Critical Moment For Party Reforms

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Dev Raj Dahal

All of Nepal’s political parties are now ridden with leader-oriented factionalism. It is caused by the antinomy of the path defined by their political manifestoes and personal expediency of leaders and party ideology, identity and strategy set by their founders and the current limping curve bound by the cycle of self-defensiveness. This factional struggle has sapped their multitasking ability on a larger scale and become effective in national political life. Mostly evolved during democratic struggle, breakup of parliamentary parties and merger of a variety of fractured groups aspiring for power and opportunity, Nepali political parties ever more find a hiatus in ideological goals when they were created and drift around the uncharted destination, not the true lift. 

This disjuncture has bred many contradictions where leaders are spending time to jostle with their command and control mould of politics, not negotiated and coordinated ones, assume certain essential functions defined by party’s formal laws and the struggle to adapt to society’s informal rules, institutions and mode of rule. Public awareness of politics in Nepal is growing with the loss of their primordial innocence. So does their mindfulness, informed engagement and evaluative capacity. In the politically shifting circumstances, Nepali people find a gap between the constitutionally mandated inclusive structures’ ability to absorb newly enfranchised social classes and gender and fair scope and opportunity for interest articulation in matters of public policy and public good. 

Slipshod habit

The deinstitutionalisation of party schools has left political socialisation of local leaders, cadres and voters in a decrepit order unable to assume political responsibility other than to swing from one faction to another and one party to another thus hybridising all in search of social mobility and opportunity. They hold little passion in partisan attachment for the institutionalisation Nepali parties and even leadership growth across social classes and generations. Why did this happen? It has more to do with leadership style, insight problem, slipshod habit and the political culture of careerism it cultivated. It is, therefore, rational to offer suggestions for party reforms as remedy.

Deliberative process in national convention: Nepali party reforms must espouse a speaking and listening culture among the top leadership so that different viewpoints of people find time and space for deliberation, criticism, self-criticism, consideration and policy attention in national convention. The openness to practical ideas originating from the grassroots committee offers scope for various scales of leaders to know local people’s minds, needs, wants and problems, build collaborative framework for their resolution, shift docile nature of cadres to inquiring persons and combine power of diversity, majority rule and consensual decision making so that no one feels alienated. 

Downward accountability of leaders allows the local party committees to select their representatives affirming the constitutional vision of sovereignty of people and rational management of party discipline, auxiliary organisations and supporters’ networks. It can avert party defection, apathy, rise of independent candidates, switch of party loyalties and split of political unity. People vaunting independent candidates in the elections indicates their confidence in political change via high-stakes electoral politics but rings an alarm bell about ground shifting vibration underneath partiocracy and inability of old leaders to manage popular grievances. 

Deliberative process in the selection of any creative initiatives gives the local people a sense of ownership and increases the level of civic knowledge for participation. Openness to learning and feedback systems are the hallmarks of a flexible democratic society and an opportunity for Nepalis to exercise many lenses to issues, hone their technology, talent and knowledge about self-rule and shared rule and shape the trajectory of political development. 

Devolution of tasks and authorities: In a nation of diversity and hierarchy in human development like Nepal, the homogeneous nature of the party functioning from the top does not help social and political integration. They have to construct a pluralistic frame for various social groups to peacefully compete, complement and cooperate with each other and satisfy their legitimate concerns. Devolution of tasks and authorities in the Nepali political parties helps to remove declining attraction of people to political parties for their mismatch between promise and performance and less thrilled to discover alternative tools for engagement. 

But it imagines the inclusion of social diversity, especially those on the margins of society, in local party committees who are capable of knowing the ground reality teemed with a wide range of orchestrating conditions. They are the real stakeholders of local democracy with ability to size up local problems and try out optimal solutions through formal and informal institutional muscle. Some scholars prefer de-politicisation of local self-governance so that censuring other groups through social pressure, friction or clientalism does not occur in the performance of elected leaders and government officials and they do not have to dither from their high moral ground of impersonality and constitutional duties for short term partisan and personal benefits thus compromising the resilience of national web of life.

Consensus model of decision making beyond groupthink: Nepali political parties have a tendency to apply core groupthink mentality in decision making and majoritarian domination. They rope irrational conformity to it thus sparking controversy in the local party committees. A largely societal consensus model on decision making can spur non-polarising political and development processes and keep the projects sustainable so that leaders do not indulge in the luxury of inventing new projects every time for the expansion of partisan constituencies without sustaining the old one. Social solidarity can be built in the party committee not by muscular strength of leaders but by their consensus-seeking ability so that inter and intra-party trust and healthy interdependence are built for communication, collaboration and connection thus generating a spur of synergy in an intelligent path of change.  

Building vigour of this sub-culture in the local party committee can foster civic culture in national leadership who is able to pull this nation out of the unsettling maelstrom of convoluted politics that does not serve constitutional vision. Yet, they require clear counterfactual thinking about alternative possibilities of building parties from bottom up to attain a great measure of success and eschew habit-driven conduct which is a source of contradictions.

Minimisation of the flow of private money and patronage: In Nepal the flow of private money in politics, political parties and institutions of integrity, justice, administrative and disciplinary institutions, like the circulation of bad blood in the body, have battered the functioning of democracy and tottered their capacity to set checks of power, thus allowing media to interpret political truth in many directions. The clout of private money in the local party committees blurs the boundaries between the private realm of economy that fosters patronage and the public realm of politics, leadership and parties. 

Ordinary Nepalis see politics beyond the game of survival of fittest, economic exchange, class struggle and social determinism as perceived by top leaders but a template to solve their infrastructural deficits, scarcity of public good, problems of poverty, joblessness, illiteracy, health hazards and skewed opportunity owing to the intensification of patronage networks and explosion of non-socialised special interest groups’ clout connected to higher ups in the party hierarchy. Their vision is geared by their own reflection on the human condition and practical experience, not ideology or theory, devoid of contextual awareness, feeling and intuition that fills neither body nor soul.

Democratic dividends 

Mapping party politics through democratic template: Democratisation in the internal life of Nepali political parties is long overdue. It has been stalled by excessive faction-mindedness and ubiquity of partisan recruitment in the institutions of governance. This democratisation brings change in the administration of political power, reduces the personalisation of leadership and exposes everyone to the rule of law where ordinary people can exercise choice for reaping democratic dividends and steering social change. Now, Nepalis are utilising alternative agencies for their information and communication through social media, discourse, participation and cooperative action in many areas and niche activities vital to foster local forms of entrepreneurship, specialisation in production, exchange and distribution for better income. 

The new public sphere has increased the ability of people to interpret, analyse and pass judgments about party politics. Weak political mobilisation of people by local party structures and unresponsiveness to those outside the party framework are evocative of political decay. Since public morality flourishes in self-realised conscience, Nepali leaders should not stick to power life-long or bring their relatives either through collusion to keep the status quo or carry long catalogues of problems to keep the nation in perpetual crisis of governance. Confronted with a tutelage frame of personalised politics, Nepalis now retreat to their own experience demanding party reforms to improve their communities and society and seek agencies to take full advantage of their people’s power.  

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.) 

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