DR GYAN BASNET
Strong political parties are of paramount importance for open, competitive, democratic politics, particularly in emerging democracies such as ours. All democracies demand strong and sustainable political parties that have the capacity to represent the people and to provide choices that underline their ability to govern for the public good. In our context, though, all the mainstream political parties are experiencing internal party-feuds and have developed cracks from within. Factionalism has become a normal phenomenon in the country. It has been an endemic disease that affects South-Asian politics in general, but in our country it is more visible.
Our political parties are suffering serious internal crisis and the resultant power struggles are building towards a mighty volcanic explosion. The recent example of the UCPN-Maoist split, with the Mohan Vaidya faction breaking off its relationship with the mother party and declaring itself a new party called CPN-Maoist, is a clear indication of this. Recent feuds also within the CPM-UML as well as within the Nepali Congress party, where Janajati and Madhesi leaders have threatened to quit if their parties do not accept ethnic-based federalism, are yet more profound examples of the same. The phenomenon seems set to continue. Indeed, that very democracy may itself be in serious danger if the political parties cannot re-define their attitudes, space and manifestos and learn to serve the people better.
Over time, political parties everywhere do split, re-form and polarize. It is the essence of democracy. In our context, however, reality on the ground is much more complex. It would appear to have been happening for over half century not so much for ideological or even rational reasons, but because of personal hunger for power among the leaders. Our political parties seem to be guided less by principles and convictions and more by power grabbing in order to serve their own petty interests. A recent split of the Maoist party, for example, would appear to have had less to do with ideology and more to do with personal conflict and the sharing of powers. Such splits are easily attributable to a moral vacuum in our politics.
Firstly, to improve party politics, the parties themselves must encourage greater participation in open debates on all important issues. Open, competitive, and fair participation in a framework of legitimate, credible party institutions enables citizens and groups to defend their interests, to act on issues that they care about, and to hold their leaders accountable for their decisions. Such institutions, enlivened by contention among socially rooted interests, can moderate conflict, convert demands into public policy backed by a working consensus, and earn legitimacy.
Secondly, promoting inner democracy and inner morality within each party is also essential. Leaders need to show quality and commitment to good causes, and fair debate and regular elections to change the leadership within the party are very important. In politics, as in any walk in life retirement gives opportunities for a new generation with energy and ideas to represent the changed needs and sentiments of the people.
Thirdly, the aim should be to establish a fully-fledged democracy. As in all social institutions, there are good and bad people, good and bad leaders. Bad leaders must be discarded at all levels. A political party cannot gain strength by flexing its muscles in the street, but by committing itself to workable policies to gaining the loyal support of its members, and above all to earning the trust of the people. Most importantly, party politics must not be hijacked by a handful of party bosses as appeared to happen during the final days of our Constituent Assembly. Party politics must, therefore, be freed from the pocket of a few individual leaders.
Finally, there is an urgent need for greater transparency in the funding and income sources of the political parties. They clearly need money to mobilize support, to compete, and to perform their functions. Yet, political money and those who donate it are widely seen as problematic - at times, even, as a threat to democratic stability. What are the sources of Paris Dada Palace, the Maoists’ headquarter, and Balkhu Lal Darbaar, headquarter the CPN UML, and Prachanda’s new Castle at Lazimpat? The political parties are among the most crucial of national institutions for the promotion and consolidation of democratic norms and values. In their many forms, they should not merely contest elections, but should on a continuous basis mobilize and organize the social forces that energize the democracy. Justice, fairness, national and group identity, good leadership, and healthy politics are essential elements of democracy. The political process must reflect all these elements as it strives to advance social values while regarding the interests of the people as being of paramount importance. It is time for our leaders and all who care about the future of our country to take these issues seriously, to listen to the people carefully, and to do their utmost to pull the country back from the brink of a possible catastrophe.
Dr Basnet holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law