UML accused of nepotism as it fields another political heir in by-polls

Himal Press 27 Mar 2024
UML accused of nepotism as it fields another political heir in by-polls (From left) Bidya Bhandari, Tirtha Gautam, Bidya Bhattarai and Suhang Nembang.

KATHMANDU: CPN-UML is known for selecting political heirs from within families. The party’s leadership has often been accused of sidelining capable and experienced leaders and cadres to promote political dynasties. The criticism has resurfaced after the party decided to field Suhang Nembang as its candidate in the upcoming by-election in Ilam-2, overlooking party workers who have dedicated years to the party.

Suhang is the son of the late Subas Chandra Nembang, who served as UML’s Vice Chairperson and as the party’s deputy leader in the House of Representatives. The Election Commission is holding a by-election in the Ilam-2 constituency on April 27. The seat became vacant with the veteran UML leader’s demise in September last year.

By selecting Subash’s son for the by-polls and disregarding long-serving party workers, the UML has left its Ilam District Committee disappointed. The 32-year-old Suhang has been handpicked by the party to contest the by-polls for the House of Representatives seat.

However, this practice of selecting political heirs from within families is not new for the UML. Bidya Bhandari, the wife of the late UML general secretary Madan Bhandari, is a notable example.

Madan Bhandari, who was elected to parliament from the Kathmandu-1 constituency in 1991, died in a road accident in Dasdhunga of Chitwan on May 16, 1993. The UML then fielded his widow, Bidya, in the subsequent by-election. The move was criticized by many as an attempt to garner sympathy votes by putting a widow in the electoral race.

Bidya emerged victorious in the by-election by defeating then Nepali Congress President Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Bidya gradually became active in politics and held various party positions and ministerial portfolios before being elected as Nepal’s first woman president.

Another widow fielded by the UML after her husband’s demise is Tirtha Gautam. Yadu Gautam, the then Secretary of UML’s Rukum District Committee, was murdered by Maoist rebels on March 5, 1999, ahead of the 1999 general elections in which he was contesting from Rukum-2 constituency. The Maoists had accused Yadu of spying against the party.

The UML then fielded Yadu’s wife Tirtha in the election, and she emerged victorious. Tirtha has remained active in politics since then and is currently a central committee member.

The UML also fielded Bidya Bhattarai, the wife of the late tourism minister Rabindra Bhattarai, in a by-election in Kaski-2 in 2019 after he died in a helicopter crash. Bhattarai was elected to the House of Representatives from Kaski-2 in 2017. She was elected to the House of Representatives again from the same constituency in the 2022 general election. She currently serves as a member of the Education, Health, and Information Technology Committee of the lower house.

Maya Gyawali, the wife of the late Jibaraj Ashrit, who died in the Dashdhunga accident along with Bhandari, was also brought into active politics by the UML. Ashrit was serving as the head of the Organizational Department of UML. Maya contested the National Assembly elections in 1997 and 2007 before being elected to parliament in 2017 through the proportional representation system.

Before entering parliamentary politics, Bidya Bhandari, Maya Gyawali, Tirtha Gautam, and Bidya Bhattarai were all active in the party’s activities, albeit in supporting roles. However, their identity as political leaders was established only after they joined parliamentary politics.

While the UML has been accused of favoring the widows and family members of late leaders over dedicated party workers to capitalize on sympathy votes, some like Bidya Bhandari and Bidya Bhattarai are considered competent in their own right. However, the party has undoubtedly given precedence to family succession at times.

Many who have contributed to UML politics in Ilam have not been given opportunities. Numerous capable cadres found themselves sidelined when Subash Nembang was active in politics. UML cadres in Ilam-2 are not satisfied with the decision to provide opportunity to Nembang’s family again. “The purpose of a candle is to light up by burning itself. We are all candles,” a UML district-level leader told Himal Press.

However, Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the UML’s publicity department, said there is no dispute over fielding Suhang in Ilam-2. “We finalized the name after consulting with party leaders. No one’s share has been taken away,” he said. “It is a tribute and respect to Nembang, and an opportunity for Suhang. Like others, Suhang too will have to make efforts to establish himself in politics.”

He also noted that the party has given opportunities to the families of martyrs like Goma Devkota and Bishweshwara Dahal, among others.

Published On: 27 Mar 2024


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