Jhalanath Khanal’s elevation to the third position stirs up a seniority row in the party.
Madhav Kumar Nepal, a senior leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, has expressed dissatisfaction and said he felt humiliated at the leadership’s decision to promote Jhalanath Khanal as the party’s third-ranked leader.
Nepal, who has never been ranked fourth in his political career, expressed his dismay at the party’s decision soon after he arrived at Janakpur airport on Monday.
“Earlier it was Khanal, and this time it’s my turn to be humiliated,” he told reporters.
Nepal, who was third in the party order of precedence, after two Co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has now been relegated to fourth position in the party.
This sudden change in the ranking of the two leaders—both former prime ministers—does not bode well for the party, as proper procedures are not being followed, party insiders told the Post.
Khanal’s promotion, at Oli’s behest and backed by Dahal, comes days after the party appointed chiefs of 32 departments and promoted Bamdev Gautam to the post of vice-chairman, ignoring the party statute.
A section of party leaders believes that the recent moves are aimed at cornering Nepal, who enjoys significant clout in the party as a senior leader.
Oli and Nepal were arch-rivals in the former CPN-UML. Today, in the unified Nepal Communist Party, Oli, despite being head of government and party co-chair, continues to view Nepal with suspicion.
This wariness only grew after Dahal began to cultivate Nepal. Dahal had found himself devoid of responsibilities in the wake of Oli’s unilateral way of running both the party and the government, and had decided to work with Nepal in order to make some space for himself in the party.
But over the last few weeks, Oli, according to leaders, managed to pull off quite a coup by bringing most former UML leaders into his fold and convincing Dahal to sideline Nepal.
But what’s more concerning is, said Bishnu Rijal, a central member who has close relations with Nepal, is that the party is not following standard norms.
“For Nepal, it does not matter whether he is ranked third, fourth or ninth in the party hierarchy,” said Rijal. “What’s important is that we abide by the statute of our party [the UML].”
Nepal, who led the UML as general secretary for 15 years, had stepped down after the party’s defeat in the April 2008 Constituent Assembly elections, paving the way for Khanal to take over. The ninth UML general convention had elected Oli as chairman in July 2014—by that time the party had decided against the system of a general secretary leading the party.
But after the UML and the Maoist Centre merged last year, Oli and Dahal became co-chairs and Nepal was placed third. Khanal was abroad at that time.
During Sunday’s secretariat meeting, Nepal had expressed discontent, not because he was relegated to fourth place, but because Khanal was promoted by trampling on the party’s system.
As per the statute of the former UML, party’s immediate past chairman is ranked second after the chairman.
After Oli was elected chairman, with the support of Gautam’s faction, Khanal, by virtue of being the immediate past chairman, was ranked second, and Nepal, who had lost to Oli, was ranked third.
“After the merger, we [Khanal and I] were made senior leaders, but I was given the third rank without my consent. Things have changed now,” a leader quoted Nepal as saying at Sunday’s meeting.
The more the NCP is trying to settle all outstanding issues, the more things are getting complicated, said leaders.
According to Rijal, there are other leaders who might raise the hierarchy issue, as in the unified Nepal Communist Party, many senior leaders from the former UML have not been assigned senior positions, while junior ones have been promoted.
“Yubaraj Gyawali, Asta Laxmi Shakya and Bhim Rawal were elected vice-chairpersons of the UML. They are senior to existing secretariat members Ishwar Pokhrel and Bishnu Poudel,” said Rijal. “They should also be brought into the secretariat.”
Bhusal too was elected deputy general secretary of the then UML with more votes than Poudel, but the latter is now general secretary in the ruling party.
“All issues related to seniority must be addressed based on set procedures,” said Bhusal. “We’re trying to establish a proper system for the party but leaders are making decisions on whims. Unless we build a system and follow it in letter and spirit, existing problems won’t be resolved; we will only further complicate matters.”