with a strong hold in Parliament and over Provincial Governments in six of the country’s seven Provinces. The newly formed NCP now has 174 members in the 275-member House of Representative (HoR), 42 members in the 59-member National Assembly (NA), and a majority in six of the seven Provincial Assemblies.
This move has created the nation’s first majority Government in 19 years. The coming together of the CPN-Maoist Centre, with its “ultra left” past, and the CPN-UML’s historically moderate stance, is a remarkable political development in a country where the communists had split dozens of times since their movement was launched 70 years ago. The unification of two communist parties as a very strong nationalist bloc will have decisive impact on the future of democracy and political stability in Nepal.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management