Is Gagan Thapa becoming the Nepal PM after the elections?

File: Gagan Thapa
File: Gagan Thapa

Speaking at an event held in Kathmandu on November 8, the general secretary of Nepali Congress, Gagan Thapa said apart from his party, no other party would have an election to decide who the leader of the parliamentary party becomes.

He was trying to imply that unless he gets reelected as a lawmaker, his party would also not have an election for the leader of the parliamentary party, and it would once again put Sher Bahadur Deuba as the front-runner to become the prime minister of the country. He knows no one, except him, is going to dare to challenge Deuba.

And, he is right too. If you look at the major political parties, there surely will not be an election to elect the parliamentary party leader. No one is going to challenge KP Sharma Oli or Pushpa Kamal Dahal if their respective parties get a chance to lead the government after the elections. These parties are even campaigning, stating their chairpersons will become the next prime minister if they win.

But, in the Nepali Congress, there are some people who want Gagan Thapa to become the prime minister. But for that, he has to challenge Sher Bahadur Deuba, the most apparent prime ministerial candidate from the party, in the parliamentary elections. But, is it possible for him to defeat Deuba and claim the PM’s hot seat?

But, before that, Thapa needs to win Kathmandu 4 and beat the UML’s Rajan Bhattarai in the elections to be held Sunday. That is why he is calling on the people to vote for him.

Will he fight against Deuba?

File: Gagan Thapa speaks in a House of Representatives meeting
File: Gagan Thapa speaks in a House of Representatives meeting

Gagan Thapa is one of the very few persons in the Nepali Congress who can challenge Deuba. Apart from Thapa, Shekhar Koirala is the only leader in Nepali Congress who can go toe to toe against Deuba. But since Thapa and Koirala are from the same faction, it is unlikely that Koirala will also give his name to be the parliamentary leader.

As Thapa wants to reform the party and the country, he cannot run away from the competition in the field, he says. Hence, he believes that being elected a lawmaker and competing in the parliamentary party are the first and second steps. Thapa also believes that competing for the leadership of the party to become the prime minister is the last step that can lead the country to change.

The 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress has changed party dynamics. Thapa does not have a majority within the party and with most of Deuba’s former opponents in the party, including Ram Chandra Paudel, now on Deuba’s side, Gagan Thapa has his hands full.

Even if Paudel wins a parliamentary seat, people within the party say he will not oppose Deuba to become the parliamentary leader. In order to compete, there is also an obligation to have the support of a faction within the party. Paudel will never get support from the Koirala camp due to him already being close to Deuba. But, looking at things, it is clear Paudel does not want to be the parliamentary leader despite expressing his wish to become the prime minister. The same case applies to Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi and Shashanka Koirala, who were opposing Deuba before the general convention.

Hence, Gagan Thapa insists that most of the leaders mentioned above do not have the courage to compete against Deuba for the leader of the parliamentary party.

“Anyone who’s won the election has the right to become the leader of the parliamentary party. But no one from our party has shown the courage,” says Thapa.

Will Shekhar Koirala and Bishwa Prakash Sharma support him?

L-R: Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Gagan Thapa
L-R: Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Gagan Thapa

If Gagan Thapa is elected, he has to get Shekhar Koirala to his side. As of now, Koirala has not announced that he will contest as the leader of the parliamentary party. But, if he does, Thapa will be in a tight spot.

“I see him (Shekhar) competing with Deuba to become parliamentary leader,” says Purunjan Acharya, a political analyst close to Shekhar Koirala.

But, both the Congress general secretaries–Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma–are on the same page regarding competition in the parliamentary party. Sharma is openly trying to make Thapa the leader of the parliamentary party. The two have constantly spoken highly of each other during the campaigning with Sharma even saying he would love it if Thapa could be the prime minister of the country.

“Even though he’s younger than me, I believe he is the right person to lead the country. He’s shown his leadership skills during his time as a lawmaker and a minister,” Sharma said speaking at an event in Jhapa.

Even though Sharma has been singing Thapa’s praises, this might change after the elections, say leaders of the Nepali Congress.

Is Koirala’s and Sharma’s support enough?

Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala
Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala

Only 26 people from the Shekhar Koirala’s camp have got tickets for the House of Representatives elections. It is not known how many people apart from this camp will support Gagan Thapa in his quest of becoming the parliamentary party leader.

But, some leaders say that since Thapa is the future of the party along with Sharma, there are chances he might win.

“Leaders no longer see Deuba as the be-all and end-all. Times have changed,” a leader says.

Gagan Thapa’s camp believes it can pull votes from Krishna Sitaula’s camp as leaders like Pradip Paudel, from Sitaula’s camp, have been talking about Thapa.

According to the charter of the Nepali Congress, the leader of the parliamentary party will be the prime ministerial candidate.

To become the leader of the parliamentary party, a lawmaker has to win 50 per cent of the votes from the total members of the House of Representatives from that party. If there are more than two contestants and no candidate gets 50% of the votes, there will be a second-round voting between the two candidates who get the most votes in the first round.

What plans does he have?

Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
File: Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers

Gagan Thapa’s work and statements over the past few years have shown how he has paved the way to get ready for the post of prime minister. He has been working with a team of 60 experts and studying different fields.

The team has studied what sector of the government needs policy and structural reforms. It is also studying what improvements and development should be done immediately or can be done in five years.

“If someone forms a government without planning, it will fail. Like a person can easily reach the base of a mountain but if the person doesn’t have a plan on how to climb, they will fail at the first hurdle,” says Pratap Paudel, a member of Gagan Thapa’s team. “People are happy to form a government but when it comes to working, we’ve not seen much.”

But, Thapa believes he has a plan for the country and adds the experts he is working with are coming up with a clear blueprint for the solution. He claims that the country will be governed based on the report prepared by the expert team.

Thapa has been aggressively campaigning to become the parliamentary party leader and then the prime minister. His team has even started a Facebook campaign called Mission PM, in which people are giving reasons why Thapa should be the next prime minister, what his project government is and what voters can expect from him.

But, before that, Gagan Thapa has to win the lawmakership from his constituency, Kathmandu 4.

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Dumre is an Onlinekhabar journalist covering politics.

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