On the surface of it there is nothing wrong in the exercise. Instead, it should have done all the good to a vibrant political party. Election for the top position does only strengthen the democratic culture and consolidates the party's institutional roots.
But what is being witnessed in the Nepal Communist Party-United Marxist Leninist (UML) is anything but a healthy democratic exercise. Mud-slinging, allegations of vote-buying, (mis)using the government resources by a faction represented in the incumbent coalition, factionalism sans ideological positions have marred the contest for the new leadership of the UML at its ninth general convention. Worse, there were personal insinuations. One camp took a dig at the frail health of a contestant while the other dug another's the bowing-to-the-king past out.
As the general convention kicked off, the build up to the election for the coveted post of UML Chairman did predictably become heated. But few did expect the contest between the two aspirants to get that ugly. In the fray are former general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal and the senior leader K.P. Oli. One had been prime minister before, the other deputy prime minister.
Both the Madhav Kumar Nepal and the K.P.Oli camps have been at their best, rather worst, in trying to outwit each other. While the incumbent chairman Jhalnath Khanal has remained non-committal the rival candidates have claimed to have received his backing.
The struggle between the two camps has reflected even in the selection of the leaders of different groups who will be presenting the respective group's report to the plenum. Having failed to agree on a name, the group leaders were also decided through elections -- something unusual in a party. Such was the division and the mutual mistrust.
The two camps shared honours in the elections. Out of the total 19 group leaders "elected", nine of them represented the Oli camp whereas nine group leaders are said to be close to the Nepal faction. Only one group leader is believed to be neutral. But both sides are claiming to have prevailed over each other.
In the din of dirty contest for the leadership the issues of larger national importance got lost. Although the report of the outgoing chairman Jhalnath Khanal has been passed unanimously there was no unanimity in the manner the leadership contest was to be held. Attempts at forging a consensus failed, but the Nepal camp has claimed a victory as Ghanashyam Bhusal, who was the key architect of chairman's report passed by the general convention, belonged to it.
Irrespective of who gets the baton to lead the UML for the next five years, the future journey of the country's second largest party will be far from smooth. At the end of the ninth general convention the leaders and the workers may hail the "unity" of the party.
They may vow to bury their differences to take the party forward in a united way. But such exercises will perhaps end up nothing more than a ritual. The deep division that the present general convention has sowed especially over the election of the successor to Jhalnath Khanal is less likely to be bridged in the near future, if at all. That certainly will not bode well for the national politics either at a time when the country is bracing for a new constitution for durable peace, stability and progress.