KATHMANDU, Jan 2: Several UML leaders have expressed their interests to become the next head of the state even as a section of the party leadership is in mood to give continuity to the current president, Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Granted that the left coalition remains intact, UML, which won near majority in the recently held parliamentary and provincial polls, is confirmed to get the post of president. The post of vice president is expected to go to CPN (Maoist Center).
Sensing an opportunity for a dignified departure from politics, at least four senior UML leaders on verge of retirement are openly lobbying to become the third president of the country.
Besides Bhandari, other key aspirants for the top constitutional post include Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Subash Chandra Nembang. Nepal and Khanal, who have already served as the party chief and prime minister respectively, are said to be especially keen to take the presidency as it would give them a graceful exit from competitive politics.
While senior leaders are taking the presidency as an opportunity for graceful exit, others who are eyeing to climb leadership ladder in the party consider presidency as a chance to manage the top-heavy party.
Though a constitutional post, the post of president is one of the most coveted positions after the prime minister.
UML leadership appears divided over whether to continue President Bhandari or replace her with a new face. UML Chair Oli is said to be in mood to give continuity to Bhandari, while many others including his close aides have stood in favor of giving chance to other leaders.
Sources said leaders including Ishwar Pokharel and Bishnu Paudel have urged Oli to choose between Nepal and Khanal for presidency arguing that the management of two leaders is crucial for smooth functioning of the party. They are of the view that delays in giving a dignified exit to Nepal and Khanal would widen the factional divisions in the party and could possibly put party establishment in a difficult position after the planned merger with CPN (Maoist Center).
Factionalism has long remained a big problem in the UML, which already looks like a top-heavy party with several factions headed by former chiefs and senior leaders.
"The management of top leaders is important especially for leaders like Pokharel and Paudel who are hoping to assume the party helm in the long run. That's why they are stressing the need for giving graceful exit to top leaders," said a politburo member.
After Gautam's prospect of becoming the party chair ended with his defeat in the parliamentary elections, Gautam has also expressed interests to become president. Since he has neither run the party or the government, Gautam, who is the second only to Oli in the party hierarchy, is said to be making strong pitch for his presidency.
"If that doesn't happen, he will claim party presidency as per an agreement reached with Oli before the latter was elected party chairman," said a leader close to Gautam.
Former speaker Nembang has been making equally big pitch for the post of president as his chance of leading the government or the party is slim. His past portfolios, knowledge of the constitution, clean image and Janajati background make him a strong contender for the top post.