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Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML)

The modern Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) party is a centrist European social-democratic style political party, which openly supported constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. There were certainly factions within the CPN-UML who had some sympathy for a Maoist-style single-party state system. However, most of the philosophically hard-core communists (communism through armed revolution-types) abandoned the party at some point after Madan Bhandari's multiparty democracy position became ascendant at the Party's Fifth National Congress in 1993.

During the Fifth Congress, three main philosophical schools came to the fore. The first bloc (associated with party General Secretary Madan Bhandari), advocated a multiparty people's republic achieved through peaceful parliamentary revolution, and emphasized the supremacy of the constitution, a competitive party system and a mixed economy (including some compensated redistribution of land). This platform was overwhelmingly supported at the party's Fifth Congress in 1993. In other words, this bloc, which controlled the direction of the party (through such leaders as M.K. Nepal, Deputy Prime Minister Adhikari and Jhala Nath Khanal), was essentially a European social democratic-style party. Many in this bloc wanted to move the party further in the social-democrat direction, including the idea of abandoning the "communist" moniker.

The second philosophical school was strongly supported by C.P. Mainali and advocated a new people's republic arrived at through a violent revolution made by a united front of leftists and nationalists. Essentially, the revolution would come about when the time was ripe to overthrow the "bourgeois democracy." This bloc advocated a multiparty cooperative system, proportional representation, a state regulated economy with uncompensated land redistribution and, significantly, a ban on reactionary elements. (Mainali became a minority leader within the party after the 1993 Congress, and eventually split the ML from the CPN-UML in 1998. When the ML and CPN-UML rejoined in 2002, Mainali remained outside the party.)

The third philosophical school advocated a one-party state arrived at through armed revolution. A new constitution would be developed through a constituent assembly and other parties would be banned. The economy would be state controlled, land would be redistributed, and all trade and industry would be nationalized. When it became clear that Bhandari's platform was in the majority, the supporters of this fringe school abandoned CPN-UML. Many ultimately joined the CPN-Maoists.

In terms of its perspective on international relations, the CPN-UML party has evolved significantly from 1991. All of Nepal's political parties were critical of the 1950 Friendship Treaty with India, because in Nepal, criticizing India legitimizes the one criticizing. CPN-UML was especially critical of the Friendship Treaty before the 1994-95 CPN-UML-led government came into power. However, once in power, the CPN-UML government did not "cancel" the treaty, and since then the party has become even more moderate towards India. That same CPN-UML government opened the discussions with India on the Mahakali watershed; discussions that eventually led to the Mahakali Treaty (concluded by PM Koirala). The Mahakali Treaty was seen by most Nepalis as much more insulting and unfair than the 1950 Friendship Treaty. No legitimate party in Nepal would build a relationship with China or North Korea at the expense of India; no party would risk trying such a move even if they wanted to do so.

Although determining accurate political demographics in a country beset by a violent insurgency is at best difficult, CPN-UML appeared by 2004 to be Nepal's most popular party. CPN-UML itself claimed 73,220 organized members and 400,000 general members, but the basis of these figures is unclear. It is impossible to assess rural/urban or industrial/agricultural breakdowns for support for particular political parties. CPN-UML, like most Nepali political parties, has associated social and labor groups, such as the All Nepal National Free Students Union, All Nepal Peasant's Association, All Nepal Women's Association and the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions.

More telling perhaps, a 2004 national survey funded by NDI/USAID and carried out by Greenberg and Associates (in conjunction with a local polling firm) asked a series of political questions, and the responses generally indicated broad support for the CPN-UML. CPN-UML rated the best of the major parties, followed at second by the Nepali Congress Party (Koirala faction) when the statements, "Can Fix Nepal's Problems" and "Cares About People Like Me" were posited. In the same survey, CPN-UML's General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal was given the highest rating of the major political leaders in Nepal, and CPN-UML was given the best rating among the parties.

Common wisdom in Nepal indicated that the CPN-UML is the best-organized political party in the country, despite the corrosive impact of the insurgency on the ability of all of the political parties to organize. In most villages, it is impossible for political party activists to operate openly; thus, many are in hiding or have fled. Of Nepal's legitimate political parties, only CPN-UML activists had been able to exist openly in a few limited areas. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that these party cadres are not allowed to do much more than simply exist openly, but quietly. The CPN-UML joining the coalition government did not result in widespread slaughter by Maoists of the few openly operating rural party activists (as some had feared).

CPN-UML was traditionally a very centralized party, particularly when underground during the movement for democracy in the 1980's and 1990's. There was increasing competition among senior party members for control of key positions within the party and the addition of new cadres and activists to the central party organs (there were 43 Central Working Committee members in 2004) increased the competition for power within the party. According to the party's constitution, participants in a party congress/conference elect committee members, who in turn select the top leaders.

In regular party decision-making, General Secretary Nepal tended to lead the party by building consensus for decisions among the party cadre. However, there was little doubt that the party leadership would take a decision without general consent if they believed it critical for the party. For example, before joining the present four-party coalition (an extremely politically sensitive move for the CPN-UML), Nepal led a series of intra-party meetings to build support for abandoning the "anti-regression" protests.

It was commonly assumed that, because M.K. Nepal and his CPN-UML party were closest to the Maoists on the political spectrum of any of the legitimate political parties, relations with the Maoists and between Prachanda and M.K Nepal were cordial. In fact, CPN-UML members are probably the most pragmatic politicians in Nepal, in that they know should the Maoists come into power, they would be the first targets of any political purges.

The Maoists met with anyone they can IF they thought it was in their interest to do so; UML was not an exception. The Maoists wanted a one-party state, a situation that would provide no room for the existence of UML or any other political party. The two factions of the Nepali Congress Party (Nepali Congress and Nepali Congress-Democratic) were UML's main challengers. Should they reunite, it is unclear whether NC or UML would win a majority in a parliamentary election.





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