Dev Raj Dahal, Kathmandu, Nepal
The sovereignty of Nepali state is weak to subdue chaos and the road to a democratic polity is hamstrung by a lack of consensual behavior of political leaders on a myriad of constitutional issues, peace process, state building and structural reforms.
Meaningful political dialogues foster mutual learning from each other’s experience and share the burden and benefits of collective action.
Without such dialogues and compromise of partisan interests for public goods, it would be very difficult to negotiate social contract and engage the stakeholders in building stable peace.
The penetration in courts, bureaucracy and police from interest groups and inability of leadership to resolve the major institutional issues essential to the task of governance continue to strain political transition.
Fragmentation of polity has made political parties vulnerable to social forces, factionalism and less effective form of political organization in achieving authority, stability and legitimacy.
The interest of leaders in executive power than legislative functions has produced many rootless politicians and constrained the process of transforming transactional leaders into transformational ones based on electoral legitimacy, public opinion and popular sovereignty.
It is important to transform Nepal’s pre-democratic politics of divide and rule, command and control into cooperative action.
In this context, building capacity of Nepalese political parties through reasoned dialogue can effectively contribute to break habit-driven act of leaders, incline them to create national integrity system of governance and make democracy work for the poor.
Theoretically, parties serve as a link between society and government, represent diverse interests of society and translate this diversity into a workable system of governance.
They offer citizens useful ideas, institutions and informed choice about ideologies, issues, interests and identities and contribute to the creation of civic political culture.
In Nepal, political leaders are practically caught in a populist trap they themselves created but now fear its consequences for their future career.
Challenges to Efficiency:
Nepalese political parties have struggled to modernize the state and society.
Still, the key challenges they encounter in the democratization process are: gaps between the ideological platforms and policy contents, the spirit of constitution and ideological leanings, democratic commitment and weak-enforcement of party laws, unstructured political participation of citizens and recoding social boundaries beyond party system, high participation of citizens and low institutionalization of political parties, political culture of negation, lack of balance between individual, groups and human rights and absence of multi-track mechanism of inter and intra-party conflict resolution. The tradition of centralized leadership also stokes a tension with the social groups demanding regional, social, gender and inter-generational balance in representation.
The rise of new elites from semi-feudalistic mode of production has prevented the institutionalization of democratic rights and stake-holding of poor and minorities in governance.
Social movements, proliferation of caucus groups of women, Dalits, Madhesis, Aadibasis and Janajatis across the party lines and growth of armed non-state actors are eroding the ideological lines of parties making all of them catch-all type.
It has increased the costs for political participation and building national identity so essential for democracy consolidation. It requires the rectification of dysfunctionality at the center marred by factional interests.
Critical Areas of Reforms:
First, formulation of a shared vision of the nation enables Nepalese political parties to work together for a legitimate social contract.
Formulation of realistic policies and programs based on broad-based consultation rather than completely rhetorical ones can contribute to achieve national tasks.
A culture of listening to the legitimate grievances of cadres and ordinary citizens can increase their faith in peaceful negotiation and compromise of their interest beyond bounded rationality of partisan imperatives to capture national horizon.
Second, institutionalization of political parties in accordance with their own statutory and constitutional rules and provisions enables their structures to be functional, makes their behavior predictable, enables peaceful succession of leadership and embraces deliberative means to formulate programs.
Third, participation of diverse cadres in various party committees discourages alienation, factionalism and split and enlarges their social base.
Democracy requires the promotion of collective interest of diverse society in the political system, not monopoly and oligopoly of power without any legitimate space for oppositional loops so essential to sustain party dynamics and moderate conflict.
Fourth, inclusion of regional, class, ethnic, caste and gender identities of the nation under their ideologies and policy program discourages the tendency of political parties to instrumentalize the cultural differences of the nation for the expansion of political constituency and emancipatory efforts of citizens for social integration.
The system integration can occur only when power is disciplined by constitutional norms and ideological distortion of communication is controlled.
Fifth, civic education to young party cadres discourages youth to join militant politics and engages them in policy debates, policy making, mobilization of various campaigns, membership in mass organizations, participation in study circles, development initiatives and voting in elections.
Civic education is an education of citizens and leaders about enlightenment for the creation of a ‘mindful society’ through self-awakening and compassion towards others.
Sixth, formulation of implementable common programs increases the ability of parties to deliver services and build stable relationship with functional groups and institutions of society through the optimization of their interest in the party system.
Seventh, comparative experiences of other countries and exposure through literature and dialogues with experts, academics, researchers and leaders increase effectiveness of party programs.
Sharing of international experience can provide opportunities for communication, learning, reflection and behavioral change.
This removes the fundamentalist gaps among them, build confidence in the constitutional system for the resolution of interest, identity and ideological conflicts. It orients all actors to public interest through communicative action, an action inclined toward reaching understanding among political parties for the resolution of multi-layered conflicts.
Reasoned dialogues enhances the efficiency of Nepalese political parties to adapt to changing democratic ideals, styles of political engagement, use of subsidiary in party functions, especially due to the demand of various social classes for participation, ownership and accountability in sharing the commonwealth of the nation and engagement in social development and peaceful resolution of conflict.
It demands an increase of citizens’ access to leadership position, decision-making and democratization of their relationship with the society.
Internalization of democratic principles in the inter and intra-party life of Nepalese political parties can be expected to transform a culture of violence into a culture of peace.
Democracy fosters non-violent resolution of differences based on human rights, pluralism and recognition of various identities within the frame of national identity.