Political parties and their decayThe leaders’ commitment to the process and values of democracy is increasingly becoming suspect.
Political parties in both the established and developing democracies are in decline. The old parties in the UK, the US, Germany, India and Nepal, to mention a few, are no more symbols of democracy and freedom. The parties have their own respective biographies; some evolved and some were innovated. The Indian National Congress, established in 1885 by a British gentleman, became both a movement and a systemic party. The leadership role is a crucial variable for institutionalising democracy, and Congress leaders did fill that role while making a new democratic constitution with sovereignty vested in the people of India. But the results of the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections have ‘foreclosed' the prospect of the Congress or the possibility of its return under the ‘one-party dominance’ system it had enjoyed until the rise of the Janata Party in 1977, and now the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The rise of charismatic Narendra Damodar Modi, abetted by invading populism that promised good governance, development and ‘nationalism’, made big electoral gains, reducing the size of the Indian National Congress to below 60 seats in the Lok Sabha. Such a demeanour deprived the Congress of its legal opposition status in Parliament. Its future is thus uncertain, given the leadership crisis following the 2019 parliamentary elections. It is also worth mentioning that the regional parties in the north Indian states have declined due to failures to rejuvenate them by inducting young leaders from outside the traditional families.
Declining democratic trends
In the US and UK, concern has been shown over declining democratic trends and practices. Leaders who join electoral politics with xenophobic and populist slogans seem to beguile people reminiscent of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s election victories. In Germany, both the Christian Democratic and Socialist parties are being challenged by the Green and others. In France, the old parties are weak vis-à-vis the new parties and leaders. Thus the present French president comes from a different background, leaving behind the old parties. Italy and other European countries with a few exceptions have now been ruled by new parties. Nevertheless, the new parties also lack ideological clarity and prospects of stability. Donald Trump indeed bypassed the Republican Party by testing his popularity through the primaries. His Republican detractors had no other option but to endorse him as president.
In Nepal, the Nepali Congress faces its first ever crisis as old leaders, despite electoral setbacks and organisational dilemma, continue to occupy top positions making the party stagnant or dysfunctional. It has not been able to cash in on its ideological consistency and historical roles it played from time to time. It cannot project itself as a viable alternative to the combined force of the Nepal Communist Party only by invoking BP Koirala. The Nepal Communist Party does not face a strong challenge from the opposition because of the huge mandate it has received and the failure of the Nepali Congress to position itself as an alternative force. But it has been hit by intra-party conflicts on ideological, organisational and personal grounds. Its huge mandate is, therefore, wasted as it has failed to deliver anything it had promised during the elections and after.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has squandered what he earned before, thus giving rise to widespread frustration and public annoyance at running a government soaked in corruption and non-governance. The party is mired in an ideological non-issue whether it should adopt janatako bahudaliya janbad (people’s multiparty democracy) or janatako janbad (people’s democracy)—the former owned by the Unified Marxist-Leninist and the latter by the former Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Such skulduggery has nothing to do with the goal of achieving development. Both 'communist' parties made a decision to integrate as the Nepal Communist Party out of their respective compulsions, and now it has become a problem for them with each trying to retain its respective former identity.
Moreover, the formula of duopoly or having two captains for one jet plane has made the two chairmen rivals for the post of prime minister. Such wrangling within the party has cast serious doubts about the transformative role of the Nepal Communist Party under the present leadership. Sick and fatigued, Oli seems to have exhausted his capacity to deliver. The party will not be able to perform miracles under any new leader who may succeed Oli because of the collapsing institutions, widespread corruption and lack of direction.
Ageing and lacklustre leaders
Thus, the Nepal Communist Party is not likely to sustain its electoral popularity despite being united. Both the Nepali Congress and the Nepal Communist Party would, in all probability, undergo the ordeal of democratisation as both parties have temporarily been run by sick, ageing and lacklustre leaders. Even the Nepali Congress’ ideological clarity is subject to scrutiny because of the universal retreat of democratic governance. Elections fought for democracy have invariably turned into rituals with the singular mission of getting into power by any means, foul or fair. And not any type of political system matters as the parliamentary system has lost much of its credentials of being a viable inclusive and functional democratic process.
The leaders’ commitment to the process and values of democracy is increasingly becoming suspect. It is not only perversion but also the hijacking of the system by those who have gained access to power through various unscrupulous channels. A new class that has been produced by the unholy alliance between government functionaries and money-power wielders has sabotaged democratic systems from within. Nepal is a good example to show how the popular mandate is turning out to be woefully inconsequential insofar as the regulative and delivery capacity is concerned. In the opinion of American political sociologist Larry Diamond, if such a “prolonged period of undemocratic and inept leadership is experienced, the system itself may begin to decay”. And the trends of political decay are heightened by the self-centred leaders of the major political parties.
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