This writer had an opportunity of participating in the seminars and dialogues organised to deliberate and generate ideas for the provisions to be envisaged in the constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990 which was expected to usher in and institutionalise the process of pluralism and democracy building in the country. It was a very exciting and exhilarating time in the political history of the country wedded to and laden with soaring expectations of the people. The wave of liberal democracy was sweeping across the globe and authoritarian regimes were being toppled one after other.
The movement for restoration of democracy was successfully launched and carried out under the auspices of the banned political parties that had united to offer a frontal resistance to the authoritarian Panchayat polity. In fact, the constitution referred to above was being formulated at the backdrop of the three-decade-long rule of the authoritarian non-party government headed by hereditary monarchy. The political parties like Nepali Congress and Unite Left Front (ULF) had been at the forefront to dictate the terms and shape up the process of the new constitution writing.
Broader consultation Though the then interim government, headed by late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, had formed the commission to draft the constitution chaired by Chief Justice late Biswanath Prasad Upadhyaya with recourse to broader and wider consultation, political party leaders had, nevertheless, been at the core to define and set the tone for the constitution writing process. The political parties, indeed, wanted to ensure that the constitution guarantees the existence and inalienability of the political parties in the new political dispensation as the key vehicle of democratisation and democratic development in the country.
The party leaders were also keen to keep that the plural democratic order goes ahead unhindered free from any capricious interferences though constitutional backing. The authors of the constitution were seemingly inclined to borrow from the European tradition of recognising and regulating political parties in the constitution which is in sharp contradistinction to the British parliamentary norm. During those times, Danish aid agency was heavily involved as one of the key development partners in the democratisation and decentralisation process of Nepal.
The framers of the constitution thus had the advantage of interacting with international experts including those coming from Denmark and draw from their respective experiences. Several constitutional experts from Europe and South Asian countries, especially from India and Sri Lanka, had shared their experiences in different forums organised to assist in the process of constitution writing in Nepal immediately after the restoration of multiparty polity in 1990.
In fact, the constitution of Nepal promulgated in 1990 offered the country the lone and exclusive example among the South Asian countries where political parties have been constitutionally entrenched and embodied. It is worth to note the fact that even the constitution of the Union of India does not have a separate chapter relating to political parties even though it has a rather long history of political parties and democratisation than that of Nepal. Though the 1990 constitution based on unitary state structure was replaced by the federal democratic constitution authored by Constituent Assembly in 2015, some provisions like the ones related with political parties have been subscribed from its predecessor document with an added importance and scope in this basic law of the land.
According to the federal constitution of Nepal 2015, political parties need to be incorporated as a legal entity and registered with the Election Commission of Nepal which is designated legally as the regulating authority for the political groups and organizations. The constitution requires the political parties to imbibe into the democratic values and norms. The party office-bearers for different tiers and levels need to renew their mandates every five years through democratic elections subject to the provisions in their respective statutes.
Pursuant to the constitutional provision, a separate law relating to political parties has been formulated in 2017 that spells out registration process, standards, functions, scope and party functionary recruitment, and several other aspects of the political party regulatory governance. Though the Election Commission has been often criticised for its subdued and less than satisfactory performance especially in enforcing rules and regulation, it has, of late, become apparently active to assert its role as the enforcer of the political party regulatory regime.
Nepali Congress convened its 14th general convention because of the mandatory legal provision and also the constant reminder served by the Election Commission to it in regard to its statutory compliance requirement. Similarly, CPN-Maoist Centre has realised urgency to hold its party congress because of the mandatory provision of the party regulatory regime. As per the news report the party converted its national conference into party congress to fulfill and meet the compliance requirement as stipulated in the law.
Furthermore, the Election Commission has sprung into action to enforce the provision in the law relating to political parties that prohibits recruitment of the school and university teachers and civil servants, among others, as the office-bearers of the political parties. Not very long back the Commission served the notice to the political parties to refrain from recruiting the government remunerated employees into the formal party structure to uphold the provisions envisaged in the law relating to political party.
Impartiality Needless to say, a large number of government remunerated employees including the school and university teachers are reportedly recruited into the ranks and files of political parties that have politicised the orientation of public institutions in the country. This has to be stopped to ensure impartiality and rationality of the academic and bureaucratic institutions that feed on the public exchequer.
As discussed above, political party laws have their significance in promoting and regulating the political parties especially requiring and sanctioning them to organise and act democratically. The law fulfills such critical functions as defining the criteria for recognition of a political party, regulating party activities, prescribing norms for party organisation, setting sanctions against parties if they fail in upholding the norms and so on. In Nepal, we have rightly formulated political party law according to the democratic intents of the constitution. However, it is high time we made the Election Commission effective enough to enforce the regulatory regime enacted for the political parties.
(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow. email@example.com)