Most parties fare poorly on internal democracyParties have been postponing their conventions under various pretexts. Observers say this must end
For the Nepali Congress-led government, formed last month, governance does not seem to be a priority. The Congress party, which was in opposition for three and a half years after the 2017 elections, was critical of the KP Sharma Oli government over its governance failure.
The Congress currently is embroiled in its internal issues, and the most prominent one is its 14th general convention. On Saturday, it decided to postpone its general convention, for the fourth time, to the last week of November.
As per the party statute, the Congress should hold its periodic general convention every four years. The 13th general convention that elected Sher Bahadur Deuba as party president was held in March 2016. Had the party followed its statute, the convention would have been held before March last year. Owing to internal differences and citing the domestic political situation, the party postponed the national jamboree by a year to March 2021. The party’s statute allows an extension of the convention by a year and the Constitution of Nepal also envisions the political parties to hold their convention every five years.
Article 269 (4) (b) of the constitution makes it mandatory for a political party to hold its general convention at least once in five years. In special circumstances, the constitution allows postponement of the convention by a maximum of six months. Citing the adverse situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the party decided to hold its general convention from September 1 to 4 in Kathmandu. The final constitutional deadline for the jamboree ends on September 8, however, the party has decided to hold its general convention on September 25-29 now.
The Congress’ failure to hold its periodic general convention is indicative of the waning internal democracy, observers say.
However, the Nepali Congress is not the only political party in Nepal that pays little attention to its general convention, which is held to elect new leadership and strengthen internal democracy.
The CPN-UML, the largest party in Parliament, held its last convention in 2014, electing Oli as the new party chair. It has been seven years since. The party has said it is planning to hold its convention in December.
The party has argued that the five-year provision is not applicable to it, as it merged with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) in May 2018.
UML and the Maoist Centre had merged to become the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), but it was invalidated on March 7 this year by the Supreme Court. The UML argues that since three years cannot be counted, it still has not elapsed the five years since it held its last convention.
When it comes to the Maoist Centre, the third largest force in Parliament, its last convention was held almost a decade ago—in February 2013. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has led the Maoist party for over three decades now, was re-elected the party chair. The party had said it would hold a “special convention” within one year. The party was then named UCPN (Maoist Centre).
The special convention was never held. The party has been postponing the convention for over eight years saying it merged with various parties in different time periods and this has even led to the change in the name of the party.
The UCPN (Maoist) was converted into Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) in May 2016 after a merger of 10 different political parties.
Though the party had proposed its national convention from December 26 to 28 it is yet to be finalised.
Experts say there is a tendency among parties in Nepal to avoid general conventions to the extent possible.
“Not just the major ‘traditional’ parties’, even those political forces which emerged later to challenge them too have a similar problem,” said Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, former chief election commissioner. The last time the Upendra Yadav-led Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal held its convention was in 2009. As his party has gone through several splits and mergers leading to name changes, Yadav’s party has been avoiding general conventions.”
Yadav currently leads the Janata Samajbadi Party, which is on the verge of a split with Mahantha Thakur registering a new party.
General conventions, or some call it national conventions, play an important role in maintaining internal democracy in parties and they give an opportunity to the members to elect the new leadership and open the door for democratically transferring power. Such conventions help guide parties and determine their course of action for a period until the next such conventions are held.
But parties in Nepal pay little attention to such an important event, according to Krishna Pokhrel, a professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University.
“This not only shows a lack of democratic culture within the parties but also the undemocratic mindset of the leadership,” Pokhrel told the Post. “And this tendency is prevalent across the political spectrum in Nepal.”
It is to ensure that parties in Nepal periodically hold their conventions, the constitution and laws have set the five-year deadline. Failing to hold the conventions on time is also tantamount to undermining the constitution and laws, say observers.
The Nepali Congress’ indecision on holding the general convention for months, largely due to infighting, reflects badly upon the democratic culture the party claims to espouse, according to them. They say questions can easily be raised over the Congress party’s commitment to democratic values and principles if it cannot hold its own general convention in five years.
Before it postponed the convention to November, the Nepali Congress was even mulling over paying a fine of Rs50,000 to skip the September deadline so that it could avoid the risk of being invalidated.
“The Congress has found a loophole. However, the constitution means all the party conventions must be completed within five and [an additional] half years at the maximum,” Dolakh Bahadur Gurung, a former commissioner at the Election Commission, told the Post. “The party, which claims itself the champion of democracy, is trying to set a negative precedent.”
The Congress though has set the date for its convention for November, it has said it will hold ward level conventions on September 3. The party claims that it cannot be invalidated for missing the September 8 deadline, as the ward-level conventions from September 3 will mark the beginning of the party convention.
According to Gurung, the Congress is using this “tactic” to get more leeway to delay the process of transfer of power within the party.
Observers say crossing the five-year deadline means the elected leadership has already lost their mandate and letting those elected run the party without any mandate is undemocratic culture.
“The conventions give a mandate to a set of leaders to run the parties for five years. As soon as the five years’ time is over, their mandate is over,” Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst who follows Congress politics closely, told the Post. “Such practices are undemocratic. It is unfortunate that the parties like the Congress and the UML which used to hold their conventions on time in the past are these days seeking excuses to delay power transfers in the party.”