Congress leadership : Time for introspection

The central working committee (CWC) meeting of the Nepali Congress deliberated its political agenda for about two weeks, for the first time since its huge loss in the Constituent Assembly polls on April 10. It is a common practice in democratic countries to review the party performance in polls after the final results and especially when the party suffers a debilitating defeat. For electoral victory, party leaders are cheered and thanked. In case of a defeat, top leaders resign from their posts, taking responsibility for the turn of events. Subsequently, their resignations are discussed in CWC meeting called to evaluate the performance of the party.

However, in Nepal and especially in the Nepali Congress, there is hardly such political culture telling upon the very democratic function of the party. First, the top leaders avoid calling such meetings in which their leadership may be questioned. In case such meetings are requisitioned at all, they do not allow the members to censure them for their inapt leadership. The defeat of the Nepali Congress in the Constituent Assembly election has raised a big question about the poor functioning of the party leadership. Strangely, while the CWC is discussing the issue, its president has attended the meeting only once. Ultimately, due to heavy pressure from the participants, the general convention will be held by the end of August. Since the CWC has extended the tenure of the members by one year, the date has been fixed accordingly ignoring the necessity of holding such meeting at the earliest.

With regard to the causes of the debacle, experts question the very selection of the electoral system that is responsible for the final electoral results on several grounds. First, had first-past-the-post system not been accepted as a component of the mixed electoral system, the final result would not have been so dismal. Secondly, the final results could have definitely been better had the compensatory system known as mixed member proportional system (MMPS) been adopted in place of parallel system. In MMPS, the disproportionality is minimised by adjusting proportionally the seats gained through FPtP system to the seats to be obtained through proportional representation (PR) system.

Top leaders are to be blamed as they underestimated the impact of the electoral system on the final poll results. The Nepali Congress leaders also failed to do sufficient homework to save the party from its bitter defeat in the elections. Thirdly, the party failed to comprehend the effect of high per cent of invalid votes in the mixed system against the caution notes from experts. There were over 560,000 invalid votes - the highest percentage of invalid votes in any election in the past, which might also have influenced the final results of Constituent Assembly election.

Surprisingly, the credit of initiating the peace process that had gone to Nepali Congress was reversed by its own fault with adoption of the FPtP system for election which broke the continuity of politics of consensus. The FPtP system is based on the victory and defeat of party candidates even by a margin of a vote. Had NC accepted proportional representation system of election, the result would have been different. The timing of the election has also often been questioned. Was April 10 the right time for holding election even as the law and order situation throughout the country was far from satisfactory? The non-compliance with the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) by the Maoists regarding their combatants and the YCL cadres was another issue that remained unaddressed.

To some, the Nepali Congress appeared to be oblivious to the changing mindset of its traditional voters in Madhes who were demanding an end to all sorts of discrimination and a greater inclusion. The ineffectiveness of the government to maintain law and order situation during the Nepalgunj and Lahan incidents has definitely served to change voters’ preference.

Importantly, the frivolous election campaign of the Nepali Congress is largely responsible for its defeat, as it did not depute young and leaders with an untainted image in order to help garner support of the majority in the election. Ironically, though the Nepali Congress professes to be a democratic party, it continues to violate the constitutional provisions to elect all the members of the CWC at least once in every five years. Instead, the party continues to have fifty per cent of its members who have directly been nominated by the president.

It is a matter of regret that Nepali Congress as one of the major political parties, which led the peace process and successfully conducted the Constituent Assembly election, utterly fails to introspect the reasons for being routed in the constituent assembly election. More humiliating is the fact that Nepali Congress has failed to become a partner in the coalition government breaking the continuous process of consensual politics that it had once started.

Mishra is ex-election commissioner