Committed to Social Democracy...
FES in Nepal
FES Worldwide
Media Development
Trade Union Development
Regional Cooperation
Conflict Resolution
Good Governance
Past Activities
FES in the Press
Annual Reports
Seminar/Workshop Reports
List of FES Publications
Book Reviews
FES Publications in University Curricula

Report on Inner-Party Democracy

Seminar organised by FES Nepal

20 March 2014, Pokhara

Report by Ritu Raj Subedi, Associate Editor. The Rising Nepal subedirituraj@yahoo.com


One of the factors as to why democracy in Nepal could not take root and flourish is the acute dearth of internal democracy within the political parties. Inner-party democracy does not only provide legitimacy to the parties but it also democratize the society as a whole, increases the people's faith in the system and makes it operable and credible before public eyes. Inner-party democracy has its direct and positive bearing on the leadership transfer from the old to the new generation. In the Nepalese context, the leadership transfer is a highly relevant topic. The old guards are blamed for not handing over the leadership mantle to the young, dynamic and emerging faces, thereby shrinking party's popular base to the circle of coteries of henchmen and hangers-on. There are cases in which intra-party bickering, triggered by the suppression of internal democracy, led to the party split and the toppling of the government, which has eventually fuelled the long-running political instability.

Realizing the fact that the Nepalese parties need to strengthen inner-party democracy, the FES, Nepal Office, has been hosting a series of debates on the topic involving the people from cross-cutting sections of the society including leaders of various political parties and their sister organizations. The FES, Office claims that its initiatives are coming to fruition. Giving continuity to the inner-party democracy discourse, the FES recently invited Professor Dr Christian Wagner to enlighten the people from different walks of life in Pokhara. Dr Wagner, head of Research Division, Asia, Stiftung Wissenschaft and Politik (SWP), Berlin, talked in length on the subject, unleashing lively debates, questions and suggestions in the one-day seminar where the participants were unanimous to assert that internal democracy is the key to solve intra-party conflicts and ensure political stability in the country. "Inner-party democracy helps for the smooth transfer of leadership and accommodates the diverse views within the party," they concurred. A variety of associated issues also cropped up in the meeting and Dr Wagner tried to satisfy the queries of the participants. He delivered his lecture on the subject and then it was followed by lively deliberations and questions. The representatives from the different political parties, academic institutions, civil society, media and other domains of social life were in attendance at the function.

Dr Wagner's presentation:

'Inner-party democracy contributes to democratic consolidation'

In parliamentary democracies, the parties have an intermediate function between the society and the state. This involves the recruitment and selection of political elite; the representation of specific interests, not the common welfare, and the settlement of interests and adoption of compromises. To ensure the legitimacy of political system, the parties set norms and rules on how conflicts in society should be managed. There has been wide-range of methods for including party members in inner-party deliberation and decision making. The political parties are organized according to democratic principles, e.g. legitimacy of leadership decisions from bottom up, freedom of expression, protection of inner-party minorities and participation with regard to defining clear-cut policy options. Participation in inner-party processes is most often limited to party members. The enrollment of supporters as party members might be difficult. Two to three per cent enrollment rate is common nowadays. The enrollment of supporters as members gives the party legitimacy, connects it with the supporters, and assists in getting financial support, volunteer labor during elections and helps find appropriate candidates for leadership.

The inner-party democracy is implemented in following ways:

  • Selecting party candidates: By either a direct ballot of eligible supporters or nomination by party assembly.
  • Selecting party leaders: Selecting the party leader is often equivalent to select the party's leading candidate in elections. He/she should represent the party's course and image. Selection can be made through national party conference or membership ballot.
  • Defining policy position: Individual party members may vote on specific policy positions or endorse a set of commitments.

Party organization is the key to inner-party democracy. This features inclusiveness, which indicates how wide the circle of party decision makers is; centralization, which describes the extent to which decisions are made by a single group or decision body and institutionalization that covers the party's autonomy from other actors - the extent of its internal organizational development - the extent to which supporters identify with the party and view it as an important actor. Factors that shape party organization include party laws and other legal constraints, institutional and communication environment, cultural and historical setting and ideological commitments. There are both proponents and opponents of inner-party democracy. It advocates argues that inner-party democracy is potential to promote a "virtuous circle" linking ordinary citizens to government. They say it makes the party more inclusive and offer voters better choices and contributes to the stability and legitimacy of the democracies. But, the detractors claim that too much democratization could dilute the power of a party's inner leadership, makes it difficult for that party to keep its electoral promises and may undermine the parties' competitive standing.

The German experiences

In Germany, the parties play their dominant role in the political life of the citizens. As per Article 21 (1) of the Basic Law, the political parties shall participate in the formulation of the political will of the people. They may be freely established. Their internal organization must conform to democratic principles. They must publicly account for their assets and the sources and use of their funds. In Germany, inner-party democracy has been guaranteed by Article 21 of the Basic Law and the Party Law of 1967. The Basic Law prescribes that the internal structure of the parties has to follow democratic principles. This, among others, include elections of all party institutions, responsibilities of the party institutions as laid down in an authoritative charter, equal voting rights for all party members and the party convention as highest decision making body. Likewise, the elected members (MPs) have a free mandate and are not bound to decisions of the parties and the MPs are representatives of the whole population, are not bound to order and directives and only subjected to their conscience. In parliament, "informal" faction discipline allows common party line. If MPs vote against party line, they are likely to lose their right to candidacy in the next election.

New forms of inner-party democracy

In 1980, the Green Party unveiled new policy and structures in which there is no rotation and accumulation of political offices. It does not have professional politicians and MPs wield imperative (direct) mandate. Many things could not be achieved because of small leadership of the Green Party but it influenced other parties on gender and minority quota.

Likewise, the Pirates Party went for "Liquid" democracy that is a mix of representative and direct democracy. The contents of intra-party decision are permanently discussed on social media. The Social Democratic Party sought the consent of party members for a grand coalition with Christian Democratic Union (CDU). For this, it held regional conferences in which members cast a vote in December 2013.

Prospects and challenges for inner-party democracy Inner-party democracy is in a state of transformation. There is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution for inner-party democracy. There are changes with regard to communication relationship between party leaders and members (media, social media).The influence of party officials is diminishing and elements of direct democracy are being introduced. One of the major problems of inner-party democracy is the apathy among party members. However, it increases transparency and accountability within parties and contributes to democratic consolidation.

'Debates on inner-party democracy created positive impacts'

FES, Nepal office head Dev Raj Dahal said that his office had been organizing the debates on the inner-party democracy for more than five years and it had positive impacts on the Nepalese political parties. He said that of late the parties had been weakened by a lack of inner party democracy by caucuses identity politics and social movements, and became unable to resolve conflicts. "Ideas, changes and transformations come from the parties. If the parties are democratized, this will also help democratize the state and society as well. The ideas generated from the grassroots help widen the scope of democracy," he added.

Dahal noted that the Nepalese political parties resorted to a catch-all tendency. They lack clarity and precision in their philosophy and approach, he added. He stressed on fostering the idea of volunteerism to strengthen the parties. Dahal, also a political scientist, said that the parties and their leaders should embrace knowledge produced in the society with a glowing tradition of enlightenment and wisdom. He noted that the people fought for democracy many times but they failed to get opportunities to reap benefits for them and their children. "We need to think collectively but need to be aware of the attempts from the non-organic intellectuals, who want to make the people parrot far-fetched ideas.

"When the centre becomes weak, the state organs cannot be held accountable to the people. We need to inject a sense of social volunteerism into the political realm. In order to translate knowledge into action, we need power. Leaders, headmasters and priests need civic education so that they will be enlightened," he said. In another context, he said that around 5.4 million Nepalese youth are sweating blood in the Gulf countries. Annually, the country receives about 2,200 bodies of Nepalese workers. "The youth are the strength of the country and they should not be sent to the Gulf and employment opportunity for them should be explored here." Dahal said that the FES came to Pokhara to interact with the representatives of the critical masses so that it would add a new dimension to the given discourse.

Comments from the participants:

Prakash Adhikari said that in a country like Nepal, politics is all pervasive and it is difficult for the political parties to rise above the partisan line. How can they be impelled to rise above the party boundary? Laxmi Adhikari of CPN-UML claimed that her party is practicing inner-party democracy. She expressed her worry over the ethnicization and regionalization of the politics. She claimed her party is focusing on the inclusive and proportional representation of the people in the state organs. Shalikram Poudel noted that the Nepalese politicians have the habits of making tall promises before the people but they hardly fulfil them once they get elected or become the part of the government. Another bad habit of them is that they often engage in slugfest and insult each other. "How can these problems be solved?" asked Paudel.

'Ethnic federalism is not an answer'

Dr Wagner's response: My country had also similar problem. The politicians used to give big assurances to the voters but hardly lived up to their expectations. The Supreme Court introduced a Party Law in 1967 to check and balance the parties. I hope Nepal will devise similar law that could bind the parties to their word. Nepal has many minorities and ethnic groups. I do not suggest that Nepal should go for ethnic federalism. It is not a good answer to its problems associated with the state restructuring as it has over 100 ethnic groups. This is because all cannot be given same rights. The question of ethnicity and regionalism needs to be solved by strengthening the local government. There should be the provision of quota and employment for the minorities and the marginalised. In Pakistan, it has four provinces for four ethnic groups. In India, it is based on languages.

Participants' comments

Yuva Raj Tripathi, a university teacher, said that he did not belong to any party. "I think politics divides the human beings. So, I maintain zero-attachment on politics." (Tripathi showed two ballot papers of last election and said he did not find any appropriate candidate whom he could cast his vote.) To denote word 'democracy,' there is a bundle of Nepali counterpart words- prajatantra, janatantra, loktantra, janabad and so forth. This has created a mess. I found no any right candidate to vote for. The quandary is that there is no loktantra sans the election. What to do? Madhav Sharma said that the topic of the discussion is appropriate. Vote is an important aspect of democracy, he said, adding, "But, the votes are bought with alcohol and money during the election.

When one attempts to introduce a new idea in the party, s/he is not encouraged. For example, Dr Baburam Bhattarai attempted to float new idea in his party but he was attacked. The south Asian politics is dominated by dynasty. Some are demanding not to enforce party whip in the CA but in the absence of the party whip, there will be anarchy, said Sharma. Dr Lekhanath Bhattarai said that Nepali society is not a capitalist one but still a feudal. The parties are not policy-centric but they are leader-centric. Money, muscle, lobbying and vested interest groups are dominant in the politics. There is a trend of pitting one against other. The parties sell their post of lawmaker to businessman. The leaders live on hapta (a collection of money from business people illegally by goons on a weekly basis). The parties protect goons and dons to run their economic lifeline. Srijana Sharma asked Dr Wagner to shed light on the woman leadership development in Germany. Ashok Chhantyal of UCPN-M said that the South Asian politics is infested with the dynastic and ethnic politics. "In transition, our party has talked about ethnic rights but our final goal is the evolution of human beings into the international race." He said that it is difficult to make the people understand the concept of right to self-determination. So is the implementation.

'Electoral politics is also a compromise'

Dr Wagner's response: I understand your frustration (to the query of Tripathi). Of course, politics divides the people as the parties represent interests, ideology and identity of certain groups but the electoral politics is also a compromise among them. To bring an end to the use of money and muscles during the polls, the Election Commission should be empowered and the polls should be monitored by the independent institutions to ensure the electoral integrity. In India, the Election Commission is independent. In the beginning, it was also affected by the parties. It keeps vigil on the buying of voters. The parties should be financed based on the votes they garner in the elections. Following the promulgation of the statute in Nepal, a threshold provision needs to be introduced for the normal election, which will be an instrument for the democratization process. The man and woman ration in the Green Party is 60:40. This has an impact on other parties too. Federalism is a boring subject for the students in Germany. It is a bureaucratic process of compromise. There are four ethnic groups in Germany and they are assisted by the state.

Participants' comments

Kapil Mani Dahal said that the proportional representation electoral system has invited many anomalies. Focus should be given to the direct election, he said and called for the national debate for electoral reforms to strengthen loktantra. Trinath Baral of UML said that many aberrations have surfaced in the absence of the threshold provision. He said that his party has turned into a mass-based party from the cadre-based one as part of its democratisation process. There should be cooperation between the centre and the provinces after the country is federated into federal units. The concept of welfare state will be implemented when local government is strengthened. The elements of population, geography, resources, accessibility, languages and cultures should be taken into account when provinces are created. Sunita Basnet enquired about the criteria of getting citizenship paper in Germany. She asked as to from whose name- father or mother-, the citizenship certificate is obtained in Germany. She said that until the women have their 50 per cent share in the organs of the state, development is unlikely in the country. The provision that the women have their 33 per cent participation in the mechanism of the state has not been yet implemented. In the quota of 26 CA members, nominated by the government, the women from the grassroots levels need to be picked. Another participant said that with the abolition of the monarchy, many new kings were born. The parties are power-centric and making the people fools. There is the need of fiscal discipline. The cadres of the political parties are struggling to scrape by. How to guarantee the financial security of the party workers?
'PR links with inner-party democracy'

Dr Wagner's response: (He expressed his ignorance about the provision whether the citizenship certificates are issued to the sons/daughters on the basis of mother's name in Germany or not). Proportional representation electoral system is linked with the inner-party democracy. Germany has witnessed many changed in the last 30 years. Many women in Germany are engaged in part-time jobs. Thirty per cent of women affiliated to the Social Democratic Party are engaged in informal sector.

Participants' comments

One participant said that the old political parties have become incompetent and are operating on the backing of the foreign powers. They have been unable to address the problem of the 80 per cent oppressed people. As a result, a new basis of revolt is emerging. The dependency mindset is rife in the parties. The billion dollar question is whether Nepali's democracy will be successful. The first CA was dissolved owing to the intervention of foreign power centres. There is the loss of sovereignty and the people do not feel a sense of loktantra. In such a situation, how can there be inner-party democracy? Shanta Bhusal called for identifying the position of women in democracy. There is discrimination between son and daughter, and women are treated as second-class citizen. Democracy means equality and freedom but it is not for women. Some women have risen to prominence because of their own capacity. The tentacles of patriarchy have spread everywhere. The women all the time fetch and carry for the family for11 hours a day but their works are not counted from economic point of view. To the contrary, the males work only 4 hours. Still they rule over the family. Bhim Karki urged the participants not to spill their guts to the organiser. He said that when the things are seen from distance, they look beautiful, for example, the mountains and the moon. But, when one goes close to them, they turn into boring objects. It is natural that the people do not like the place where they are living in. The fact is that the country where we live is the best place in the world. So, we should not criticize the organizer. Let's cooperate with them and provide them with useful suggestions so that they are incorporated in the national policies and programmes. Nirmala Subedi of UCPN-M said that the NGOs and INGOs are blunting the current of revolution worldwide. She was referring to the organizer of the seminar. She asked why the women in Germany are not involved in the full-time job. She blamed patriarchy system for the women status there. She said that there was intergenerational gap in the Nepali politics and asked German expert about the gap between the old and new generation there.

'FES connects society & promotes civic education'

Responding to the question of Nirmala Subedi, Dev Raj Dahal, the head FES, Office Nepal said, "The FES is neither an NGO nor an INGO but a political foundation that has been registered at the Foreign Ministry with a mandate of promoting political and civic education in the country. We connect different thoughts and take to them to the policy making forums. We believe in solidarity, freedom and emancipation as envisioned by the father of socialism Karl Marx." Dahal said that they hold interaction among different cultural and linguistic groups to learn and produce social knowledge. He also informed that the Social Democratic Party of Germany, with which the FES is close, had maintained the house of Marx and made it a museum. He said that loktantra is a bottom-up approach while bureaucracy is based on top-bottom hierarchy. "So, we hold interactions at the grassroots level to promote democracy and educate the people about the fundamentals of democratic system."

'German is an aging society'

Dr Wagner's response: There is a provision of quota for women in Germany. It is an aging society. People retire from their job at the age of 60 while life expectancy is 70 years. In Germany, the child birth rate is zero. Nepal's leaders look aged but the people are young. Nepal's strength lies in the energy of the youth and the programmes should be brought to attract them. The quota for women and youth should be increased in the parties.

Participants' comments

Tanka Adhikari lamented that the media has been widely politicized. If one journalist dares to write about the condition of inner-party democracy of any political party, s/he is harassed. It is a challenge for the journalists to discharge their duty independently. During the insurgency period, altogether 35 journalists were killed by the state and non-state forces in Kaski district. Gyan Bahadur Karki said that when there is debate about ideology within the parties, the people start to conjecture that the parties in question would split soon. Many young people have become netizens and are indifferent towards the election. Baburam Paudel said that the parties failed to come to one place over the national interest. They pull in different directions and have become pawns at the hands of foreigners. Despite the fact that Nepal has over two decades of democratic practices, the parties and their leaders have not freed themselves of the feudal mindset, which has blighted the inner-party democracy. He said that the leaders tend to stick to their post although they are senile and ailing. Hari Mohan Sharma said that the constitution writing in the US and the unification of Nepal took place simultaneously but we are now far behind the US. The parties laundered their illegal money through the election. It is imperative for the parties to make public their incomes and expenditures. A national law needs to be devised to control black money used in the political field. Dhan Bahadur Chhetri said that parties are the key actors in democracy. We need to put press on the parties for promoting internal democracy and accountability. Bhawani Pandey noted that the parties are not class-based rather they are guided by vested interests. Loktantra has turned into chaos. Inner-party democracy is a beauty and asset. The concept of right to self-determination has been misinterpreted. The concept of New Labor is not new; Marx has already described it. Politics is service or profession? If it is a service, then how can the party workers get by?

Dr Wagner's replies: The media should act as a watchdog. In Germany, the media are independent. The politics is essentially service but it also needs professionals to devise legislation because it is the experts' job. There should be transparency in the public financing system. Inner-party democracy is also an organizational question. It is not just for the old parties; even the new parties should foster inner-party democracy.

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
The information on this site is subject to a
disclaimer and copyright notice.