NCP leadership calls on cadres to stop criticising party on social mediaLeaders and experts see this as a step to shrink democratic space within the party as well as the larger society and it will be opposed.
As the months-long conflict within the ruling Nepal Communist Party seems to have been resolved and the postponed Standing Committee meeting set to start Friday, the party leadership, fearing widespread dissent, now seems intent on smothering opposing voices within the party.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the two chairs, having settled their differences, have now proposed a ban on criticising party policies, leaders and cadres through social media which party leaders and experts say could shrink democratic space within the ruling party.
“Responsible comrades and the all concerned are directed to strictly stop the tendency to write nonsense against the party’s policies, leaders and cadres and to act in opposition to the benefit of the party,” says the chairs’ proposal to be presented at the Standing Committee on Friday.
“With effective implementation of institutional decisions taken through certain procedures the problem of factionalism spreading in the party and all three tiers of government will be resolved and the party decides to control all differences, indiscipline and factional activities,” states the document.
But party leaders have said the move was nothing but a ploy to shut the dissenting voices against the hegemony of the two chairs who have taken over the control of the party.
“Most leaders of the party have been airing their views through different media because party meetings are not held, but it does not mean that they can’t express their opinions through social media,” said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a central committee member and a lawmaker. “We have sacrificed a lot for this constitutional right and we won’t let it go.”
Party leaders had already been complaining against the lack of due procedure like holding meetings regularly, thus shrinking the democratic space.
The central committee meeting, which must be held every six months as per the party statute, has been held only two times in more than two years and the first meeting was held just to collect citizenship certificates of the members.
The months of squabbling in the ruling party was resolved largely after a deal was reached between Oli and Dahal that the former would run the government while the latter would be in charge of the party, an agreement they had reached in November last year.
Party leaders had criticised that there was nothing new in the agreement and the formation of a six-member task force was just a smokescreen while the two chairs came up with an agreement without taking other leaders’ views into consideration.
Some leaders close to Madhav Kumar Nepal, who is criticising the report of the six-member task force, fear the restrictions in social media could be used to attack them.
“I think the new restrictions were brought to shut the mouths of the party leaders and cadres from speaking against the Yeti Group, [Ajeya Raj] Sumargi and other corrupt actions of the two chairs,” said another central committee member who is close to Nepal. “Their weapon to threaten us won’t work. We will see how they will take action.”
This is not the first time that the party has tried to control the use of social media. In August last year the ruling party had issued a circular among party cadres not to criticise the party but that went unheeded.
Experts have warned that such a move by the ruling party would harm the overall democractic culture of the country at a time when there are criticisms that parties are getting more and more autocratic.
“Leaders must have come up with such an idea because they must be afraid of increasing dissatisfaction and criticism from their own cadres,” said Taranath Dahal of Freedom Forum, a civil liberty group that advocates free speech. “If we do not oppose such a move the leaders will also go for similar restrictions to the public as well.”
Following a meeting of the party’s nine-member Secretariat in April, Oli had telephoned a number of its members to caution them against ‘leaking’ information of the party and the government to the media and had urged them to keep distance from the media.
The Oli administration has long been criticised for bringing different bills that curtail constitutional rights—including the right to expression—of the people.
Earlier, the government had brought laws restricting the civil servants not to speak against the government even after their retirement.
A bill related to the management and regulation of information technology giving sweeping powers to authorities to block social media platforms if they are not registered in Nepal was widely criticised as it undermined freedom of speech online and increased surveillance of personal data.
When the recent party Secretariat decided to take party’s vice-chair Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly, many party leaders and cadres
expressed their dissatisfaction over the decision through social media saying that would seriously affect the party’s image.
Political analysts said political parties of Nepal run with a feudal mindset and the ruling party is no exception.
“Lenin had allowed the oppositions within the party to criticise even by publishing separate newspapers and making separate groups back then, but our communist parties do not tolerate dissenting views now,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “They think whatever they decide is the ultimate truth and the leaders and cadres are there only to implement their views.”
According to Maharjan, shrinking the expression of the party leaders through the media will make the leadership more and more autocratic. “This will increase the risk of punishment for those who speak out and this is detrimental to the democratic process,” he said.
A Standing Committee member, however, said the prime minister has been rewarding people rebuking party leaders by appointing them in different positions of the government which is a shame.
Appointments of Guru Bhattarai as general manager of the Department of Railway and Durga Bhandari as chairperson of Press Council Nepal were criticised by the party leaders as they had spoken against other party leaders, who opposed Prime Minister Oli, on social media.
“In this age of technology, who will abide by such a direction,” the leader said. “Such illogical restriction shows the age-old mind set of our leaders.”
Jhakri said, “No one can stop people from speaking their minds and criticising the wrongdoings of the government and the party.”