The sudden demise of its president Sushil Koirala early on Tuesdsay has put the Nepali Congress, the Himalayan nation’s oldest political party, at the crossroads.
At the time of his death, the biggest party in Nepal’s parliament was going through its organisational polls from the grassroots level to elect a new president during its general convention in March.
Sushil Koirala was the fourth person from the Koirala family, considered the first family of Nepali politics, to have headed the party and governments in the past 70 years.
Except for stints by Subarna Shamsher Rana and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, the Koiralas – brothers Bisheshwar Prasad, Matrika Prasad and Girija Prasad and their cousin Sushil – have been at the helm of the party since its inception in 1946.
With his demise, Nepal’s oldest party will be without a Koirala in control after two decades. Electing a new leader and charting its future course won’t be easy for the party.
Koirala was seeking re-election to the top party post at the time of his death. With him out of the fray, the battle for the leadership will be fought between senior leaders Sher Bahadur Debua and Ram Chandra Poudel.
His niece and Girija Prasad’s daughter, former deputy prime minister Sujata Koirala, has expressed a desire to vie for the party’s chief’s post but she isn’t considered a serious contender.
“Our party was responsible for promulgating the constitution under Koirala’s leadership. Now it is for us to take the role of ensuring that it’s implemented in letter and spirit,” said Poudel.
Koirala had unsuccessfully contested for the prime minister’s post soon after the new constitution was adopted last September. But he failed to muster enough support and lost to Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist chairman KP Sharma Oli.
There is speculation that the Nepali Congress could join the Oli’s government soon after its general convention ends in order to help implement the new constitution.
During his tenure as party chief, Koirala always tried to keep all factions united. The coming days will show if internal differences prevent the Nepali Congress from returning to the centre stage of politics.
(Views expressed are personal)