Monday, 6 December, 2021

Party Democratisation Should Top The Agenda

Mukti Rijal

The current political mess in Nepal is attributed to the lack of democratic credibility, orientation and socialisation among political leaders and key functionaries. A survey study findings made public last month indicated that the citizen trust in the institution of political leadership and parties has declined significantly though a larger percentage of people have accorded high ratings to the performance of the elected local government leaders especially ward chairpersons and members for their quick availability and accessibility to respond to their needs and grievances.

Palpable dismay
The palpable dismay and dissatisfactions of the people with the parties and leaders can be associated with the nagging rivalry characterising the relationship among the party leaders. This distasteful situation has reached to such a brink that political leaders cannot see eye to eye to each other and even seem prepared to wipe clean the opponent's role and creditability from political slate. The unabashed clash and feud of the key leaders over sharing the morsel of power has also led to the fragmentation of the party organisations into different factions and splinter groups.
The factional strife has triggered off the series of actions and counter actions, attacks and counter attacks. These moves have also discredited and diminished the morale and propriety of the party rank and file. The incessant bickering and contest among the top notch party leaders over distribution of power and resources has led to the wrecking of the mammoth sized Nepal Communist Party. This division was judicially formalised and further wedged by the court ruling that invalidated the banner under which both the erstwhile UML and Maoists had taken recourse to the process of unification.
The breakdown of Nepal Communist Party has caused a jolt and gave the rude shock to the integrity and cohesion of the government. The government led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was pushed on the edge of collapse. As a result, the prime minister dissolved the federal parliament with intent for going to early elections. But the decision was checkmated and reversed as the House got reinstated through a court decision. The sharp fissure within the rank and file of the revived UML leadership added further political complications. As the party leaders dug-in heels to their position, the prime minister dissolved the House again contending that the elections could give the way out for bringing the fluid, unstable and uncertain politics to order in the country. The House dissolution case has been taken to the Supreme Court again for seeking ruling on the legality of the prime minister's decision.
The political conflict at the federal level has sent shock waves to the provinces where the ruling and opposition parties have been locking horns against each other using different kinds of machinations at their disposal to prevail at the sub-national level. As a consequence, Gandaki province government headed by one of the close aides of Prime Minister Oli has been edged out of the office and a new coalition of the opposition parties has taken over the other day. Likewise, the government of Province 2 has witnessed a polarisation through realignment of political forces and reshuffling in the composition of the council of ministers.
The ever recurring political rivalry between and among the party leadership has exacted a heavy toll on governance and development of the country. At this time of crisis, the nation needs a united and determined government to tackle emergency created due to the scourge of COVID-19 which has claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people in the country. Economic activities have come to a halt whereas available resources have been spent for non-productive ends. The ratio of public spending is acutely low. The popular rating of parties and leaders has plummeted such a low that they have been rather perceived as those who tend to create barriers on the way of normal pace of development than acting as facilitators and enablers.
In today's democratic world, political parties are undoubtedly needed as an indispensable catalyst of democracy even as their behaviours and actions seem to be an anathema to the process of democratisation and development. They are vital to democracy even though constitutions of most democracies do not dictate a role for them. Parties operate in a realm little regulated by statutory law. In the United States, in fact, the founders of the constitution did not seem very favourable to the notion of strongly organised parties. One of the founding fathers of the US constitution James Madison, in the Federalist Papers, drew no distinction between parties and factions. He mentioned that parties are united by common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens not affiliated to them.

Effective representation
But the makers of the US constitution realised finally that the price paid in minimising the role of parties would be too great. Political parties organise politics in every modern democracy and some political analysts even claim that parties are what induce democracies to be responsive and responsible. Political observers of post-communist democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America blame the shortfalls of democracies in their countries in the absence or due to serious weaknesses of political parties. Political parties’ normative world is ordered around the effective representation of inevitably conflicting interests and views in the society. Political parties are, therefore, described as a necessary microbe lodged deep in the digestive tract vital to keeping the democratic body politic in good health.
We may disdain and not agree with the roles and performance of political parties in Nepal but they are organised and operate within the constitutional and statutory realm. Though the present role of political parties and leadership is not compatible to the values and morale of pluralist democratic dispensation envisaged in the Constitution of Nepal, there is no substitute to reforming and democratising these institutions for greater good and wellbeing of the nation.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.