Nepal’s two largest communist parties were preparing to celebrate Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s birthday on 22 April like never before in Kathmandu this year.
UML and Maoists wanted to announce the birth of their unified party by organising a symbolic ceremony for unification. But Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s insecurity about his own political future has made unification uncertain again.
Dahal says UML-Maoists will unite before mid May, but political analysts are skeptical. They say Dahal will not agree to unification unless he gets what he wants: UML Chair KP Oli’s promise to handover the PM’s chair and/or the unified party’s leadership.
Political analyst Puranjan Acharya says: “Dahal can sacrifice his political ideology but not his political future for this unification.”
In 2016, Oli had refused to hand over the PM’s chair to Dahal, prompting the Maoists to team up with the NC to topple the UML government. Dahal is afraid that Oli might betray him again, so he wants to lead the unified party.
This is why Dahal is pushing for half the seats in the unified party. He might even compromise on 40% seats, which will give him enough strength to checkmate Oli, if needed. However, in addition to 40%, Dahal also wants Oli’s promise to support him when the unified party’s first General Convention takes place.
The UML has a well-organised structure, and its cadres do not like to see a Maoist as party Chair. Without Oli’s support, Dahal cannot be elected even as General Secretary of the unified party, let alone President. But Oli’s growing closeness with his internal arch-rival Madhav Nepal has made Dahal even more insecure.
Just like Dahal, Oli is also desperate for unification. Unless the Maoists unite with the UML, Oli will always have a sword hanging over him. As in 2016, the Maoists can forge a coalition with the NC-Madhesi to oust Oli. It is difficult this time, given how big UML has become after last year’s elections. But it is not impossible.
However, Acharya says: “If Oli gives in to Dahal, he will be unpopular within the UML. So, he wants unification, but on his own terms.”
Political analyst Nilamber Acharya is hopeful that Oli and Dahal will be able to reconcile: “They do not have the luxury to part their ways,” he says. “If they do, it will derail the newly-found political stability.”