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Building Inner Party Democracy in Nepal

A national seminar organized by Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCaR)

24 December 2013, Kathmandu

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

The political parties are the agents of change either in democratic or autocratic regime. But, when they themselves suffer from the democratic-deficit within their own organizations, they lose their moral and political strength to democratize the society as a whole. Therefore, a robust inner-party democracy is a first prerequisite to bolster democratic system, rule of law and constitutionalism. Despite long and glowing tradition of struggle for freedom and equality, the Nepalese political parties sorely lack democratic culture at the inter- and intra-party level. This has stalled the democratization process and frustrated the masses that lend support to the parties in the time of political crisis and movements but are betrayed as the parties fight for grabbing power and fail to deliver on promises upon reaching power.

The discourse on the inner-democracy has got momentum as the country's fledgling democratic republican set-up is struggling to find its feet. The inner-party democracy has its direct bearings on the successful management of intra-party conflicts and writing the new constitution. The grooming of new leadership, developing leadership hand-over system, fixing the office term and managing the retiring leaders are important to effectively apply the values of internal democracy in the parties. Equally vital points are periodic election at all levels of organization and granting equal status and listening to and incorporating the divergent views of all functionaries in an inclusive fashion buttress the spirit of inner democracy from top to bottom organs of the parties. As the part of its broader initiatives to democratize the Nepalese parties, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) has been financially and intellectually supporting different organizations to launch debates on the issue involving politicians, party workers, experts and scholars from varied backgrounds. The Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCAR) joined hands with the FES to organize a seminar entitled 'Building Inner Party Democracy in Nepal' in Kathmandu in December, 2013. It drew the stakeholders from various sectors. They actively participated in the interactive seminar and called on the parties to demonstrate flexibility, wisdom and tolerance to consolidate internal democracy in their respective organizations.

Inaugural-cum-first session

The first session of the seminar featured both inaugural speech and the paper presentation. It was chaired by political scientist Lal Babu Yadav. CPN-UML leader Pradeep Gyawali presented his paper 'the Management of inter-party conflict and the consolidation of loktantra' . UML influential leader KP Sharma Oli was the chief speaker while FES, Nepal head Dev Raj Dahal and political analyst Purshotam Dahal put forth their opinions.

Factionalism damages communist movement: Oli

Speaking as a chief guest, CPN-UML leader K P Sharma Oli said that social and political movements were the results of the social needs and the people's aspirations.

Oli said that the parties came into existence to well manage the society and deliver justice to the people. They are guided by the advanced thoughts and ideology. However, some parties are formed in reaction to the social phenomena such as pro ethnic Madhesi groups.

Offering his candid views on the nature of communist parties, he said that they were established for the cause of proletariat but not a single representative of proletariat is included in the central committee of the communist parties. "Around 98 per cent of their members are non-communist. Only two per cent have understood communist ideology," he said.

There is also practice to grant the membership of the communist parties without fulfilling the required criteria. "Petit bourgeois character is dominant virtually in all left parties. Politics seems to be a game of rule. But, we want to build a party based on ideology."

Diversity and contradictions in the party are natural. There should be competition to attain noble goals. The political water of Nepal is not still clean. The floods continue to run. There is not proper grooming of leadership because the politics is based on equation. The tendency to promote leaders on the factional line hit inner party democracy.

"The politics of equation that a handful of leaders resorted to within the party since the establishment of Communist Party of Nepal has scuttled the leadership development. The founding general secretary of CPN Pushpa Lal was the victim of this tendency. "Those believing in conspiracy were always up in arms to sideline Pushpa Lal."

"Now, it is idea, not ideology that has taken precedence. The political parties should prove their mettle in the management of diverse social interests. The intra-party conflicts need to be resolved within the broader interests of the people and the nation," said Oli.

The influential UML leader said that the recent Constituent Assembly (CA) election had rejected the politics of ethnicity and gave a thumping victory to the mainstream parties that run on the basis of ideology.

Critical education for transformation missing

FES, head Dev Raj Dahal said that political parties represent different factional parts, not whole. "Yet, in Nepal, they have penetrated every aspect of public lives. They are keys to serve input function of democracy and engage with multiple layers of society in political education, recruitment of cadres, mediation between citizens and top leadership, grievance collection and procession, political communication, leadership supply and conflict resolution."

Dahal noted that the political parties are supposed to translate citizens' grievances and demands into issues for necessary political action. But, the Nepalese political parties, mainly grown out of mixture of social and political movements, leaders' personal ego, party splits and fragmentation of parliamentary parties, are struggling to expand their political constituencies through the use of social cleavages and even generating contradictions in a binary code of friend and enemy rather than formulating realistic vision, policies and program for this post-conflict nation.

The dramatic decline of ideology and policy differences among the Nepalese political parties forced the leaders to seek new areas and means to mobilize memberships and enter into deep sub-structures of society with the instrumental politics of differences and media-mediated image. This decline has decreased the level of volunteerism and solidarity linkages and increased the network politics and financial cost of participation in the political activities. "The core aspect of Nepal's conflicts is their non-linear solution either in favour of class, caste, gender, ethnicity or territoriality.

"This tendency has escalated toxic mistrust among leaders within and across the party lines making conflict resolution within democratic framework problematic. Whether the party system in Nepal can function as a conduit for conflict resolution at intra and inter party levels largely rests on the ability, skill and performance capacity of their leaders and their ability to discipline the bureaucratic and technocratic consultation so that political power does not shift to global financial capitalism."

Analysing the class character of the Nepalese political parties, Dahal said: "The needs of Nepalese parties are, however, dissimilar. Non-communist parties such as NC, RPPs, and Madhes-based ones are increasingly becoming personality-oriented, less ideological and seeking a compromise between parties for power-sharing without knowing hidden dynamics within them and contradictions with social classes generated by electoral promises and performances thereafter. They need more socialization away from neo-liberal temptation. New parties need moderation, toleration, context-sensitivity and democratization.

"The UCPN-Maoist has formulated unity-struggle-transformation similar to that of CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist though their tones and tendencies differ. The critical education, economic, organization and leadership resources to sustain this transformation, however, are missing. The Madhesi parties and Maoists are facing the propensity for factionalism and individualization of leadership. The road to freedom of expression exercised within Nepalese parties is good for articulation of differences but embattled leaders have not been able to steer it under rule of law.

Ego-inflation has generated the possibility of conflict at leadership level than healing this post-conflict society and exposed the leaders to quarrel over defining consensus over geopolitical, public interest, power equation and broader societal terms, he said and added that in order to promote inner democracy, the social base of politics must be bolstered and party structures at all levels must be democratized and made effective in performing key political functions.

Political analyst Purshotam Dahal said that internal democracy was the key to solving the intra-party conflict. Multiparty democracy is the basis for all parties. However, it is a challenge to settle the conflict between those, who stand for democracy and those, who are against it. The beauty of democracy is that it embraces the voices of opponents. The political events have shown that it is not only ideology but also the factors such as region and ethnicity on the basis of which the parties are formed, said Dahal. The parties have not been set up on the basis of class. However, the role of the parties has been shrunk and changed in the new context. The role of media is ambivalent- they are both trouble-makers and trouble-shooters.

CeLCAR chairman Hikmat Karki said that the interactions on inner democracy had positive impacts on the political parties.

The gist of Gyawali's paper:

Consumerism/ utilitarianism threatens parties

The political parties play a vital role in the modern representative democracy. Despite their limitation or imperfection, no any institute can give an alternative to them. To generate awareness among the people, take their problems to the state and build an environment in their favour, put pressure on the government for the solution of the problems of different social groups and consolidate loktantra as a whole, the parties play their decisive role. The parties' character, the principle of structure and activities largely determine as to which class or community they serve for. The political parties are class-based. Therefore, non-class or all-class parties cannot be imagined. However, the parties have to claim that they work for as many as classes in the society.

The political parties were born in the course of capitalist-democratic revolutions against feudalism. For a long time, they acted as messengers of social-political awareness, propagators new consciousness, crusaders of movements and mangers of the state following the movements/revolution. However, with the onslaught of modernization and globalization, dominance of economic powers, increased role of media and non-state/non-government organizations and increasing individualism in the society have put a question mark to the traditional role of the political parties. Coming under the whim of so-called postmodernism, the trend of destroying 'centre', denying every truth and saying that there are many truths or they depend on the consumers or audience held sway. These have deconstructed the established values and nourished non-ideology, and increased influences of consumerism/ utilitarianism have posed a challenge to the role of the parties.

The political parties have been formed on the basis of class but the Nepalese political parties were born on the basis of ideology, not on the real social and economic grounds. There are basically three factors leading to the internal feuds - dispute on policy or ideology; structural/systemic problems and personal/factional interests. The ideological or policy level disputes in any live party are natural phenomenon but ideology or policy formulated in a specific period cannot be applicable to all times because the society is dynamic.

The democratization of the parties was a prerequisite to the democratization of the society. Following measures are necessary to this end:

* Guaranteeing the equal status to all party members in the statute,
* Ensuring the decisive role of all members in the formulation of policies and leadership selection,
* Developing collective leadership, healthy ideological debate and critical consciousness,
* Holding periodic election and maintaining accountability,
* Managing the sources and incomes of party transparently,
* Developing planned leadership grooming system and devising legal and scientific provisions for the leadership transfer and
* Creating a mechanism to listen to the people's criticisms, complaints and suggestions.

Comments from the floor: Nain Singh Mahar said that Loktantra should encompass the interests of all classes. If the propounders of political ideologies themselves implemented their visions, there would have not been much controversy. The NC and UML leaders seem to be recalcitrant to hand over the leaderships to their successors. They should realise that there are other leaders waiting for to take on the mantle. Another participant posed a question: Is a political party an interest group? How much does a party work as interest group and how much does it not? The parties should mobilise the people for the social, economic and cultural transformations. Democracy is a bottom-up approach. Rudra Bahadur Khadka said that the Nepalese communists followed class politics but they are now coming closer to the NC. Ranju Thakur said that it was owing to the inorganic intellectuals, who create rifts within the parties. Only organic intellectuals could well serve the party's interests. The parties should transform themselves as per the needs of the people and society. There should be positive conflicts within the party. Sad to say the elements of sacrifice and morality have taken a back seat in virtually all parties. Inner democracy is in a weaker position and negative conflicts are rife. Suresh Ale Magar insisted that the parties are class based. It is not only about the economic issue but also of ideological one. Until and unless classes exist in the society, there will be hegemony of certain class in the society. The parties are the product of society. Bala Ram Thapa said that the political parties were born owing to the social conflict. How can the parties lead the country when they are bogged down by the intra-party conflict and debates? The intra-party conflicts have grown because of lack of the leadership development. Ideological debate is a key to resolving intra-party conflict.
Wrapping up the first session, Lal Bbau Yadav said that the political parties are the lifeblood of democracy. However, the parties here are engaged in the tribal politics at a time when the citizens are in search of common national identity. The polls have clearly proved that the ethnic politics will have no place in the country. Ethnic politics cannot pave the way for writing the statute. Neither will it ensure stability. He said that ethnic nationalism should be converted into civic nationalism. There should be the integration between dhoti (a long piece of cloth worn by the people in Terai region. It is sometimes tied round the waist, with the lower part passed between the legs) and topi (a cap made of typical cloth and is generally put on by the hill-origin people) for the strong national unity. It rings hollow for the parties if they give up ideology and nationality. Democracy is a bottom-up approach and inner-party democracy is necessary to promote young generation leadership. There should be strict rules and regulations to manage the parties' memberships. Political culture must be promoted and people and nation should be kept at the centre. The office-term of the leaders should be fixed so that the fresh blood get their chance to prove their mettle in the party.

Session Second

In the second session, chaired by UML leader Rajendra Gautam, NC leader N P Saud presented his working paper entitled 'the Conflict within the Nepalese Political Parties and Consolidation of Loktantra.' Another UML leader Yogesh Bhattarai commented on his paper.

The gist of NP Saud's paper

A handful of leaders enjoy powers: Saud

Without analyzing whether the exercises of factional politics within the parties are by-product of historical development of loktantrik society or a stumbling block to road to democratic development of society, one cannot envision the mature form of loktantra in new Nepal. Taking these questions into consideration, the reasons behind the conflicts in the parties have been presented in following way:

  1. Fight for leadership/personality: The political parties had evolved in Nepal, not through the institutional development based on bottom-up approach but they were expanded either creating mythical figures or through the top-down approach. In consequence of this, the parties are revolving around personality cult in lieu of thoughts. Therefore, alternative system in the operation of the organisation and leadership transfer has been negated in the parties having the established leadership or personality cult, giving continuity to the status quo.
  2. Fight for opportunities/control over the resources and means: The structure of most of the parties is based on centralism. In some of them, the concept of centrality has been appreciated with the use of different adjectives while some other parties accept decentralisation idea in principle but in practice, a handful of leaders exercise powers. In order to live up to inner democracy and make the party transparent, the process of membership distribution should be free from discrimination and control, and accessed to all willing citizens of the society. The leadership should be chosen through a fair election. When some individuals in the leadership control the means and resources, the conflict occurs between those having resources and those without them.
  3. The conflict for ethnic and regional identity: The factions formed on the basis of regional and ethnic agenda have also caused conflicts in the parties. These groups have been inspired by the exterior ethnic/ regional organisations and they are at the same time taking financial aids from INGOs/NGOs overtly and covertly.
  4. Diversities and different identities after the unification: The intra-party conflicts come to the fore after the unification between two or more than two parties. The unification is not carried out on basis of creation of organisations spontaneously. Unification of the parties is sometimes based on ideological proximity and sometimes on the basis of identical goals. Despite this, there is lacking a true blend of policies and working style, leaving room for internal feuds.
  5. Feudal dynasty/legacy
  6. Ideological division and deviation and
  7. Influences of national and international power centres.

Without developing robust internal democracy, it is unlikely to build the parties' institutional character and capacity to implement stated policies, develop dexterity to manage the intra-party conflicts and create widespread people base. The following measures are necessary to reform the parties:

Ø Independent and transparent election system,
Ø Operation of the parties on the basis of committee system,
Ø Periodic deadline to the continuity of leadership,
Ø The effective role of thought groups within the parties,
Ø The selection of leadership based on the policy, programme and credibility of conduct, and
Ø The introduction of special programmes to the target voters' groups

Yogesh Bhattarai: There has been debate on inner party for more than a decade. The issue of party organization is not only a technical affair but also an ideological one. The party's structure is decided by its working direction. Cadres are the sources of power for the parties. It is the social setting and character that defines the parties. The political movements from 2007 BS to 2062/063 were capitalist. Our path ahead should be socialist one. Therefore, the parties and the conducts of their leaders should be socialist-oriented. They should be linked with production. The leaders should stop taking salaries from the parties. The economic resources and the transactions should be transparent. How to build a new model party should be today's debate. It should be linked with the welfare of the people and have the national character. If we make the workers as the sources of power and sovereignty of the party, the inner-party democracy will be strong. The trend of awarding proportional representation seats to the rich individuals by depriving the committed party members must be stopped.

Comments from the floor

A host of speakers, including Bala Ram Thapa and Dayal Bahadur Shahi, put forth their views. The people's political awareness has increased. This is also instrumental in promoting inner-party democracy. The sacred religious anthologies such Mahabharat and Ramayan had their deep influences on the Nepalese political parties. Almost all parties are dominated by those leaders, who have not contributed to the party's organisation. Factionalism has thrived in the veil of thought debate. Another participant noted that if the parties begin to run democratically, the dynastic politics will come to an end. Dayal Bahadur Shahi said that the relations between the parties and the people should be like the nail and meat. He said that the parties have tendency to be closer with the voters during the elections but the post-election scenario sees them away from electorates. The middle-rung leaders always created conflicts. Thus, it is necessary to break syndicate in the parties. The parties are also not working together for the common interests of the people.

From the chair, Rajendra Gautam said that it was a challenge to manage the leadership in the parties marred by the factionalism based on the personality cult. The parties are class based. However, they should resolve the ethnic and regional issues. It is not sufficient to insert the word 'democratisation' in the party's statute but it must be reflected in the conducts and actions of the leaders.

Session Third

CPN-Maoist leader Suresh Ale Magar moderated the third session in which Bhesh Raj Adhikari of CeLCAR presented his working paper 'the Management of Inter and Intra-party Conflicts in Democracy'. NC leader Guru Raj Ghimire commented his paper.

The gist of Adhikari's paper:

Loktantrik methods must to solve conflicts

Once the truth that the inter- and intra-party conflicts cannot be negated, the attention should be given to their proper management. The following measures could be useful to manage such conflicts:

  1. Loktantrik methods to build ideology and leadership: The political parties could make their democratic participation in the society, control over power and forge political unity only when they themselves operate democratically. The organizational structure and decision-making process should be in a way that would make easy for the cadres and members to put forth their views. The internal democracy strengthens committee system, promotes loktantrik culture for solving disputes and reduces opportunism and dictatorship. There should be democratic procedures to choose the leaderships. Competition should be ensured at the every layer. Nominated and imposed leaderships create conflicts.
  2. Framing party laws that are in sync with national legislation: The laws related to the political parties should correspond with constitutional provisions made for the parties. The parties are not above the laws. The court should have a right to impose preventive orders on the parties in case the latter's activities look dubious and break laws. This helps maintain transparency in the parties.
  3. Methods to run coalition government and manage inter-party conflicts: The conflicts between the parties and the government lead to toppling of the coalition government. There should be clear procedures, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to run the joint government. The agreements and understandings forged to operate the joint government should be transparent and democratic.
  4. Transparent financial system: All leaders, cadres and members of the parties should be assured that their economic transactions are authentic and transparent. Income sources should be made open. The parties should handle their fiscal activities through a separate mechanism.
  5. Decentralising the decision-making process: The political parties should transfer powers to the lower committees. The central committee may not be aware of the problems residing at the lower committees. In such a situation, powers should be devolved to the district and local committees. Their capacity needs to be built to address the conflicts that surface among the local cadres and leaders.
  6. Conflict management though dialogue and reconciliation: The intra-party conflicts are like contagious diseases. There are cases in which the dispute in one party infects other parties also. There have been also positive chain effects. When the conflict in one party gets solved, it has a affirmative impacts on other parties. The central leaderships should be active to solve the conflicts. Many of such bickering has been ended through mutual dialogue and reconciliation among the parties to the conflict.
  7. Loktantrik methods to operate the parties: The statutes of most of the parties are framed in a way that suits the top leadership. Therefore, there is the need to make statute democratic. Sometime the establishments are intolerant towards the minority. Sometimes the dissenting factions tend to violate discipline. The key leadership is power-centric. The democratic methods are necessary to settle the disputes.

Virtually, all parties are suffering from one or other form of intra-party conflicts. They require appropriate mechanism to solve the internal strife. The conflicting leaders or groups should be made aware of their respective responsibility. The common ground of consensus needs to be identified. The leaderships should be encouraged to pursue negotiation and dialogue; seek mediation and implement the points of consensus. Loktantra should be run on the basis of system, not on the basis of sentiments. Promoting democratic culture, rule of law, respect of others' freedom and autonomy are equally important for loktantra to be sustainable and beneficial to all. The top leadership must learn to rise above the factional mentality.

Ghimire's Comments: The paper is compendious and compact. Adhikari has attempted to include all needed elements that suit his title. Leader or statesman is one who shows the way to the people. Nepal is reeling under transition since 2007 BS. The leaders need to change their working style. In democracy, no one has privilege to hate the opposition leaders. The parties should run on the basis of philosophy and ideology. The first CA failed because it could not work as the custodian of all Nepalese. In order to deliver justice to the Nepalese, they need an inclusive constitution. Dialogue is the best means to resolve all types of conflicts.

Comments from the floor: With the advent of multiparty democracy, Nepal began to witness conflicts. The country cannot afford any more conflicts. What will be the role of the cadres to solve the intra-party conflict? Their role must be defined. There is a tendency among the leaders to favour and promote their sycophants. There is lacking in the evaluation of the cadres. The communist parties are not practicing dialectical materialism. The society has multiple classes. Therefore, diversity is natural. The inter-party conflicts have grown owing to the failure of leaders to respect each other. All UML leaders have accepted people's multiparty democracy. Then why there are deep differences among them? Whether politics is service or profession? It is not only the leaders but even the cadres have their hand in the intra-party conflicts.

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