Stifling dissent of members is no way to run a political partyIf the party is structured to be democratic, the leaders must show some regard for such values.
Last week, Nepal Communist Party senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal launched an attack on the party leadership, especially Co-chair KP Sharma Oli, by registering a note of dissent at the party secretariat. He even demanded strict implementation of the ‘one person, one responsibility’ principle in the party. Nepal was miffed considering how the party leadership had been bereft of deliberations, and how one of the chairpersons, Oli, had been taking major decisions unilaterally. While the infighting within the party continues, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other co-chair, on Monday decided to bar leaders from speaking against the party and the leadership, adding the sort of odour one associates typically with authoritarianism—but this time inside a party.
Freedom of expression, to be clear, is a right guaranteed by the constitution. Speaking up against wrongdoing makes our democracy stronger, not weaker. But the leaders, be they who run the party or the state, need to adhere to the same democratic values that give an equal voice to everyone. Regrettably, they are more interested in passing laws that are detrimental to democracy and taking harsh action to criminalise peaceful expression.
Party leaders maintain that the new decision to muzzle its leaders is part of an effort to maintain discipline within the party. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Various news reports offer pointers to the fact that since Oli returned to power, his style of functioning has created some discomfort among the party leaders, who reveal that the co-chairman and prime minister has been making decisions unilaterally without holding proper consultations, and uses fear and coercion to control members.
Oli continues to serve as the loudest cheerleader for his record while dismissing any criticism of his actions. Dahal often supports his actions. Given the way the Nepal Communist Party has been functioning, party leaders believe dissenting is also one of the only means of making their voices heard. Cooperation among party members is a crucial thing, and the Nepal Communist Party needs to realise this. The party cannot function properly if decision making involves only a clique. If the party is structured to be democratic, the leaders must show some regard for such values. They were not chosen to abuse power and take decisions in a clandestine manner or muzzle dissent but were selected to work for the benefit of everyone and respect all party members.
When the leadership resorts to censorship and becomes intolerant of dissent, both in the party and the country, it translates into insecurity. By allowing more voices to be heard, the party leaders can test the political waters for new policy initiatives and more accurately gauge public opinion. But it has decided to shut its eyes and close its ears to comments and actions that do not resonate with the leaders' authoritarian ways of working. The tactic might work for a while, but it remains to be seen for how long stifling dissent by party members will be able to conceal the party leaders’ wrongdoings.
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