Seminar on Strengthening Political Parties
for the Advancement of Democracy in Nepal
Organized by Centre for Studies on Good
Governance and Democracy (CSDG)
19 July 2007
The Centre for Studies on Good Governance
and Democracy held a lecture on "Strengthening Political
Parties for the Advancement of Democracy in Nepal" on 19
July, 2007 in Kathmandu at a time when the country is mulling
ways to develop democracy into a sustainable system that caters
to the needs of a diverse people. It is also a time when a violent
insurgency is being brought to a close by a peace process that
is being monitored by the United Nations.
Prof. Thomas Meyer who chairs the Political
Science faculty in Dortmund University, Germany and who has
hands-on experience in dealing with systemic problems of political
parties in the German democracy through various capacities was
invited to deliver the lecture on strengthening democracy in
Prominent lawyers, journalists, university
teachers and political party workers were invited to join the
discussion that followed the lecture. The lecture was organized
by CSDG with cooperation from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party Chairman Pashupati Shumsher Rana
chaired the session.
The session began with Achyut Rajbhandari
introducing the lecturer to the audience and a brief introduction
of CSDG, which was entering the tenth year of its establishment
on the day of the event. This was followed by Daniel Reichart
giving an introduction of his organization, Friedrich Ebert
In his lecture, Prof. Meyer presented his
lengthy paper in 16 simple and brief points thus making it easy
for the audience to later pick up and make their deliberation.
The floor discussion was lively and carried out in a very interactive
manner where participants tried to find solutions to problems,
being faced by the politics in the country, in the professor's
ideas. The professor readily responded to the issues raised
during the discussion.
The main theme of his presentation was that
intra-party democracy is a must for democracy to be sustainable
as parties are the motors driving the system. Mechanisms must
be set up to make political parties participatory and transparent
and that the ideals around which these mechanisms are built
give the parties their identity. He also pointed out the need
for an independent civil society, free from partisan loyalties,
to keep the parties on track.
The discussion that followed saw participants
seeking ideas from the professor to solve the problems Nepalese
democracy is challenged with, including the social diversity
that Nepalese democracy is faced with, and ways to adapt democratic
values in the local context. Their comments tried to search
for gaps between Prof. Meyer's ideas and the ground-reality
The German scholar said that the paper was
written in a way as to accommodate the problems seen in Nepal
and also that it did not try to dictate terms to the Nepalese
democracy. He said that the form of democracy adopted must resonate
the values present in the local context. His thesis was that
people must be able to participate in decision making and that
the universal values like fundamental rights must be implemented
for democracy to foster. Other rights like, economic and social
rights must be enforced incrementally as the society progresses,
EXCERPT OF THE PROCEEDING
Achyut Rajbhandari's welcome address:
Dr. Myer is here to make a presentation. I hope you will actively
participate in the discussion.
I welcome both Daniel Reichart and
Prof. Thomas Meyer. My organization was established to provide
a platform for all political parties who wished to join it.
This centre is marking its 10th anniversary. Our focus was diverted
to the Maoist conflict resolution in the recent past. We were
working with various sections of the society, civil society,
political workers and others to come to a consensus on important
issues and we achieved that at a very crucial time, published
the relevant documents and made them available to the concerned.
In developing countries, we see that political
parties appear to be bent on power politics, rather than listening
and working to meet popular aspirations. They forget the people
as soon as they win their elections. I know that Dr. Meyer will
make a better presentation on the topic.
Daniel Reichart, South Asia desk officer,
FES-Germany: I want to give you a warm welcome here for the
lecture. Yesterday, Dr. Meyer discussed the importance of compromise
in a democracy. Your organization too can contribute in achieving
Even a small office like ours in Nepal can
make its contribution to the peace process in the country. I
want to tell you that we fully back Dev Raj Dahal's efforts
here in Nepal.
We will be publishing the book of Thomas Myer.
Most of you have worked with FES in the past.
It is an organization through which we promote social democracy.
We want to contribute to your democratic efforts.
Chairperson Pashupati Shumsher Rana:
CSDG is celebrating its 10th anniversary today. The CSDG and
Maoist conflict began at about the same time, but I am not suggesting
that the two are related.
Several political parties initially came together to begin an
institution which would bring together different ideas and different
parties to make democracy more strong, more firm. This became
the CSDG. CSDG has also worked on governance and other areas,
but the main work is related with strengthening democracy.
In the 10 years, democracy faced many challenges,
mainly the Maoist insurgency that challenged the roots of our
democracy. These ten years of democracy saw not only the challenge
posed by Maoists but also by the king. The popular movement
Today we see the continuation of Maoist activities and the Madhesi
problem. The challenge is to address all these problems and
make a system that is all inclusive. This is going to be a difficult
CSDG so far has included only four parties.
It needs to include other parties as well. We have initiated
the process to widen the ambit.
Most of the problems facing democracy today
started when Nepalese democracy was not well defined. Today
we see that the eight parties are trying to define democracy
as their monopoly. I as a Rastriya Prajatantra worker oppose
Prof. Meyer's presentation
I am not here to lecture you, but to exchange ideas. I have
come here many times and I have taken back home a lot of ideas
from here. I am a political scientist drawing ideas from the
discipline I am involved in. I am also involved in reforming
parties in Germany. This gives me both theoretical and practical
ideas. The third source for my ideas is my experience in Asia--India,
Japan and elsewhere. The presentation is different from the
paper that has been distributed, in the sense that I want to
discuss them pointwise.
Let me focus on 16 points.
1. Political parties are the motor, the principle
means to democratize a society. There are those who think NGOs
can take up the job and parties are not needed. This is an illusion
and not true.
2. Parties mediate as central actors. Hence,
parties should be internally democratic, first.
3. We should not adhere to the minimalist
concept of democracy where a small number of elites are given
a limited space and time in politics. People must have the power,
not only during the election, but in making decisions as well.
4. The rule of law in a democracy makes it
a liberal democracy. But libertarian democracy is the American
way of understanding things-accepting civic and political rights
and not socio-economic rights. Unbridled freedom of private
property and perhaps an absence of welfare state also is part
of libertarian democracy. The European way talks about five
basic rights where social rights like education, health and
social protection, economic rights like employment and even
cultural rights. There are two covenants about these universal
fundamental rights signed by 45 countries.
Civic and political
rights must be implemented immediately, but other rights can
be enforced when resources are available. This is the kind of
democracy understood by Europe today. This is also where participation
is talked about
5. For participatory democracy we need
--space, opportunities for free public discussion on public
-- organization of civil societies and entry into the political
-- democratic mass membership parties that serve as a channel
6. Political parties must make their presence
throughout the country.
7. Internal democracy within political parties
is needed in a democracy to make the society democratic.
8. Both political science theory and party-laws
in Europe say that parties are service units for democracy.
Parties have a vision, offer platforms for the society to give
choices for the electorates, they socialize voters and inform
them, and the fourth function is training of candidates and
professionalizing them. Finally, they create channels of openness
in a democratic system. This public service is why they are
financed by the public.
9. They have to be internally democratic and
that is the minimum pre-requisite. This is not an option but
10. There are three kinds of parties--elaborated
more in the paper.
--Parties organized around one leader, who thinks that party
workers are cronies. There are many such parties led by one
--The second kind is one that has dignitaries from various walks
of life coming together in the party. This is what many countries
in Europe had until the 19th century. These elites are followed
by other people.
--The third type is democratic mass-membership parties. Here,
democratic platforms are provided for formulating policies and
Democracy and strong leadership are not necessarily
contradictory. Willy Brandt was able to counter that idea.
The minimal conditions that German party-law
provides is that open unobstructed discussion of politics and
policies of the party is allowed, candidates must be allowed
to fight for party leadership, regular conventions are held,
and intra-party arbitral jurisdiction maintained by independent
arbitral courts. This is the backbone of European democracy.
The courts are accountable only to the larger party conventions
and can expel workers from the party.
Minimum conditions are needed in laws to make
parties democratic. This, as we understand, is protection against
totalitarianism in our countries.
13. Intra-party democracy and discipline are
14. To transform into democratic parties,
basic policy platforms must be made available for all the rank
and file. The process should be characterized by mass participation.
Experts should be included. But the final point is that mass
participation is a must.
15. These platforms give parties their identity.
In Europe, creating platforms take about two years and are huge
opportunities for the parties to interact with the society to
help the party bind itself together. This also prevents blind
loyalism, also called clientelism.
16. Independent civil society.
Conclusion: To bring about democratic culture
is not a 100 per cent successful effort, but the direction towards
that end must be made in any case. A good law helps that to
a large extent.
Gopal Pokhrel: In Europe, all what
you said may be applicable, but in countries like Nepal, conditions
are fragile. Political culture is not mature, feudalism still
rampant and leadership much clientelistic, literacy low, corruption
widespread, inclusion confined to theory, with status quoist
and revivalists conspiring all the while. Do you have ideas
about making improvements in Nepal?
Om Gurung: You did not discuss the
plurality of the society as a backdrop to the kind of democracy
one should have. Nepal is a plural society whose plurality of
problems has not been resolved by democracy. We are trying to
make it more democratic at present. I did not see social plurality
being discussed in your 16 points.
Raman Raj Mishra: We are not concerned
about what should be, but what can be done in Nepal. The condition
has been created by the political parties themselves where democracy
can be challenged in Nepal. Hence, we have to deal with the
capacity of parties to prevent anti-democratic forces from emerging.
How do we do that?
Also parties are self-centred-a mindset of
Can parties in Nepal be called political parties
if a few people gather to form one, or should the masses themselves
come together to form one?
We have parties that emerge and retain their
position within their country. Also, there are parties dependent
on external forces even for their survival. We are currently
talking about American and European concepts of democracy. Are
we guinea pigs to be tested?
Finally, how do people who are not democratic
be allowed to function as parties? Should they be banned, like
communist parties? We have this dilemma in Nepal which is neither
like Europe nor the US.
What about financial viability of parties?
Reply by Prof. Meyer
Theories look into conditions for democracy
to be sustainable. I know situations are different in Europe
and here. But even in Europe, non-democratic parties were there
until recently. In Germany, even in its recent history, anti-democratic
parties dominated society.
You do not need to copy anyone. But everyone
agrees that things need to improve.
Regarding accommodating plurality in society,
let me tell you that in Europe, democracy was not there for
the first 1800 years. When plurality was allowed a voice, democracy
began to emerge. Democracy is the best system for accommodating
plurality. Democracy should be of the liberal type-to give each
individual basic rights and participation- and should also be
a social democracy-where different groups are given a fair share
in resources of the society. There should a distinction between
individual identity and political competition for pluralism
to be accommodated
The values and interests of a democracy must resonate the values
and interests of the society.
Regarding parties dependent on outside forces,
I do not know what you mean. German communist party was taking
orders from the Comintran, an outside organization.
Regarding Nepal, and whether it should choose
between US and European systems, both are liberal democracies.
In the US social and economic rights are not enshrined in the
constitution, but in Europe they are. In the US, in the 30s,
social democracy was pursued. President Johnson reversed it
again. In Europe, you see more social democracy in some countries
while less in others.
In our country, parties working against the
foundations of democracy can be banned. It happened two times,
in 1952, a party that revived fascism was banned, in 1956 the
communist party was banned. But 20 years later, they brought
the communist party back to the surface, as they were more active
when they went underground.
The primary source of the party finance is
that it charges one euro from each party member during voting.
The state also funds according to the membership of the parties.
They should not be too dependent on private money.
Mir Kumar Thakur: We had parties banned
for three decades. They have not been in power long enough to
devote time for development. Even today, we see party leaders
wanting to stay in power forever.
Also, we have splittism plaguing parties because
of individual grievances. In Germany, you have a system of arbitration.
Please tell us about the history of arbitration.
Mahananda Thakur: As far as I know,
we have two ideologies, democratic socialism and absolute communism.
Can we have a system without ideology?
Why does violence or rebellion take place,
in any part of the world, not just Nepal? In the absence of
honesty and character in national leadership, can democracy
Lal Babu Yadav: During the parliamentary
system, some Madhesi MPs obstructed parliamentary proceedings.
They have even defied their party leadership's whips on some
You talk of participatory democracy but in
Nepal, 70 per cent of party central committees are occupied
by particular caste, the Bahuns. The remaining 30 per cent is
left for all the other communities.
Madan Manandhar: There was hue and
cry about a cobbler being nominated to the Dalit Commission
saying that the candidate was not even a graduate. Such is the
state of inclusiveness.
Political parties see civil society organizations
as a competition in Nepal.
What suggestion can you give us to change
the mindset of political parties, based on your Asian experience?.
Chou en lai Shrestha: How are memberships
distributed in Germany and how do you collect financial resources?
Gajendra Sharma: Can we determine,
or can there be, a limit to the carrying capacity of a political
organization to be able to sustain democracy?
Democracy transcends from country to country.
Please elaborate trans-border practices of democracy.
Hiramani Ghimire: How do you see the
future of democracy in countries like ours, given the world
There is a democracy deficit in political
parties. We also see external assistance to help Nepalese politics.
Do you see the need for external actors to fill the democratic
Gehendra Malla: You talk of mass-based
parties focussed on fulfilling people's aspiration. In Nepal,
we have decided that we must have federal rule. But parties
have not come out with plans to do so for the public discussion
to take place.
Ram Hari Joshi: Our leaders are good
agitators, but not good administrators. We have high-sounding
ideologies, but the behaviour of politicians are diametrically
opposite to what they preach, resulting in corruption and other
We have feudalistic leaders from the upper class and illiterate
people in the villages who just vote and then go to sleep. Elections
are just a game of money and muscle.
Don't you think politicians should be mere
mediocre persons but guided by intelligent people in the villages?
In other words, a reverse of what we have today.
It was the mismanagement during the past 15
years that brought the Maoists to the fore. Did the Nazi party
come to power because of weak social democrats? Do you find
similarities in Nepal today?
Surendra Pandey: How do the arbitral
courts function? How do they make their decision? Are they party
embers or from outside? You talk of three kinds of parties?
Please translate them in terms of the Nepalese case.
Prof. Meyer's reply
Most of what I said is based on an analysis
of what I have seen here. Hence, the comments from the floor
Regarding independent arbitral courts, the
German party-law requires them at each level-local, district
and federal levels. They are elected at party conventions and
they are accountable to the convention. If a person wants to
complain about the decisions of these courts, they file cases
at the ordinary courts. Not many decisions are taken by the
courts, but people still act in a disciplined manner, aware
of the presence of these courts.
Regarding participation, we used to have under-representation
of women. And, following a strong women's movement, about 20
years ago, we decided that 40 per cent of women had to be accommodated
at each level of the party structure. Initially, there was concern
about not enough women to fill those posts, but not today. They
are a natural phenomenon.
About good governance and civil society, we
know that studies have shown that active civil society has resulted
in better governance. They do have an apolitical role that the
parties might find them to be very useful.
Civil society organizations can be educators,
even if the parties do not like it. If the parties are wise,
they will want to be educated and criticized.
When problems arise because of the behaviour
of political parties, extremist groups may emerge to take people
away from the parties. This should be an eye opener for parties.
If you do not learn the lesson from such a crisis, you go deeper
into the problem.
In Europe, we have a different set of problems. We have a generous
welfare state that has to be adapted to the new and globalized
context. The parties vouching for a welfare state have had to
devise coping strategies. Some parties have been successful
in adaptation while others have not been so.
Regarding the Third Way, Clinton said that
he needed to change the views to win the election in 1992- leave
the ideology intact but change the image.
Germany too was considered semi-feudal. But
during the Weimar republic theinherent contradictions forced
it to change. Political culture is two-pronged- social culture
and interpretative political culture, something what opinion
makers and media are saying. In between these two lies the dynamism
of the system.
Madam Shakuntala Kadirgamar: I am from
IDEA and we have been working with CSDG from the beginning.
Germany too is a member of IDEA.
In the beginning, we saw the need for political
parties to come to a consensus on sustaining democracy. CSDG
has been vouching for inclusion, and we have not seen much of
that happening Due to such a lacuna, we saw extra-parliamentary
forces capturing power.
I have taken part in discussions being organized
by different groups here in the past few days. I saw that participants
have quite a different view of the constituent assembly which
is being put together in Nepal. The political parties must take
this opportunity to explain it to them. We would like to help
in this aspect.
We also see that the rural areas are still
ignored in terms of giving people education on the constituent
Bhim Rawal: How do we analyze the history
of political parties along with the economic status of the nation?
We see that parties have played a role in discarding the Rana
oligarchy. In the absence of a large number of industrial workers
and a literate population, the king was able to ban political
parties in 1960. In 1990 the parties could dismantle the Panchayat
autocracy. But again, the economic situation did not allow the
parties to handle the development needs properly as they were
not in power for long.
We see different violent groups coming up
today to take up the space left by the poor economic state of
We also have the geopolitical dimension, an
open border open to manipulation from the other country.
Parsuram Khapung: Nepal is being ruled
by the eight-party alliance. This is against democratic values
and norms. The law and order situation has gone up in smoke,
because of this eight-party autocracy. Please give the eight
parties your recommendations.
Gajendra Sharma: My question has not
been answered. I was talking about democracies in different
countries. I do not like comparing the whole of Europe, consisting
of a cluster of states, with tiny Nepal.
Also, regarding the WTO regime we see tussles
between the US and Europe.
When we talk of American democracy, are we
actually talking of a democracy?
Gehendra Malla: Today, the eight parties
have been ruling and they were mandated by the popular movement
of last year. The eight parties are deciding on every issue
before the elections and trying to render the CA as only a means
to endorse their ideas.
Bhim Rawal: I think, at the moment,
the parties are bent on trying to resolve the issues about how
to hold the elections, more than anything else.
Anil Jha: The neighbors should not
be blamed for everything. Please solve the Madhesi problem,
Gopal Pokhrel: I think this forum is
represented by four of the parties. The presentation by Meyer
is useful for intra-party reforms. Do you think the universal
values you talked of are applicable to all kinds of democracy,
no matter what context?
Prof. Meyer's reply
The discussion was only a deliberation among
yourself. If you want to, I think you could make use of my presentation
this way. not as a normative kind of thing, but based on an
empirical analysis. And, the empirical system of analysis has
not developed enough in many new democracies:
You need to have a strategic workshop to find
out the objective for the next ten years. Once you do that,
then look at what I said and see how you can apply my ideas
to move towards those objectives in the ten years.
I do not have any advice for you. But regarding
the kind of democracy that one should have, it should cater
for the basic rights immediately and then pressurize the government
for socio-economic or cultural rights.
I am not an advisor to the eight-party government,
but if I could, I would tell them to build a practical constituency
and then deliver. If they do not deliver, the masses will move
Pashupati Rana: Thank you Prof. Meyer
for the insightful presentation.
I would like to take up issues raised by Ramhariji and Bhimji.
It is true that there were three struggles for democracy in
the past seventy years, one against my family and the second
against the Panchayat and the third against the king. All these
show that people are in favour of democracy. This means that
no matter how backward the nation, our people are committed
This proves that we are successful in dismantling
dictatorship but once we get democracy, our capacity to discharge
the responsibility of delivering democracy is poor. This point
is valid even today. If we continue, the subterfuge of the Weimar
republic is already there. The storm troopers have been replaced
by the YCL. We have to resolve our problems very swiftly; otherwise,
the constituent assembly election is at stake here.
Achyut Rajbhandari's vote of thanks.