KATHMANDU, March 8: After pushing through the chief ministers and speakers of his choice in the provincial governments, Prime Minister and UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli has succeeded in endorsing Bidya Devi Bhandari for a second term as president.
The UML on Tuesday unanimously picked Bhandari as the party’s nominee for president, through a meeting of the standing committee, the party said in a statement.
Notwithstanding the party’s official version, party leaders said Chairman Oli had pushed Bhandari’s name amid widespread resentment. At least nine in the 22- strong standing committee stood against the decision, arguing the need to give the chance to a new face. Some of them had openly backed party senior leader Jhalanath Khanal, who was forced to withdraw his claim to the top post after a majority of leaders took Oli’s side.
Addressing the standing committee members at the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Oli pitched for Bhandari as the party’s candidate for president and urged party leaders to support her.
Oli stated that it was in the larger interest of the party to allow Bhandari to serve as president for a full five-year term. This would help in managing the internal power dynamics in the party, he said. He also attached the re-election of Bhandari to the management of Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun in the Maoist Center. He further argued that re-electing the president would reduce the financial burden on the state.
The decision was supported by a majority of standing committee members. But some voiced their differences and questioned the rationale behind repeating the same face.
Ashta Laxmi Shakya, Yuvaraj Gywali, Ghanashyam Bhusal, Yogesh Bhattarai, Surendra Pandey, Bhim Acharya and Gokarna Bista had either openly supported Khanal or opposed giving Bhandari a second term.
Shakya even accused Bhandari of running a miniature party from the presidential palace. Shakya, who was a strong contender for chief minister of Province 3, has long blamed Bhandari for her loss in the internal race.
Bhusal, another standing committee member, registered a verbal note of dissent. Bhusal told Republica that he could not register his note of dissent as the meeting ended without drafting the minutes.
“We will lodge our note of dissent in the minutes, which will be drafted on Thursday,” said Bhusal.
Talking to Republica, Shakya also cited her objection to Bhandari’s nomination for president.
“I have already registered my difference over the party’s decision,” said Shakya.
Citing media reports, some leaders including Yogesh Bhattarai had also taken strong exception to Bhandari’s desire to return to politics. He stressed the need to take decisions through a democratic process.
The criticisms were too little and too late for stopping Oli from taking the decision. Oli acknowledged his mistake in not taking other leaders into consideration and pledged to correct those mistakes. He also agreed to hold a group meeting with President Bhandari to discuss her reported interference in party activities. But he was determined to endorse her name, according to leaders present at the meeting.
“All sides will be consulted henceforth before taking important decisions. But let’s agree on Bhandari’s name,” Oli insisted, according to leaders.
Other senior leaders, notably Madhav Nepal and Bamdev Gautam, ‘expressed silent support’ to Oli’s proposal, forcing Khanal to withdraw and back Oli’s proposal.
Sources said that Oli had made clear his intention to give continuity to Bhandari even before the standing committee meet and had taken most of the top leaders into confidence.
At a meeting held at Baluwatar Tuesday morning, all senior leaders except Khanal supported the proposal. Khanal was counting on the support of Madhav Nepal. But Nepal did a U-turn during the meeting. Other three senior leaders -- Bam Dev Gautam, Ishwar Pokharel and Subas Nembang -- silently upheld the proposal.
UML sources said Oli took senior leaders into confidence with a promise to accommodate them in the new party and in the power politics. Oli has been wooing Nepal, portraying him as second in command in the UML. He has also pledged to induct two MPs close to Guatam into the new cabinet. Nembang has been flaunted as the next presidential candidate from the party.
With Bhandari’s nomination, Oli has reinforced the fact that he has a full grip on the party. It has also shown how the other factions have weakened following the three tiers of elections.
“It’s not that factional politics has ended in UML. He (Oli) is handling the factional politics with a carrot and stick approach,” said one leader close to Oli.