Haven for dictatorial gerontocracyPolitical parties would not bother holding the convention had the constitution not forced them.
It is entirely antithetic even to think that democratic exercise as lofty as holding national conventions by major political parties could push the nation a step closer to a sham democracy. But the reality is, the national conventions of the three largest parties—ruling Nepali Congress, the main opposition in the Parliament CPN-UML, and the largest partner in the ruling coalition, the CPN Maoist Centre—to be held within a month are all set to legitimise the extension of another term of existing, essentially dictatorial, gerontocrats who have ruled the roost in their respective parties for decades. Ideally, these conventions should have been an extensive democratic exercise to calibrate their ideologies and a rare occasion to give a new lease on life by electing a fresh, dynamic and visionary leadership for the future. But, unfortunately, nothing of the sort is forthcoming. Nepal's political space effectively transforms into a haven for dictatorial gerontocracy or a monopoly of power by the elderly.
In fact, the leadership in each of the political parties in Nepal would not even bother to hold the convention as long as they could, had a constitutional compulsion to save the validity of their respective party had not been imminent. As per Article 269, clause (4b) of the constitution, for a political party to save its registration with the Election Commission, or to be eligible to contest elections, it must hold 'election of each of the office-bearers of the party at the federal and provincial levels at least once in every five years.' In the event of 'failure to hold election of its office-bearers within five years because of a special circumstance', an extension of the term of six months could be extended. All these parties have exhausted all these possibilities of extensions. Covid-19 pandemic provided the pretext of 'special circumstance' to those who wanted to prolong their term in office by extension than election. None of these parties held their constitutionally mandatory national and provincial conventions after the promulgation of the new federal constitution in September 2015.
The convention of any democratic political outfit should have been the venue for battles of principles and ideologies, which, alas, has been comprehensively replaced by the series of incidents of exchanges of fisticuffs and body blows between the contesting factions. So-called 'establishment' faction invariably in all these parties is alleged to have wielded every muscle for absolute capture of the party by employing any possible hook or crook. The party may vary in the name, but the tendency seems hardly differentiable.
Dance of gerontocrats
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is now 76 and has decided to run for another term in office in the party's 14th convention. Over the years, he has consolidated his support base in the party so that no effective challenger is likely to defeat him in the upcoming fray easily. His chances of winning have even improved because at least six candidates from the opposition camp alone have announced their candidacy for the party presidency. All of his potential contenders are either his contemporaries or the ones nearing seventy. Much awaited generational transfer of power in the party has, thus, been effectively thwarted. The blame is not only on those who won't relinquish despite their age but also on those so-called 'youth generation' who failed to put up a real fight with a different vision, energy and courage. Another advantage to Deuba is that every other contestant is not fundamentally different from his loathe politics regarding policies, programmes, and even promises.
Nevertheless, at least in Nepali Congress, an aura of election is alive at every level and position, including the president. Despite sporadic controversies, elections to the convention delegates are fiercely fought throughout the country. But in the other two parties, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre, the climate of healthy contestation has also been effectively nipped in the bud.
In CPN-UML, no challenger to Chairman KP Oli exists after his predecessors and contemporaries. Former prime ministers Jhala Nath Khanal and Madhav Kumar Nepal left the party to form a new one. Oli has made sure that no detractor gets nominated (mainly selected by forced consensus) as the convention delegate from about two thousand constituencies, which is also fixed by his convenience. Therefore, the upcoming 10th convention is a mere formality to stipulate Oli as the chairman also for the next five-year term. His grip is so powerful that his discretionary handpicks will perhaps fill all other party positions, not through an election.
The scene is not much different in the Maoist Centre. Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is all set to 'win' again without any contest. He also has ordered the entire rank and file to elect the leadership right up from the ward levels 'by consensus'. The cadres are thrilled because the party, for the first time, is allowing to select representatives from local conferences departing from the practice of direct nomination by the all-powerful high command.
Such a systematic and pervasive undermining of the essence of internal democracy in key parties has serious ramifications, both in governance and democracy. The misuse of power by already powerful ones to keep every differing voice at bay is converting those political outfits into mercenary apparatus in the hands of the elected dictators. The scope of meaningful debates in the party forums with the objectives of forming a substantiated opinion on the nation's pressing issues, as experienced at present is nearing zero.
It is a bitter pill to swallow, but an entire so-called 'youth generation' in each party has abominably ditched the nation and the democracy. They chose to surrender to the tantrums of the powerful gerontocrats unquestionably, refused to hear their conscience and ignored the aspirations of the masses. Their readiness to subservience is indeed appalling. Their choice of irresponsible hedonism over the sense of sacrifice in the interest of the ideology (if any), the party, the democracy and the nation only thickens the dark cloud over Nepal's sky. Prolonged gerontocracy shouldn't be our future.