Marked for change

Since the multiparty system was restored in 1990, it had been felt that the country needed an effective law to govern the conduct of the political parties, which was far from satisfactory. But hardly any such step was taken, and the parties’ financial transactions, in particular, are still mostly kept under wraps. Now, the parliament is debating a Bill Relating to Political Parties, 2007, introduced on March 2. Some of the creditable features of the bill are a restriction on parties to organise strikes and bandhs, holding them responsible for the loss or damage arising from such actions, prohibition on raising donations or receiving assistance or grants from domestic or foreign individuals, organisations, or governments, state funding of the parties, and mandatory audit of the parties’ financial transactions.

A number of MPs, raising objections to certain aspects of the bill, have called for changes. These relate to provisions, such as the requirement of 10,000 voters’ signatures for the registration of a new party, the CDO’S permission to organise rallies and programmes, eligibility for state funding, alleged violations of the principle of secret ballot, and “too many restrictions”. The purpose of the parliamentary debate on a bill is to refine it before it becomes a law. The law governing political parties varies from one democracy to another, reflecting various peculiar realities. But it should be judged in terms of how it is seen to help the political parties become transparent in their transactions, to make them accountable to the people, to ensure their contribution to good governance and check all forms of distortion in public life. Because it is the political parties that seek votes, get elected, form governments and run the country in the name of the people, their behaviour must be correct, upright and exemplary in the first place.

For a country fed up with strikes and bandhs, Nepal’s political parties should lead the way in putting some kind of check on them. The virtual opacity regarding the sources and uses of their funds has been a major contributor to political corruption and to the unholy nexus between politics on the one hand and business or other vested interests, including foreign, on the other. This has adversely affected the entire governance. The provision of state support to the parties, which constitute a vital pillar of the political system, can be expected to improve the situation. However, the eligibility threshold of one per cent of the total votes in the general elections seems too low, probably tailored to qualify all the parties now in parliament. The registration requirement of 10,000 signatures may appear to be a bit cumbersome, but it is the least one can expect any group wanting to form a political party to muster. Some provisions are questionable, such as the CDO’s permission for rallies, etc. Any restriction should serve a good public purpose or high principles of democratic behaviour. Else, it should have no place.