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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 Nepal.

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 Stiftung.

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 in Nepal.

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, he said.


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 compromises.

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 thwarted that.
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 task.

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 such monopoly.

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 issues,
-- organization of civil societies and entry into the political life
-- democratic mass membership parties that serve as a channel for participation

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 mandatory.

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 charismatic leader.
--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 decisionmaking.

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 not contradictory.

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 "them-and-us".

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 be advanced?

Lal Babu Yadav: During the parliamentary system, some Madhesi MPs obstructed parliamentary proceedings. They have even defied their party leadership's whips on some issues.

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 developments?

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 deficit?

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 bad practices.

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 were good.

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 assembly.

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 the nation.

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, first.

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 towards extremism.

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 to democracy.

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.

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