Political parties' role in deepening democracy
Two-day seminar jointly organised by Martyrs'
Memorial Foundation (MMF) & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
9-10 December 2014, Kathmandu
Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Political parties are the vehicle of socio-economic transformations.
They are the conscious-rousers among the people. The ideas of
freedom, equality and fraternity gained wider currency with the
evolution of parties in the modern society. These concepts are
the integral components of democracy. The parties bridge between
the government and the state. They renew their democratic credentials
through the periodic elections so as provide greater legitimacy
to their acts, behaviours, rule and the system. Democracy is constantly
refined by the parties' rational yet relentless democratic exercises,
people's active participation in them and the development of democratic
Nepal has more than 70 years old history of political parties.
They came into being in course of fighting against the family
rule of autocratic Ranas. Prachanda Gorkha, the first political
party of Nepal, was set up in 1980 BS with the objective of
abolishing the Rana rule. In 1993 BS came another revolutionary
party- 'Praja Parishad'. The famous four martyrs of Nepal -
Dasharath Chanda, Ganga Lal Shrestha, Dharma Bhakta Mathema
and Sukra Raj Sastri- were the active members of this party
that also roped king Tribhuvan into joining their campaign for
the establishment of democracy and civil rights. Nepal's two
influential parties- Nepali Congress and the Communist Party
of Nepal- were born with their long-term goal of bringing the
broader political and economic reforms to the nation. Despite
being splits and disintegrated in different times, these two
forces continue to show their strong presence in the Nepalese
society to the day.
Nepal stands at the crossroads of bigger political changes
at the moment. It is struggling to write the new constitution
through the Constituent Assembly (CA), an overdue task of the
Nepalese politics since more than 65 years. Writing the national
charter from the hands of elected representatives is perhaps
the best democratic way to create a supreme legal document involving
all the stakeholders. Once the nation gets the statute from
the CA, it will pass another milestone in deepening and consolidating
democracy. Although the nation has come a long way since it
saw the first light of democracy many decades ago, our democratic
journey is still on the halfway because it was punctuated by
the coups, conflicts and inter-party confrontations from time
Political parties, civil society, media and other professional
and constitutional bodies need to rise to the occasion to overcome
the challenges of democracy during the transition. They require
honouring and promoting the basic democratic values, norms and
principles. To respect popular mandate, rule of law, create
and strengthen democratic institutions and promote civic culture
is necessary to enhance and rekindle the democratic spirit.
Against this backdrop, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Nepal Office
and Martyr Memorial Foundation (MMF) conducted a two-day seminar
on 'Political parties' role in deepening democracy in Nepal'
in December of 2014. Politicians, civil society leaders, experts
and informed citizens participated in the seminar. Their speeches
and comments are as follows:
Daman Nath Dhungana, former Speaker of House of Representatives
The new constitution should be drafted on the basis of consensus.
The parties should also forge consensus even for starting the
constitutional process of voting in the CA. Multiparty system
and the political parties in Nepal are no longer in danger from
any exterior forces. If there is any threat to democracy, it
is not from ex-monarchy or any other extremist forces but it
is from pro-multiparty forces themselves. Democracy is itself
a complete term and no any adjectives are needed to attach to
it. We need a meaningful democracy that should address the social,
cultural and economic needs of the people. Mere civil rights
are not enough. The CA has been held hostage by four to five
leaders. Our entire system is collapsing as we have given disproportionate
level of focus on the statute making. Other genuine and burning
issues are in shadow owing to this. The Maoist movement is the
byproduct of the failure of parliamentary parties. The CA needs
to hold dialogue with those forces that are outside it or are
against the vital gains such as federalism and secularism. There
should be the maximum consensus on the statute writing.
Taranath Ranabhat, former Speaker, the House of Representatives
The political parties and the people failed to give due attention
to the consolidation of democracy right after the 1990 political
change. Democratic values and norms are on the constant decline.
A handful of top leaders from major parties have hijacked the
rights of the Constituent Assembly (CA). They are not making
the CA as the locus of the meaningful debate on the statute
writing. They chose hotels and resorts to settle the vital disputes
of statute. How can democracy be strengthened by such opaque
activities?" Instead of holding the brainstorming sessions
on the constitutional issues, they are engaged in the blame
game and brickbats. Owing to the blowing up of the ethnic agenda
out of all proportion, the national unity is in tatters. Let's
first unite the nation. All should press the leaders to tread
a national path. The people's mandate is being insulted as the
CA, an elected body, is held hostage of indecision.
Dhundi Raj Shastri, a socialist thinker and MMF chair
Socialism is the dream of martyrs and it can be materialized
only through a uniformed ideological movement in the country.
This will help do away with the various anomalies and deviations.
Development works should start from the villages so that lower
section of the society will benefit from democracy that is being
captured by a handful capitalists and bourgeoisie. Richer are
getting richer and the poor poorer. Socialism ensures economic
balance, political rights and promotes social values. The citizens
should have easy access to the health and education facilities
provided by the government.
Dev Raj Dahal, FES, Nepal office head
Deepening democracy in society requires constant political
education about enlightenment so that citizens know the ways
to freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace and remove
agencies of socialization that subordinates them.
The emerging democratic values are popular sovereignty, social
inclusion, principles of affected, subsidiarity, social contact
and provisions of rights and duties. These are cosmopolitan
values and can prevent the polarization and paralysis of politics
on the basis of personal and group interests. Deepening democracy
requires democratization of public institutions of governance-
political parties- (inner-party democracy), media (contribution
to public opinion formation), civil society (defense of public
interests) and production structures need to be democratized
so that politics became public, not personalization of power
and productively used for the production of suitable laws and
development policies. A state of contentment of citizens, blind
servility to leadership, apathy and inertia is the state of
cronyism and lack of accountability. It corrupts democracy from
the base and paralyzes the society.
Deepening democracy entails the power separation not only between
the state, market and civil society and legislative, executive
and judicial powers but also across the social, economic and
Deepening democracy requires continuous circulation of youths
in political power through election.
Deepening democracy demands not only the winner-takes-all game
but also a respect to opposition, inclusion of minorities and
unrepresented and political drop-out groups. It adheres to the
ethos of compromise of legitimate interests and peacefully resolves
interests, ideology and identity-based conflicts to the optimal
satisfaction of all sides.
Ram Hari Khatiwada, CA member
There is a fat chance of getting the new constitution by January
22 next year. The top leaders have put themselves at the centre
as they hold talks on the constitution writing and power-sharing
issues, forcing the nation to go through the acute transition.
How can we write the new statute when there is neither consensus
nor an agreement to go for process to settle the disputed matters?
The term 'martyr' has lost its essence. Martyr is one who suffers
for the sake of principle or sacrifices his/her life for the
welfare of the society and nation. But, these days those who
die in accidents or events that are nothing to do with the common
interests are also declared martyrs. This trend must end.
Chadra Kant Dahal, former lawmaker
The value of martyrs has decreased as there is tendency to
announce those, who died for other than political cause, as
martyr. Our martyrs scarified their lives while fighting for
democracy. They joined that the campaign for the restoration
of democracy at the call of BP Koirala.
Khilanath Dahal, MMF general secretary
The martyrs had laid down their lives for freedom, justice
and equality. It is high time the people pressed the political
parties for focusing on the economic agenda in the new constitution.
Over 3.5 million Nepalese youth are abroad and slaving away
for the livelihood. Every day three corpses of them land in
the country. Our discourse should focus on creating jobs for
the youth. There is the need for investment in the fields of
hydropower, infrastructures and tourism. We are rich in herbal
plants and they should be processed for producing medicines.
The rich, feudalists and elites have captured the power and
Keshav Bhattarai presented his working paper 'Democracy in
crisis: A roadmap to its consolidation' in the first session
that is chaired by Radhakath Jha. Nepali Congress youth leader
Narayan Koirala commented on it.
The gist of Bhattarai's paper
Since democracy is a system that represents the people's respect,
dignity, freedom and sovereignty, it is itself an end. There
is no another effective political system better than democracy
to transform the people's individual and collective capability,
courage and huge force emanating from their wise consciousness
into the capital of collective progress and prosperity, peace
and unity. This is a reason why every Nepali strongly yearns
for democracy for a long time.
Nepal was unified seven years before the US was declared independence
in 1776 and 10 years before the French Revolution happened.
Napoleon introduced the uniformed civil code for Europe in 1804
but Jayasthiti Malla and Ram Shah had issued similar legal code
400 and 300 years ago respectively. The tradition of appointing
the individuals, liked by the people, as the key government
officers by soliciting people's opinions visiting door to door
was already in practice some 240 years ago. The early years
of Lichchhavi, Malla and Shah Rules offered the pictures of
prosperity that Nepal earned due to its effective rule of law.
It has everything.
Despite all this cherished history of independence and democracy,
our democracy rings hollow. We are rich in history, culture,
nature, resources, topography and climate but the country has
been unable to lay the basic foundation of rule of law more
than 65 years after it adopted the modern governance system.
When the nation does not run as per constitution and law, the
talks of democracy, civil rights and good governance merely
turn into a futile imagination. The system in which an individual
is above the law is dictatorial one. The system in which no
one remains above law is democratic. Sadly, at the moment, the
laws are serving those who exercise power or are in power. This
condition amply denotes we have no democracy or Loktantra or
republic at all.
Some bitter facts are here: 1. Democracy is weak and sick even
in big and powerful nations such as the US and European nations.
2. The abuse of powers and high spending kill democracy itself.
3. Powerful pressure and interest groups weaken the states.
4. Democracy is groaning under the weight of big money. 5. There
is little democracy and more instability and anarchy. 6. Faith,
pride and identity are disappearing while anarchy and impunity
are becoming the norms. 7. The state organs are becoming meaningless,
powerless and irrelevant.
The political parties are not working to rekindle people's
faith and confidence. They seek devotion and loyalty from the
people but are failing to prove their commitment and loyalty
to the people.
We should do the following things:
a. We have to put governance system in place first to maintain
b. It is imperative to have strong culture of abiding by the
rule of law in order to implement it effectively.
c. Adopting the form of government that guarantees political
stability and good governance. (directly elected executive president
and parliament can serve this purpose)
d. Strengthening the democratic institutions- the press, civil
society, constitutional bodies and independent judiciary.
e. Pursuing the economic model that ensures ecological security.
Until democracy becomes the part of humanity's faith and culture,
its success cannot be guaranteed. For this, the state, government
and the political parties have to develop a regular and scientific
system to solicit the opinions of people on their decisions
and reform and rectify them accordingly. Good exercises of democracy
can be embraced from anywhere but we should develop democracy
according to our own context and culture. Success and failure
of democracy largely hinges on the vision, image, leadership
ability, character and conduct of the leaders.
Nepal is in the strategic location. Incompetent leadership and
the politics of negation are pushing the country towards anarchy.
Democracy cannot flourish in the absence of an alternative democratic
party. In Nepal, it is not the parliamentary system itself but
the politicians who failed it. It is wrong to blame the system
for the incompetence of leaders. Many of our ideologies are
exported ones. Secularism was inserted into the statute without
due debates on it. Hidden factors are hindering the flourish
of democracy. Democracy is not the dictatorship of leaders and
parties. We cannot reach a desired destination on the basis
of current roadmap. The disputed subjects need to be decided
through a referendum.
Comments from the floor
There should be clarity as to what kind of socio-economic and
political system that we want to install in the nation. We should
also examine our responsibility for the moral lapses in the
leaders. The country is visibly under threat from the move of
slashing it into many ethnic states. Without money, it seems,
the politics does not move an inch ahead. The election has enormously
become an expensive affair. The candidates without a fat purse
do not stand the chance of fighting or winning the election.
The politics has lost its moral qualities. It is the leaders,
who frame the laws, and it is the same leaders who run afoul
of laws. Nepotism and favoritism has hindered the political
process. There is the need for framing the policy in which the
aspirations of all can be adjusted and accommodated. This sort
of seminars and discussion should be held in the presence of
politicians of all hues and stripes.
Former lawmaker Hom Raj Dahal presented his working paper entitled
'the role of political parties in ensuring social justice' in
the first session chaired by Dhundi Raj Shastri. DP Aryal and
Nain Singh Mahar commented Dahal's paper. Likewise, senior journalist
Yuvraj Gautam paper entitled 'the question of the responsibility
of parties in democracy,' seeks to highlight the role of political
parties to strengthen nationalism, democracy and culture. The
paper dwells on the world history with special focus on eastern
philosophy, culture and politics.
The gist of Dahal's paper
Dahal's paper's sheds light on the conceptual framework and
the international theories and practices of social justice.
The views of Marx, Durkheim and Weber on social justice have
been well summed up. It informs about the new ideas of social
security that evolved in new millennium, the condition of social
justice in the UK, US and Israel, the UN provisions and the
role of the Nepalese political parties in realizing it.
The concept of social justice came into existence with the
evolution of welfare state. Following the World War II, an opinion
that the government has to work for the social justice and services
to the people came strongly. Particularly, the state is supposed
to provide health, education, employment, residential and other
personal services to the citizens. It is the responsibility
of a welfare state to deliver goods and services to the people.
The western society has put effective welfare system in place
for particularly two reasons. Firstly, the social security policies
aimed at minimizing the conflicts of industrial society and
keeping it in a balance. Secondly, as per the Marxist viewpoint,
the social welfare scheme is way to sustain the capitalistic
society as the citizens, who take benefits from the social welfare
scheme under capitalism, will also accept it. With the measures
of social security, the government gets legitimacy to control
and discipline the citizens.
Nepal's constitution had also adopted a number of constitutional
provisions to evolve it into a robust welfare state. The interim
statute has guaranteed the rights to health, education and jobs.
For the senior citizens and widows and widowers, the government
has arranged monthly allowances it is a pittance. Likewise,
it grants scholarships to the Dalit students and formulated
the policies to raise the living standards of the people from
Carnal zone, an economic backwater. The major and minor parties
in the CA have promised to implement social security and justice
provisions but they have failed to live up to their commitments
as they reach power. The government needs to bring youth policy
immediately to ensure employment opportunities to them. Civil
society and NGOs have done commendable job in the social security
areas. The conscious citizens should nudge the state to implement
the social security provisions spelt out in the interim constitution.
The parties should be recalibrated in a way that enables them
to build a common position on the issues of public interests
such as the hydropower and road construction. Nationalism is
becoming weak. The nation has reached such a pass as the leaders
have failed to catch the right path. The cadres in the oldest
democratic party are not satisfied with the working style of
the leaders. The intellectuals should also play their proactive
role to deepen democracy.
Nepal is evolving into an amoral society- it is becoming more
and more individualistic and sans esprit de corps- feelings
of pride, care and support for each other, etc. that are shared
by the members of a group. The people are guided by money, not
by the democratic ideals. Even the educational curriculum has
not included moral education. A mere word 'democracy' does not
deliver anything. The state needs to fulfill the basic requirements
of the people. It is necessary to bring all classes to the mainstream
to ensure social justice for them. Politics is the master of
all social sciences and it needs to be strong. One way to strengthen
it is to promote moral education.
From the floor
A host of individuals, including Rabindra Nath Bhattarai, Hem
Rai, Yuv Raj Gautam, Anita Gyawali, Kumar Joshi, Mukunda Koirala,
Prakash Rai, Yogendra Dahal and Rodana Ghimire participated
in the discussion. Their views are as follows: The debate should
be to the point. Nationality is getting weak. Social justice
needs to be applied as per the local context and reality of
the country. The women folks are still discriminated and unable
to enjoy males' support. To ensure social justice, the youth
need to be granted employment from the state. Democratic culture
is dwindling. It requires sacrifices. The south Asia is in the
volatile conditions. Cross-border crimes, haphazardly constructed
dams and trafficking of humans have posed a threat to its stability.
The parties should work for national interests and values. When
the NC introduced market economy in early 90s, the notion of
social security and justice took a backseat. The families of
martyrs are deprived of social justice. The state also gave
a short shrift to them.
The gist of Gautam's paper
Without a minute study of history, the study of politics remains
incomplete. During the Paleolithic and neo-paleolithic periods,
the human used stone weapons to protect themselves. Later, the
people became conscious that they needed organizations and institutes
to protect their thoughts. The oriental scholars do not believe
that the western society has taught all arts of politics. In
his famous book, 'People and Parliament', former speaker of
Indian Loksabha Dr Balram Jakhad writes that the term 'sansad'
(parliament) has been mentioned in the Rig Veda. In one Vedic
verse, it is said that the people's approval is necessary to
ensure stability and order in the society.
With over 3,500-year old written history, Nepal has been always
an independent and sovereign nation. It is one of the oldest
nations on the earth. If the politicians cannot study the issues
relating to the national interests, it will invite undesirable
consequences to the nation. If they fail to concentrate on the
questions of national interests by anlaysing the main policies
of nation, they cannot pay heed of nationality, democracy and
the burning problems of the people. It is irony that the Nepalese
leaders are not sensitive about the national interests. The
political parties used to blame the palace for their weakness,
stubbornness and failures from 1990 to 2006. With the nation
ushering in republican set-up, they are no longer in a position
to pin blame on the monarchy for their incompetence. Some blame
the foreign power centres for the irresponsible behaviours of
the parties and their leaders. The parties are responsible for
courting the foreign meddling one or another way. The political
parties will not lose people's trust if they have become serious
about the Mahakali Treaty, BIPPA agreement, the legal provisions
granting the citizenship certificates to the hundreds of thousands
of foreigners, the problems caused by the uncontrolled and unmanaged
borders and the daily problems of the people.
After missing the self-imposed deadline of delivering the statute
on January 22, 2015, the parties are all set to make another
promise to give the state within four years. If they consider
that there is no alternative to them, this will be a big stupidity.
This is because if the parties become failure in democracy,
there is possibility for the authoritarianism to rears its ugly
Comments from the floor
Manita Basnet posed a question: How can the nation get a statesman?
She said that the people need to choose leaders according to
their qualities and ability. Kumar Luintel said that national
interests should be kept at the centre when it comes to taking
vital decisions pertaining to the matters of sovereignty and
In his concluding remarks, MMF general secretary Khilanath
Dahal said that the state has not been able to pay due attention
to the woes of the family members of martyrs. The citizens have
not felt that they are given the social justice in the term
of economic benefits and opportunities.