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Report of Inner- Party Democracy as a Means of Conflict Resolution

Inner-Party Democracy as a Means for Conflict Resolution in Nepal by Dev Raj Dahal

Organised by Nepal Study Center (NSC)

27-28 July, Nagarkot


Day I: 11 Shrawan(27 July 2011)

The two-day seminar on "Inner-Party Democracy as a Means of Conflict Resolution" was held in Nagarkot on 27th and 28th of July 2011, the participants of which chiefly consisted of youth leaders from various political parties such as Nepali Congress, CPN UML, UCPN (Maoist) and ideologues. The seminar began with a brief inaugural session in which the participants were welcomed on behalf of the organizer Center for Nepal Studies (CNS) and the supporter FES, and the participants introduced themselves.

In the same session, Head of FES, Nepal Mr. Devraj Dahal delivered keynote speech which can be summed as follows: On question of inner party democratization, cosmetics reforms such as multi-post system will not bring substantial difference; therefore, what is necessary is to acquire democratic habits and culture. Nepalese political practices can be broadly put into the following categories: i) life politics which is the concern of poor and marginalized; ii) issue politics in which critical masses are engaged with certain social and national issues; iii) identity politics in which ethnic groups are engaged in distributional struggle for the negotiation of a new social contract, power, resources and recognition of their mini identities; iv) power politics engaged in by professional politicians; v) politics of attack by armed groups and militant wings of various parties; vi) politics of negation for power monopoly by dominant groups ; vii) politics of agitation launched by subsidiary identities for redistribution of power and resources; and viii) democratic politics.

Intra and inter-party conflict resolution in Nepal requires cooperation in three areas: ideological adjustment; interest-based compromise; and transformation of mini identity into meta-identity of citizenship. The enhancement of capacity of party for conflict resolution should entails institutionalization of conflict resolution wing; restoration of sense of social, gender and inter-generational justice; interaction with genuine civil society; regular civic education of party members; and broadening the social base of party democracy.

In this two-day seminar, two papers were presented, commented and intensively discussed by leaders of various parties.

Paper I: Inner-Party Democracy in the Forthcoming Constitution

This session was chaired by Ramesh Lekhak of Nepali Congress, and Lawyer Tikaram Bhattarai presented paper on which Minister for Environment Sunil Manandhar, CPN-UML leader Raghuji Panta, UCPN (Maoist) leader Ram Karki, NC leader Sovakar Parajuli, UCPN (Maoist) leader Hemanta Prakash Oli commented and participants from the floor aired their critical thoughts.

Paper Presented by Tikaram Bhattarai: There are some elements and provisions of inner-party democracy which are essential and crucial for a truly democratic party. These include democratic method of election of leaders, responsibility of elected to the electors, transparent system of recruitment, participation of party members in ideology formulation, transparency of decision making process, disciplining the party leaders and members, recall of elected leaders or representatives etc. The same principle of constitutionalism which incorporates decentralization, limited government, due process of law, rule of law etc. applies to political parties as much as it applies to conduction and management of state affairs. Therefore, party sovereignty must rest on members as it rests on citizens in state case; party's power must be decentralized and separated as it is the case in democratic state; fundamental rights of members must be inviolable as they are guaranteed in democratic state and society. Both the state constitution and party constitution should shield against majoritarianist excess and protect minority.

COMMENTS: Minister Sunil Manandhar: Undoubtedly, democratization of political parties is imperative. But, in some sense, recommendation for democratization seems exported idea. However, it must be accepted that we have a strong culture of dialogue and deliberation which have been instrumental to solving many disputes and problems including the contemporary ones. Mutual perspective taking can moderate the stance and create common ground for conflict resolution. Informed dialogue is a must. Commentator Raghuji Panta: I do agree with the presenter's spirit. I, however, think that the provisions in party constitution alone do not guarantee democracy. The factions within a party must be legalized and capture the spirit of constitution. What is important in Nepal is constitutional behavior of leaders, cadres and voters. This requires training on civic culture of tolerance, balance and cooperation within and across party lines. Commentator Ram Karki: The presenter's idea lacks of ideology, on the one hand, and says ideological conflict as a problem, on the other. This seems contradictory. The paper seems confused on the idea of class representation in politics. Democracy is not a give-and-take affair but a fight for political space. Inner-party democracy is neither new issue nor a new phenomenon; it was intensively practiced in the Bolshevik Party. Transparency in decision-making is crucial. What matters most is the critical consciousness of citizens and civic competence to participate in public affairs. Sovakar Parajuli: The communist parties claim to be democratic in theory but are far from this principle in practice. Pluralism is important in modern democracy. Transparency must be practiced by all democratic political parties; everything except some few sensitive subjects must be completely transparent. Otherwise, citizens cannot have access on decisions affecting them. Hemanta Prakash Oli: It is not just the inner-party democracy but also the inner-party centralism that must be given importance; democracy alone creates anarchy, centralism synthesizes ideas and action. Decentralization is impossible without democracy. We do have a good tradition and practice of debate but lack well-crafted synthesis.

FLOOR: Shree Prasad Shah: Process is important in democracy because it is process that engages the people in every democratic cycle. The bad side of people's consciousness is that it may be a threat to democracy such as in Nepal. Keshav Devkota: This paper is heavily influenced by author's ideological conviction. Democracy and centralism should go hand in hand. Muma Ram Khanal (left leader): Transparency is the most crucial aspect. Gopal Thakur (CA Member): Content and process are equally important; we can not imagine democracy without democrats. Inner-party democracy has weakened as political parties have ignored identity politics. Identity is more important than ideology. Inclusion must be guaranteed in constitution of parties. Om Prasad Aryal: Revolution establishes certain value. We have achieved not only the value of liberal democracy but also of social democracy. Rabindra Adhikari: Process is basic to democracy. Within a political party, the winners have rights and losers have duties. Parties are suffer from ideological vacuum. Rajendra Maharjan: What matters most is formulation of ideology. Bishwa Prakash Sharma (youth Leader): Content and process are equally important. Party members become biased because of their affiliation to faction. Nanda Lal Banjade: Process and content are equally important. Process ensures ownership and content provides quality. Political parties should remove provision of age limit for membership and promotion. Transparency is a must. The permanent factions are detrimental to party. However, informal groups are necessary from management point of view. Ethnic reservation is wrong. Sabitra Bhushal: Women's participation should be guaranteed. Ganesh Man Pun: We need to look forward to fusion of science and culture. Ideological freedom must be guaranteed. Chhitiz Bhandari: The constitutions of political parties are democratic, but practices are autocratic. Nepotism and favoritism are threat to inner-party democracy. If parties are strong, democracy is strengthened. Jagannath Khatiwoda: We have been emphasizing the good side of inner-party democracy, but have failed to discuss its challenges and limitations. We suffer from feudalization of leadership. Thakur Gaire: The problem lies in inconsistency between principle and practice. Baijanath Chaudhari: We must ensure participation and ownership of all ethnic groups. Kamala Parajuli: It seems that 'form' has received more importance than 'content.' Gopal Siwakoti Chintan: What kind of democracy we are looking for? There is no single thing such as constitutionalism. There is no single democratic practice; democracy is varied. Transparency, election and decision making process are pillars of democracy.

RESPONSES: Devraj Dahal: We must strive for citizen identity rather than for ethnic or any other segregated one. Humanity is the highest identity. Raghuji Panta: Everything depends on capability of leadership. Sovakar Parajuli: Truth is relative. Tika Ram Bhattarai: Constitutionalism has concrete definition and elements. We should not label everything bourgeoisie.

SUM-UP by Chair Ramesh Lekhak: Process and content are equally important. The fundamental principles of democratic centralism are uniformity in action, subordination of lower to higher committee, which are important in themselves. The democratic process must ensure broader participation. The method of representation is crucial. Diversity and plurality must be guaranteed and protected. Inner-party democracy must be included in constitution. The democratic method facilitates cooperation among parties as well.

Day II: 12th Shrawan (28th of July)

Session Chaired by: Muma Ram Khanal
Paper Presented by Bijaya Poudyal: Normally, three types of organizational method are at work: command-based, presidential and parliamentarian. In democratic centralism, sovereignty of party rests on party members; lower committees are subordinate to higher committees, individual to committee and minority to majority; party members should be organized; democracy must be practiced while deciding and centralism while acting. Democratic centralism is widely criticized for being 'bureaucratic', for suppressing individual freedom and initiative, and for creating instability within the party as committee elect its chief or leader. No entity without center can be conceived.

COMMENTS: Ram Karki: This paper has an academic, not an activist approach. Organizational line is as important as political and ideological line. Party convention is life of party, therefore, must be done on regular basis. Negation or undermining of democracy gives rise to and consolidates bureaucracy in the party. Bishwa Prakash Sharma: All members are equal. The organization which endorses and practices 'instruction' or 'direction' paves way for dictatorship. Yogesh Bhattarai: Equality of all members in theory and practice must be guaranteed. Even non-communists, in practice, follow democratic centralism. The misuse of democratic centralism leads to bureaucratization. The Leninist principle of democratic centralism emphasizes 'subordination' which is absolutely irrelevant to democratic society. The elected should be responsible to the electors, which, in fact, is the central aspect of democracy. All party members should be involved in productive process.

FLOOR: Rabindra Adhikari: If party has 'democratic' in its name, it is claimed to be democratic however it functions. Majority has always democracy in party. Whether a party is democratic or not depends on how minority is behaved with. Sidelining of minority is the greatest weakness of democratic centralism. Pradeep Paudel: If the lower committee is free to elect its leader or representative, such practice is democracy rather than democratic centralism. Communist emphasizes supremacy of individual. Bhim Neupane: Problems are identified but no concrete proposal is laid down. Thakur Gaire: How can parties believing in peaceful transformation and armed struggle follow the same principle-democratic centralism? Tika Ram Bhattarai: The principle of subordination leads to bureaucracy. Rajendra Maharjan: Leninist principle is bureaucratic in itself. Ram Kumari Jhakri: Political culture is important. We need small committee in order to make discussion lively. 'Identity politics' provides opportunity to a few not to everyone. Rajendra Maharjan: The idea of nomination and responsibility of the elected to the electors are contradictory. RESPONSES: Ram Karki: Crisis of ideology constitutes the principal problem. Bijaya Paudyal: The method of organization is common to both kind of party-believing in peaceful transformation and believing in armed struggle. SUM-UP by Chair Muma Ram Khanal: Party is a synthesis of ideology and organization. End should determine means. Means should be appropriate. We need to unravel and categorize the contradictions with a party.

 
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