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Institutionalization of inner-party democracy in Nepal

One-day seminar organized by the Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCAR) and FES, Nepal office

24 December 2014

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

With the nation trudging wobbly in transition, fostering a robust inner-party democracy is still a far cry. The political parties and their leaders often boast of their relentless fighting for democracy and human rights. But, when it comes to promoting inner-party democracy in their parties, their response has often been tepid. It is not that the status of inner-party democracy is very pessimistic. Some of them have taken encouraging steps to enhance internal democracy. Several legal measures were taken to this end. But, it is not up to the mark yet. They still lack coherent procedures, methods and strong political will to live up to the inner-party democracy as spelt out in their statute.

When the parties fail to exercise internal democracy, they indulge in unethical acts and behaviours. Blame game, brickbats and slugfest become the norms during the crucial moments of parties' life. The bossy attitude of top leaders and anarchism of cadres ail the parties if the internal democracy eludes them. It is essential for the functional democracy as it 'presumes the opening up of party's leadership selection periodically to new candidates, leading to better democratic process.' It prevents the possibility for the rise of authoritarian tendency and fiscal indiscipline. It enables parties to function in a more autonomous, transparent and effective manner. In a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious society like Nepal, the quest for legitimacy on the part of political parties is imperative to transcend societal cleavages and accommodates the divergent interests of people.

With a view to give momentum to the inner-party democracy debate, the Centre for Legal Consultancy and Research (CeLCAR) and FES, Nepal office, jointly organized a one-day seminar 'Institutionalization of inner party democracy in Nepal' on December 24, 2014. Political leaders and analysts shared their views at the seminar attended by the people from different walks of life. CPN-UML chairman KP Sharma Oli delivered his thought-provoking speech. Three experts presented their working papers on the theme of the seminar. The speeches, comments and gist of working papers have been presented below.

Finding consensus on all disputes impossible
KP Sharma Oli, Chairman CPN-UML

The UML is for writing the new constitution in consensus but it objects to the idea of obstructing the entire statute writing process on the pretext of consensus. We want to forge consensus on fundamental issues of the constitution but we protest that there should be consensus in all contents of the constitution. The UML always stands for national unity and integrity. Our party will not allow Nepal to turn into Rwanda and Crimea. Nepal is a multicultural society and making new provinces on the basis of ethnicity is simply unacceptable. Prithvi Narayan Shah had said that Nepal is a garden of 4 castes and 36 colours but some communist leaders do not have perceptive power to comprehend the character of Nepali society even in a way the unifier of Nepal did some 240 years ago. There has been a tendency not to abide by laws, constitution and morality.

'If you do not agree on my stance, I do not come to consensus' is what the UCPN-Maoist has been saying. The Constituent Assembly is a sovereign body and it cannot be subordinate to its thematic committee. By creating rumours of consensus, there is tendency to include anti-people elements in the statute. Can the CA not take its decisions independently? The current CA is not the part of first CA and it is not tied to the decisions of the first CA. The UML initiated the process to strengthen internal democracy in Nepal and other parties followed suit. The collective leadership, institutional decisions and accountability towards the people are prerequisite to the democratization of the parties. I will step down as the party chair after completing one term to promote internal democracy in the party.

Marxism is a dynamic principle and rejects any form of dictatorship. For many a communist here, Marxism looks like groping an elephant by a blind man. Its ultimate goal is to bring happiness and prosperity to the humanity. Loktantra is a system that ensures the people's rights and participation in it. It is not only political rights but also the social and economic ones that are guaranteed in Loktantra. Loktantra differs from anarchism. Peace, equality, social justice and national unity are inherent parts of Loktantra that operates as per rules, regulations and constitution. The UML has the strength to unite Nepal by maintaining social harmony and goodwill. It is frontrunner in the sphere of ideology too.

Democracy ought to be an active verb: Dahal

Dev Raj Dahal, head of FES, Nepal office, put forth his views on 'Institutionalization of Inner-party Democracy in Nepal'. His opinions are as follows:

Inner party democracy requires constant political education about enlightenment so that leaders, cadres and citizens know not to behave arbitrarily and remove those agencies of socialization that subordinated them, disseminate democratic values in the society, political parties, leadership and governing institutions, create democratic institutions and promote participative civic culture.
There are a few points that are key to promoting inner-party democracy:

First, inner-party democracy requires political education about the functions of state, polity, government, parties and civil society's membership of citizens. Learning of emerging democratic values from the initial membership stage such as popular sovereignty, social inclusion, and principles of affected, subsidiarity, social contract and provisions of rights and duties erode parochialism. These are cosmopolitan values and can prevent the polarization and paralysis of political parties incubated by personal and group interests.

Second, inner-party democracy presumes the opening up of party's leadership selection periodically to new candidates as it leads to better democratic process, controls the possibility for the rebirth of authoritarianism, improves the effectiveness and constantly renews the party's organizational life. The quality of democracy and its legitimacy largely rests on the selection and outcome of leadership process.

Third, inner-party democracy enables parties to function in a more autonomous transparent and effective manner. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society like Nepal that just emerged out of conflict, the quest for legitimacy on the part of political parties is essential as it can transcend societal divides and accommodate all strata of population.

Fourth, inner-party democracy broadens policy making through deliberate process in party's general convention, multi-level committee during normal times and with the ordinary citizens so as to aggregate and articulate their legitimate needs, rights and aspirations.

Fifth, inner-party democracy helps to improve horizontal and vertical communication across voters, members, cadres and leaders.

Sixth, in a country of minorities with the mixed election system, inner-party democracy helps to beef up the social base of politics by strengthening the representation of women, caste groups and Janajatis, Aadibasis, dalits, Mahdesis, youth, minorities and ancillary bodies of parties into the party structures, committees and cells and allows a system of feedback so that inputs and outputs of the democratic polity are roughly balanced.

Seventh, inner-party democracy can create common background condition for conflict resolution and muster the will of system-maintaining forces for social cohesion and system integration.
Democracy ought to be an active verb in the parties to make their structures robust and functional, not just the passive noun with no concerns to the political promises. Inner-party democracy demands not the winner-takes-all game but also a respect to diverse opinions within the parties, inculcation of listening culture, inclusion of minorities and unrepresented and political drop-out groups.

Comments by CPN-Maoist leader Suresh Ale Magar

The political parties should be class oriented. For any political parties to be called to be Marxist, they must accept the dictatorship of proletariat. There is either bourgeoisie dictatorship or the proletariat one. It is not wise to fix the age limit of leaders in the communist party because the leaders have to engage in a long-term struggle for revolution but for bourgeois class, it does not matter which political system is in place. Until and unless there are classes- the haves and have-nots- in the society, using forces to achieve goals is not ruled out. Therefore, our party might choose using force to usher in proletariat-led revolution now or in the future. The term proletariat is not only an economic term but also an ideological one.

Purshotam Dahal, political analyst

The term 'Loktantra' is a Sanskrit word that comprises of two separate words- Lok and Tantra. 'Lok' means land or people and 'Tantra' a system. I do not believe that Nepal consists of only two classes- the proletariat and the bourgeois. There is also rising middle class. The political ideology should not be confined to mere speeches; it should be reflected in practice. To pin faith in Loktantra is the first prerequisite for it to be successful but we have seen the tendency of subverting Loktantra as the parties practiced it. Is that inner party democracy gets strong just by democratizing the parties? The media should be also democratized as it is also a co-partner of political parties. Co-forces of democracy such as media and professional groups needed to be democratized for promoting inner party democracy.

Loktantra entails basic values and they must be embraced in letter and spirit. Transparency is the key to the democratization of the political parties. No party has made public its reports of annual incomes and expenditures. Fiscal transparency is necessary for the parties to enhance their democratic credentials before the public.

Lal Babu Yadav, Associate Professor, TU

There is no any political system that is better than democracy. Political parties are the lifeblood of democracy. Politics is the service to the nation. But, there has been propensity among the politicians to define democracy and federalism by putting themselves at the centre. Madhesi parties are showing their double character. The second CA poll rejected their one Madhes one province agenda. Even 80 per cent of Madhesi people are against the One Madhes One Province demand. The new federal design should include the mountains, hills and Terai belt. Loktantra thrives in a healthy competition. In order to ensure inner-party democracy, the parties should engage in debate, discourse and dialogue. Discrimination meted out by Kathmandu against Madhesi community filled a sense of animosity in them. As the state became weak, the ethnic and linguistic conflict came to the fore. This sort of undesired scenario was never seen in the Nepalese history. While writing the new statute in India and Finland, many disputes were settled through process. So, we should also follow the due democratic procedures.

Technical Session

UML secretary Pradeep Gyawali, political analyst Mumaram Khanal and CeLCAR chief Bhesh Raj Adhikari presented their working papers at the one-day seminar. In his paper entitled 'Institutionalisation of Inner-Party Democracy,' Gyawali says that democratization of the political parties is the key to the democratization of the entire society. He highlighted the efforts the UML made in the direction of promoting inner-party democracy and its impact on other parties.

Khanal's paper 'the institutional development of intra-party democracy in UCPN-Maoist' analyzed inner-party democracy of UCPN-M during the time of conflict and after it joined the competitive peaceful politics. Khim Lal Bhattarai commented his paper.

Adhikari's paper 'Institutionalisation of Loktantra in the parties: Challenges and Solution,' sought to unleash creative debates on the inner-party democracy. He offers theoretical premises to ensure inner-party democracy. Pusrshotam Neupane commented his paper.

The gist of Gyawali Paper

UML's guiding principle is people's multiparty democracy (PMD) that is based on the long democratic tradition of Nepalese communist movement, reinterpretation and restoration of basic principles of Marxism, analytical observation of and lesson from the ups and downs of international communist movements. It envisions a socialist society where there is a beautiful synthesis of Loktantrik values and socio-economic prosperity. We believe that Loktantrik rights will be incomplete in the absence of economic freedom and prosperity. The PMD aims at attaining socialism through the peaceful transformation of society and rejects violent methods of changes. The 9th convention of the party held in June of 2014 set important precedents for its democratization. Despite some unhealthy exercises such as factionalism among the leaders, contesting the election on panel, and mudslinging and throwing brickbats at each other and persiflage, the convention was a milestone in the democratization of the party.

The deficit of inner-party democracy alienates the parties from the people and its negative impacts hit the democratic system, paving the way for the rise of ultra-leftist and ultra-rightist forces. As the Loktantrik ideology, politics and thinking becomes weak, ethnic, regional and cultural extremisms rear their heads. An inclusive and Loktantrik party can represents the feelings of all organs of society and provide them a rhythm. When Loktantra is in grave peril, anarchy will take its place. The parties are important instruments to bring unity to the society.

Discourses, disputes and intra-party conflicts are characteristics of the live political parties. If they are not well managed, they will weaken and disintegrate the parties. Their proper management makes the party dynamic, energetic and live. Democratisation is the key to the solution of intra-party conflict.

To ensure democratization of parties, following points should be implemented by them:

  1. The parties must have their statute written through democratic procedures. The parties should run as per the system and democratic methods.
  2. There should be impartial process to attain party membership. The committees should be formed on the basis of statute.
  3. The functionaries should have their decisive say in policy formulation and decision making. The party's policies must not be framed in the smoke-filled rooms or on the whims of leaders.
  4. The leadership should be picked as per the democratic methods. Nepotism and political bias must not be allowed. The leadership should be inclusive and no resources should be abused.
  5. There should be transparency in the economic sources of leaders and parties. The leadership building and handover should be based on scientific and democratic methods.

The gist of Khanal's paper

We need to study the status of inner-party democracy within the UCPN-M by dividing the period of its movement into two parts- during the conflict period and after it joined the peace process. During the time of insurgency, the party formed militant committees based on the top-down approach. All the rights of party committees were concentrated in the hands of secretaries of the committees. It was very difficult for the cadres and leaders to continue to work by registering their different views in the party. The leadership gave short shrift to the inner-party democracy. In order to strengthen its military position, party invited different anti-social and anarchist groups to the party. The party virtually brought an end to the scope of inner-party democracy from its fourth plenum that endorsed a proposal 'the establishment of leadership and centralization.' This was followed by factionalism, conspiracy and one-upmanship among the leaders, leading to the deaths of many cadres. When Dr Baburam Bhattarai wrote a 13-point letter to the central leadership, questioning the concentration of powers in one leader and his authoritarian tendency, he was kept under house arrest.

After the party made a safe landing and joined the peaceful politics through the 12-point agreement with the then parliamentary parties, it made several commitments to the concepts and values of Lotantrik system such as the competitive multiparty governance system, periodic election, and freedom of citizens, human rights, press freedom and rule of law. Its military structures were integrated into Nepal Army. The multi-post leadership system introduced, replacing the one-man leadership and the convention was held after 22 years with the election of almost all district committees. However, despite the above commitments and steps, the party has not truly practiced inner-party democracy and the war-era mindset continues to linger. The leaders and cadres engaged themselves in the anarchist acts and often resorted to double standard and often made contradictory remarks.

In order to institutionalize inner-party democracy in all Leftist parties, including UCPN-M, they should adopt effective measures in distributing the party memberships to the cadres. The dominance of elite class within the party starts from the distribution of memberships. When the time comes to convert the party position to the posts of benefits, there is the unfair use of force, influence and money. To minimize this malpractice, the current organizational structure should be reversed. It should be oriented towards lower committees and the people, not the top leadership. Following measures should be followed:

  1. Before granting memberships, the prospective members' background, ethical conduct and educational qualification should be examined.
  2. To end the practice of sucking up to the leaders to climb the leadership rung, the party should conduct election at the Ward, VDC and Municipality level to form the committees.
  3. There should be the provision of calling up members on the basis of majority of committees. The district committees could elect one or two central committee members as per the given number and the majority of district committees can recall them.
  4. The CC can nominate a maximum of 10 per cent CC members and key leaders can be in office not more than two terms.
  5. The District and Central committees should be the powerful organs and other structures should remain as temporary and have only the role of coordination. The bureaucratic networks created to entangle the CC members should be dissolved.
  6. Every leader and cadre should be self-reliant and have to pay tax to the state and certain portion of profits- if they earn from their business- to the party.
  7. The party should arrange the collective residences for those retired central leaders, who do not have their own houses and sound fiscal position.
  8. The party should dissolve its sister or professional organizations such as employees, youths, peasants and students.
    Comments on Khanal's paper by Khim Lal Bhattarai

The prevalent socio-cultural settings have their impact on the functioning and tactic of the parties. The Nepali Congress that calls itself as the messiah of democracy but shows autocratic character inside the party. The UML is too suffering from the same ills arising from the over centralized of power. However, it is trying to democratize the party with the internal elections being held from the local to central level. In the beginning, holding election at every level looked odd but now it has been accepted whole-heartedly. The leaders and cadres are not free from feudal mindset. UCPN-Maoist has more centralized structures at the centre compared to the UML. The former rebel party is still in dilemma. There is the need for holding democratic election as an inherent political culture of the parties.

Comment from the floor

A host of participants put forth their views on the Khanal's paper. Some of them included Rashmi Acharya, Kalyan Rokka, Shyam Basnet, Khagendra Rai, Dipendra Singh and Santos Pariyar. Their views are as follows: The students' organizations are not professional groups. Education sector is grappled with new problems as the operators of schools are affiliated with different political parties. Therefore, the students' unions have their role in addressing the anomalies in the education sector. Here is a pertinent question: Whether the society democratizes the parties or vice versa. Today's parties cannot be run on the basis of democratic centralism propounded by Lenin. It cannot address the new challenges facing the communist parties. It is necessary to make sure that the spirit of inclusiveness and class character are well reflected while nominating individuals for the post of lawmakers and other important posts. The management and transparent transaction of incomes and expenditures are important to ensure inner party democracy. There should be the provision of recalling of lawmakers in case they fail to live up to their commitment to the people. The seminar merely focused on the condition of inner party democracy within the UML and the UCPN-M. There should be genuine debate on the number of provinces that Nepal could sustain. The matter should be discussed with the experts. If there is the provision of recalling the elected representatives, it would ensure the parties' accountability towards the people.

The gist of Adhikari's paper

It is no exaggeration to say that the parties failed to institutionalize democracy largely because they failed to institutionalize inner-party democracy within themselves. They are facing daunting task of promoting and strengthening inner-party democracy. Loktantrik culture is the key to the democratization of the parties. For a political party and an individual to be democratic, they must embrace following political precepts:

  1. To respect and protect human rights,
  2. To participate in public and political debates,
  3. To recognize views and outlooks of others,
  4. To exchange views and opinions,
  5. To pin faith in power of logic,
  6. To be ready to change his/her own thought or viewpoint,
  7. To be willing to forge agreement and reconciliation and
  8. To show readiness to resolve problems through peaceful means.

Although there is no any unanimous and universal definition of inner-party democracy, many scholars agree on some basic elements of internal democracy. They are- election, responsibility, transparency, inclusiveness, participation and representation. If inner-party democracy exists profusely in the parties, they can effectively execute democratic works. The mass democracy cannot function well in the absence of parties. However, they should be democratic themselves to discharge democratic and social tasks. The following measures are necessary to promote and strengthen inner-party democracy:

  1. Civic education needs to be expanded and made qualitative: Political scientist Dev Raj Dahal said that the people should be transformed into citizens to democratize the parties and this requires imparting civic education to the people. The civic education informs the people about the basic principles of democracy, and their rights and duty as well. Once the people get enlightened and informed, they keep vigil on the activities of parties and their leaders. This will also help minimize anarchy and violence in the society.
  2. To grow the youth's interests in politics: The Nepalese youths have become disillusioned with politics. For them, it is a dirty game. The political parties have become laughing stocks and subject of mockery. This has prevented handing over the baton to the young generation. The participation of youths in the politics promotes democratic culture and norms within the parties.
  3. To extend democratic values and norms to local level: It has been more than a decade since the local election was not held, obstructing the development of local democracy and leadership. Therefore, it is urgent to hold the local polls that helps deepen democracy.
  4. Democratic method needs to be adopted to build ideology and leadership.
  5. Building party on the basis of ideology.
  6. Parties must abide by the laws and constitutional provisions.
  7. Parties' economic transactions need to be transparent.
  8. Upgrading the capacity of local committees and their members.
  9. Formalize the decisions of informal meetings of leaders.
  10. Building the capacity of training-imparting bodies within the parties.

It has become imperative for the parties to take steps to do away with the undemocratic acts and conduct by their leaders and cadres. The parties must not be run on the basis of sentiments but on the basis of system and statute that enhances inner-party democracy and ensures their sustainability. No matter how much the people are disillusioned with Loktantra due to the behaviours of the parties, there is no alternative to Loktantra. There is the need for bolstering the democratic norms and values within the parties. Inner-party democracy that democratizes leaders and party structures is also prerequisite for vibrant and functional democracy.

Comments of Neupane

With the 1990 political change, the notion of inner party democracy gained ground. The UML is the first party in the country to unveil policies and amend the statute to promote inner party democracy. It held interactions with the concerned stakeholders three months before the 9th convention. The UML is becoming the party of all classes and communities because of stipulation and practices of inner party democracy.

Chairing the session, Keshav Pandey, who is also the UML leader, the concept of inner- party democracy continues to receive attention in the democratic set-up. In the absence of viable democratic structures, the political parties are not democratized. There are two extreme views associated with it. The top leaders have failed to take it positively. When the cadres voice for the embrace of inner party democracy, they see it as a threat to their position. On the other hand, the party functionaries exploit the idea of inner-party democracy as a means to grab power, post and pelf.

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