Eleventh convention Turmoil in the Nepali Congress

It is preposterous to demand democracy in the national polity when there is no democracy in the party.

The date of holding the eleventh general convention of the Nepali Congress (NC) is approaching as it is to be held from August 30 to September 2 in Kathmandu. On the eve of the convention, Narhari Acharya, a Central Workding Committee (CWC) member of the NC, has suggested his four-point political document to the party general secretary for holding detailed discussions on the subjects at the general convention. His four-point suggestion includes backing constitutional assembly polls, incorporating a provision for a regional or federal system of governance to restructure the state and promoting internal democracy to address future changes. To hold a national convention is obligatory on the part of the political parties for two reasons, First, in order to abide by the conditions laid down in the 1990 Constitution and, secondly, as per requirement stipulated in the constitution of the party.

Unlike many countries like India, which do not have any mention of political parties in their constitutions, we, in our constitution, have the separate chapter 17 to deal with political organisations or parties as we have witnessed the system of partyless government for three decades. Article 112 of the Constitution clearly prohibits banning of political parties. The Constitution provides that each party has to get itself registered in the office of the Election Commission (EC) and has to secure recognition from the (EC) for the purpose of election. For getting registered, four conditions have to be fulfilled. One of the conditions laid down in the Article 113 (2), sub clause (b), stipulates: “That the Constitution and the rules of the organisation or party shall provide for election of the office bearers of the organisation or party every five years”. It demands that two conditions are followed by the party which is interested in getting registered. First, the constitution of the party must have provisions of election for all office bearers, and secondly, for holding elections at least once every five years.

The general convention of the NC is going to be held to meet the constitutional obligation of the party. But the first condition appears to be left out. Significantly, the NC government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba got a bill passed in 2001 named “The Political Parties Related Act, 2058” incorporating a sub-section (m) of Section 4, under the heading, Constitution of the Party, “providing for election of a minimum fifty per cent of the officer bearers at least once in five years” running in stark contravention of the letter and spirit of the Article 113 (2) (b) of the constitution which does not limit the number of the elected office bearers. It is, therefore, surprising that how a bill violating the clause of the Constitution was passed by the parliament. Since the NC is holding its general convention, it will be wise to amend its statute in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. It will not only be consistent with the Constitution, which the NC still upholds (against the Act permitting it) by setting the inconsistent party’s statutory provision right, but it will also make the party’s statute more democratic in spirit than what it is today.

It is significant to mention here that this change will bring about a sea change in the power of the party president who has been nominating fifty per cent members to the Central Working Committee (CWC), the apex body of the party. It may be recollected that till a few years back the party president was empowered to nominate all the members of the party’s executive committee, the CWC. But due to amendments made a few years ago only 18 members of its decision-making apex body started getting elected and 18 members continued to be nominated by the party president. Now, it is time to make the party more democratic. It seems to be preposterous to demand democracy in the national polity when there is no democracy in the party. Secondly, since the entire polity is at a crossroads, the NC may be passing through a very decisive period of its history, as it has to decide for the gravest issue before it. Whether it should go for some drastic change, in the form of the government (republican pattern) or continue its traditional adherence to the system of constitutional monarchy?

Since Narhari Acharya has already submitted his political document for discussion in the convention, the NC high command has to discuss the issues raised by him. No doubt, the role of the party president is very crucial in the smooth running of the party for which he requires a majority in the CWC. But, majority should not be his prerogative to be achieved by nominating his yesmen in the CWC. It should always be achieved or evolved through consensus, which is the core of any democratic functioning. Individuals can come and go but a party lives. Hence, it is the responsibility of the party president to go ahead to make an epoch-making decision in the party organisation at this critical juncture where the party stands now.

Prof Mishra is former election commissioner