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High Level Dialogue on Intra-Party Conflict Management

Seminar organized by Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCaR)

18 December 2012

By Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

Intra-party conflict is a common phenomenon in the Nepalese politics. In most occasions, it is personality clash rather than serious ideological differences that cause the split in the parties. It is not that ideological factor is not there. What is truth is that personality clash is often veiled with ideological struggle. The vested personal interest is garbed with party principle. The absence of vibrant internal democracy is another important factor behind the unhealthy intra-party dispute. Undemocratic behavior and feudal mindset often create fissures in the Nepalese political parties and hamper in their smooth functioning. The struggle to grab post, power and resources among the leaders triggers long-running quarrel. Nepotism and favoritism are other two rampant elements spoiling unity and mutual collaboration among the top brass. Therefore, promotion of internal democracy, democratic culture, system of check and balance, fairness and periodic election are necessary to keep party united and dynamic.

With the objective of diagnosing the causes of intra-party conflict and finding their solution, the Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCaR) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) jointly held one-day seminar 'High Level Dialogue on Intra-party Conflict Management for Conflict Resolution' in Kathmandu on December 18. Youth leaders from the major parties participated in the programme. They voiced for restoring basic values and norms in the parties so that they will be able to amicably resolve their intra-party crisis. Youth leaders from Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist presented their separate working papers.

First session

The first session was chaired by NC leader Chandra Bhandari. Another youth NC leader NP Saud presented his working paper entitled 'Conflict Within the Parties and Consolidation of Loktantra'. Political analyst Jhalak Subedi and UML youth leader Yogesh Bhattarai commented Saud's paper. C D Bhatta, programme officer at the FES, made his opening speech.

Value-based politics eroding: Bhatta

Addressing the first session, Bhatta said that the Nepalese political parties were born in course of fighting against autocratic regimes and served as the drivers of modernity.

However, following the popular movement of 1990, the political parties failed to deliver on their promises and value-based politics continued to erode, causing intra-party conflicts virtually in all parties.

"The rise in the social movements and identity politics also created multiple crises and rendered consensus building task difficult. There is shift from demo to ethno. It is only through civic education that the crisis triggered by identity politics could be solved," said Bhatta.

He further noted that when the parties become weak, the dominant interest groups infiltrated into the parties to hijack the people's agenda.

Further dwelling upon the state of the political parties, he said that they lacked fatherly figure, who could unite and command the party. Noting that the goal of all parties was to create a welfare state, he said that there was significant communication gap between the parties and the people.

Holding a critical tone towards intellectuals, Bhatta said that instead of facilitating for broader consensus and providing with insightful inputs to the parties, they only vie for posts of benefits.

He expressed reservation to the growing negative trend against the political parties and their leaders. "We should recommend positive sides of the political parties."

"In order to strengthen democracy and resolve conflict, there is the need of inter and intra-party dialogue," he said.

Saud stresses institutional development of parties

In his working paper, NC leader Saud said that the Nepalese parties were established largely as a result of national and international political developments, not based on domestic socio-economic necessities.

"Instead of institutional development of lower committees, the parties have extended its structure from top to bottom by creating various mythical personalities. As a result, they are revolving around leaders' personality rather than ideology," he said.

In the personality dominated parties, the top leaders negate alternative arrangement for leadership transfer and the management of the organization. "This has been possible owing to the joint support of traditional and opportunistic forces. It leads to the intra-party struggle as the alternative leadership claims their stake."

Saud noted that most of the parties reflected personality clash among their leaders and they suffered from repeated divisions in the absence of process and mechanism for the alternative leadership transfer.

Saud mentions following reasons behind the intra-party conflict in the Nepalese political parties:

1. Fight for leadership and personality clash.
2. Struggle for opportunity and control over resources.
3. Conflict for ethnic and regional identity.
4. Existence of diverse and distinct identities of different parties following their unification.
5. Ideological division and deviation.
6. Influences of national and international power centres.

Saud emphasized that the parties could not build their institutional character, develop capacity for the implementation of its principle and ability for the intra-party conflict management, and expand the public base until they develop democratic system within themselves. He offers following suggestions for the party improvement:

  • Adoption of independent and transparent election system,
  • The operation of the parties based on committee system,
  • Fixing the time limit for the continuity of the leadership,
  • Effective role of thought groups in the parties,
  • The selection of leadership on the basis of programme, policy and credible conduct,
  • Special programme for the access to the target voters' group.

Saud admitted that there was challenge for the institutional development of the parties if one glanced into their history of birth, division, disintegration. "Nepal's democracy is standing at the precarious mode. If we fail to develop proper system for the resolution of intra and inter-party conflict, the ongoing fluidity puts democracy at risk."

He called for developing the self-dependent of the parties in order to get rid them of powerful persons, groups and power centres. "First, we must shun feudal mindset and promote democratic conduct for the institutional development of the parties."

In order to end inter and intra-part conflict and existing political impasse, he suggested for writing constitution by holding the new CA election at the earliest.

Commenting Saud's paper, Subedi appreciated it as well prepared document, elucidating the causes of intra-party conflict in the Nepalese political parties. He said that the mainstream parties, namely NC and UML, needed to reaffirm their ideology in the changed context. "BP Koirala formulated his principle of democratic socialism in the colonial context and it is difficult to be applicable in the country, which was not colonized by foreign powers. Likewise, Mao's 'New Democracy' could not be implemented here for the similar reason."

Subedi was of the view that the country should have such a political system which all parties could own up and would be a win-win for all.

Dwelling on the current impasse, he argued that the NC and UML could not accept the new ideology that came in the Nepalese politics with the rise of the Maoist insurgency.

"In the world, the opposition groups do not stake their claim to the government before the election but this happened here. This is owing to the lack of self-confidence in them," he added.

He noted that the Nepalese had sought a middle class democracy and there is the need of its management.

He dubbed the national economy as the reflection of 'absurd capitalism'.

"The second generation leaders of major parties should not move ahead unless they redefine ideology their parties have been carrying," he said.

Another commentator Yogesh Bhattarai said that the main parties have suffered from similar problems when it comes to the handling of their organizations. He criticized the authoritarian nature of the leadership that follows Leninist 'democracy centralism' to run the organization.

"Leninist theory was formulated during war time and it could not be applied in the time of peace," he said.

Stating that the Nepalese parties came into existence with the evolution of capitalism, he said that they engineered revolution but in other places the parties came into existence following revolution.

He called on the leaders to keep abreast of development happening in the social media like Facebook. "There is wide gap in the perception between the leaders and the Facebook users."

Stressing that the party members should be engaged in production, labour and legal activities, he demanded that the parties carry out debate in a transparent manner. "It should not be like an underground organization run by a don."

He admitted that new generation had little attraction towards the political parties. "It is only transparent behaviour of the parties that the young people could switch to them."

He warned that if the factionalisms were created on the basis of monetary deals, no one could prevent such parties from debacle.

Bhattarai said that there was not sufficient debate on building the socialist party. "I think all have equal role in the construction of socialist party that also brings an end to all kinds of discriminations."

From the Floor

Shyam Bansent said that there had been too much politics. It was high time the politics should be linked with development.

Nirmal Bishowkarma noted that the Nepalese parties failed to address the social diversities and problems. Their agenda keep mum on the social discriminations that are rampant in the Nepali society. Keshav Pandey said that all parties had whole timers. He said that youth leaders, who were elected to the party posts with the promise of promoting young leadership, had failed to seek their role in the party and are only supporting the 'older' leaders. The parties lack internal democracy and suffer from factionalism, he said. Sarita Prasai said that the youth leaders should bring change in the parties and offer vision to the party leadership but they are not playing their role in the parties. Nothing can be achieved by passing buck to each other. It is easy to be minister or prime minister but it is difficult to be a real leader. Ajay Das said that the youth leaders should not only point out problem, they should be able to provide solution also. Another participant said that the parties could not focus on the economic agenda. The cadres are helping to form many factions in the parties "Factionalism and pessimism have grown as the leaders fail to evaluate the party cadres."

From the chair, Chandra Bhandari shared his experiences he gathered when he visited different parts of the country. He said that the parties became unable to teach Nepali history and identity to the Nepalese. "In course of political orientation programme, I had gone to a Muslim settlement in Birgunj and I asked the locals to name their leader. I was stunned hearing their answer. They said their leader is Rahul Gandhi."

Bhandari made following points:

  • We could not address the people's needs.
  • Many student leaders are involved in shutting down the colleges and universities after receiving commission from outside.
  • Many leaders lost their prestige while vying for post, power and sex.
  • The value based politics declined.
  • I have been projected as anti-Indian leader and my statement made in the party CC meeting is reported to the Indian embassy.
  • Political parties look like clubs.
  • The country plunges into crisis due to the lack of good leaders.

Second Session

Former student leader and Nepalese ambassador to China Tanka Karki chaired the second session. UCPN-Maoist politburo member Giriraj Mani Pokharel presented his working paper 'The effects of inter and intra-party conflict on Loktantra' and political analyst Mumaram Khanal commented his paper.

Put emphasize on proletariat democracy: Pokharel

In his working paper, Pokharel said that the term 'democracy' had been wrongly understood in Nepal. It is merely taken as Westminster style democracy. "It is wrong. There are other models of democracy. Much debate has been needed to brainstorm 'proletariat democracy'."

He noted that the political parties were born out of the social and historical necessities, and they represented class interests and served as a means for knowledge processing.

Stating that intra-party conflict is both friendly and hostile, and the hostile conflict led to party division, he said that the division in the big parties negatively affected the political system and the future of country and the people. "The parties split as they fail to manage conflict scientifically."

Offering insight on the split in the UCPN-Maoist party, he said that there lay difference in tactical line after the Chunwang meeting adopted loktantrik republic.

It is wrong to label any type of intra-party conflict as the two-line conflict, he said, adding that the two-line conflict emerged when there were basic differences in ideology, culture and working style.

"UCPN-Maoist split as it could not rightly implement democratic centralism. Its failure to develop system in the party, its over centralized leadership, the play and interference of foreign power centres also contributed the party's division,' he said.

On the inter-party conflict, Pokharel remarked that the UCPN-M did not only dissolve its parallel government, it also handed over its army and arms to the government for peace and constitution but the NC and UML were not ready to write the constitution aimed at ending of all type of discriminations relating to class, caste, region and gender. "The NC and UML did not wholeheartedly accept the 12-point agreement. They supported it out compulsion and reactive politics."

"Now the parties that signed the 12-point understanding should come together; forge collaboration; commit to the agreements made in the last four years and agree to seek opinion from the people on the contentious matters," he added.

Commenting his paper, political analyst Mumaram Khanal made following remarks:

  • The parties lack institutional life,
  • Juniors are promoted to the upper rung of the party leadership from back door
  • For the consolidation of loktantra, the parties should be democratized,
  • For NC, loktantra is merely to participate in the election,
  • The communist leaders are only talking about proletariat but are not working sincerely to the welfare of the downtrodden people,
  • The ongoing transition seems to be never ending because the parties are preoccupied with power-centric politics,
  • The conflict between Prachanda and Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai is like a quarrel between late PB Koirala and Matrika Koirala,
  • The intra-party conflict arises due to the organizational and ideological ambiguities, and it turns intense when the party is converted into a bureaucratic entity,
  • The problem also surfaced when the cadres are not mobilized for productive works.

Comment from the floor

Narendra Khadka said that intra-party conflict was indispensable and it needed to be managed constructively. He argued that one-party two-system could keep the party united. Stating that the feudal mindset is still active in the parties, he said the intra-party conflict could not be resolved by merely holding periodic election. He noted that the intra-party conflict should be based on agenda, not around its personalities. Shiva Ram Yadav said that UCPN-M put emphasis on centralism during the conflict but party chairman is advocating it even after coming to the peace process. Tekraj Poudel said that the public was disenchanted with the politics as there was vast difference between the words and actions of the leaders. Could we lessen people's hatred towards the politicians? Is the current loktantrik republic the final political system for the UCPN-M? Kripasur Sherpa said that the parties were the means, not the end. Some ethnic leaders are clamouring for single ethnic identity with the intention of grabbing power.

Pokharel's response: Our final goal is socialism. We should move ahead by institutionalizing the current political system. Federalism will unify the country. There should be a healthy debate on federalism. It is not only about ethnicity. It should be linked with ethnicity, class, regionalism and nationality. The thought group in the party needs to be regulated and it mustn't be allowed to act freely.

Chair's remarks: From the chair, Tanka Karki said that the Nepalese political parties were formed based on feudal/social grounds and now the feudal base has crumbled down. They should mould themselves in the changed context. The parties are themselves dynamic system and require check and balance. The basis of almost all parties is middle class. The elites have access to the social structure, therefore they are affecting the state mechanisms. There has been big gap between the commitment and its translation into action. All parties' leaders are imitating the bourgeois and royal life style.

Third session

UML secretary Shankar Pokharel presented his working paper 'Democratization of the party for conflict management' in the third session of the seminar chaired by CPN-M leader Suresh Ale Magar. Rajan Bhattarai commented Pokharel's paper.

'Strengthen ideological foundation'

Pokharel said that the Nepalese exhibited strange psychological behaviour. "They often react in extreme, which poses problem to democracy."

He noted that the parties could not instill idealistic feeling in the cadres. As a result, ideology became weak, and opportunism dominant," he said.

He said that the parties and their leaderships, who had gathered special experiences about political movements, had been unable to institutionalize the achievements. This has caused massive frustration in the public following the April movement. The UML leaders also blamed the ruling UCPN-M's totalitarian attitude for the deepening deadlock in the country.

Pokharel noted that the mainstream parties had problem to define new changes. "They could not move on the basis of their old principles on the very plank they were born. Neither could they redefine the path they are walking down at the moment."

About his own party, Pokharel said, "The UML is bearing correct ideology but it has become weak and the leadership is unable to explain this situation."

The UCPN-M adopted collective leadership and forsook the general secretary system but its leadership became more authoritarian. There has been tendency to hobnob with the external elements to become strong within the party. Pokharel claimed that the CA was dissolved owing to the dispute between the UCPN-M chairman Prachanda and its then vice-chairman Mohan Baidhya Kiran

The parties become strong when its ideological foundation is strengthened, organizational structure is democratized, feudal mindset eschewed and democratic culture is promoted. In order to ensure greater democracy in the party, the party must practice direct loktantra, which in turn ensures the access of the youth to the rung of the leadership. Giving an example of China where the politicians do not remain in the leadership after 65 years old, he said, "We should also develop similar system that bars the leaders to be in executive post after certain age. The leaders become autocratic when the provisions of check and balance are heaped on them." The parties should form independent and powerful commissions such as of disciplinary, accounting and election to balance the leadership.

According to him, the old organizational system stopped to work and the new system was not in place. This has created anarchy in the party. In order to manage their internal life, the parties need to change its structure accordingly. He put forth following suggestions for the democratization of the parties:

1. Focus on the party ideology,
2. Develop the democratic organizational structure,
3. Promote democratic culture,
4. Hold the periodic convention,
5. Follow collective leadership system,
6. Ensure effective provisions of check and balance,
7. Restore of cadres' sovereignty in the party,
8. Ensure the economic transparency.

UML youth leader Rajan Bhattarai made following comments on the paper:

  • The Nepalese leaders showed mettle to spearhead successful political movements but failed to manage transition and conclude it successfully,
  • We have not yet able to embrace changes occurring in science and technology that are useful for the operation of the parties,
  • Is Leninist system for the party organization still relevant now?
  • There is problem to manage the ambition of the leaders as they move to the upper rung of the leadership.
  • How to manage ex-figures (ex-PMs, ministers, politburo members and central committee members) is another challenge. In order to maintain their social status, they do not hesitate to earn money illegally,
  • The problems of the party workers and whole timers could not be solved until they are linked to production and labour,
  • The income source of the parties must be transparent and donation should be legalized,
  • Like in advanced nation, the government should provide financial support to the parties on the basis of votes they garner in the election.

From the floor

Prajwol Chapagai said that the winners in the party often ignore the losers and vise-versa. It is indeed a challenge to manage party on the basis of social, economic, cultural and psychological point of views, he said, adding that the parties should be managed in democratic manner and they must maintain economic transparency. Indra Adhikari said that the Nepalese parties lack democratic culture. The paper presenters should suggest ideas for the solution of the problem rather amplifying problems. Monarchy has gone but feudal mindset still persists, she noted. Keshav Pandey said that there is tendency among the cadres to climb the power ladder by playing sycophancy instead of using meritocracy. Political instability has also contributed for the growth of intra-party conflict. Shyam Basnet noted that there is enough of politics. Time has come to focus on development issues.

From the chair, Suresh Ale Magar said that loktantra bears class interest and value: For whom it is. We are talking about relative democracy. Intra-party disputes occur due to the ideological reasons. The people's multiparty democracy is not new idea. Neither is it Marxist ideology. It has abandoned basic tenets of Marxism. The UCPN-Maoist split owing to ideological differences, not for post and power.

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