The sudden death of former prime minister Sushil Koirala last week has sparked a tussle for the top post in the Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest political party.
The Nepali Congress is busy with its organisational polls and the 78-year-old, who took charge as party president in 2010, was expected to run for the top post one more time.
After Koirala’s death due to pneumonia-related respiratory failure on February 9, the party briefly halted polls in districts. But now the struggle to carry forward the leader’s legacy has resumed.
Broadly, there are two factions within the Nepali Congress – the so-called establishment faction that Koirala used to lead, and a rival group headed by former premier Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Party vice president Ram Chandra Poudel, now the acting president, made clear his intention of fighting for the top post even when Koirala was alive.
Though he doesn’t enjoy complete support within the establishment faction, Poudel is of the view he should be given the responsibility of heading the party.
But general secretaries Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Prakash Man Singh are planning to vie for the president’s post.
Koirala’s niece, former deputy prime minister Sujata Koirala, is also launching a bid to keep the family at the helm, and former minister Ram Saran Mahant is considering throwing his hat into the ring.
Efforts are also underway to put up a single candidate for the post from the establishment side in order to prevent the Deuba faction from benefiting due to votes getting divided.
The emergence of new faces for leadership in the establishment side has come as good news for Deuba and his associates, who were expecting a tough fight for the top seat when Koirala was alive.
“Our faction is already doing very well in the district polls and we are confident that Deuba would be the next president of the party,” said a senior leader close to Deuba.
Though the Nepali Congress is the biggest party in parliament, it is not part of the ruling coalition headed by KP Sharma Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.
There has been speculation that once the Nepali Congress’ general convention is over, a national government will be formed to help implement the new constitution, and the main opposition party will be part of it.
This could mean that the Nepali Congress’ new president will get a chance to head the government, and the emergence of aspirants in the run up to the convention next month isn’t surprising.
Informal talks are being held between the two Nepali Congress factions to reach a compromise whereby one leader could lead the party and another could head the government.
Apart from Deuba and Poudel, there are no other clear candidates for the president’s chair. A clearer picture will emerge in the coming days, based on how much support each of the other aspirants can generate.