Report on Inner-Party Democracy
Seminar organised by FES Nepal
20 March 2014, Pokhara
Report by Ritu Raj Subedi, Associate Editor.
The Rising Nepal email@example.com
One of the factors as to why democracy in
Nepal could not take root and flourish is the acute dearth of
internal democracy within the political parties. Inner-party
democracy does not only provide legitimacy to the parties but
it also democratize the society as a whole, increases the people's
faith in the system and makes it operable and credible before
public eyes. Inner-party democracy has its direct and positive
bearing on the leadership transfer from the old to the new generation.
In the Nepalese context, the leadership transfer is a highly
relevant topic. The old guards are blamed for not handing over
the leadership mantle to the young, dynamic and emerging faces,
thereby shrinking party's popular base to the circle of coteries
of henchmen and hangers-on. There are cases in which intra-party
bickering, triggered by the suppression of internal democracy,
led to the party split and the toppling of the government, which
has eventually fuelled the long-running political instability.
Realizing the fact that the Nepalese parties
need to strengthen inner-party democracy, the FES, Nepal Office,
has been hosting a series of debates on the topic involving
the people from cross-cutting sections of the society including
leaders of various political parties and their sister organizations.
The FES, Office claims that its initiatives are coming to fruition.
Giving continuity to the inner-party democracy discourse, the
FES recently invited Professor Dr Christian Wagner to enlighten
the people from different walks of life in Pokhara. Dr Wagner,
head of Research Division, Asia, Stiftung Wissenschaft and Politik
(SWP), Berlin, talked in length on the subject, unleashing lively
debates, questions and suggestions in the one-day seminar where
the participants were unanimous to assert that internal democracy
is the key to solve intra-party conflicts and ensure political
stability in the country. "Inner-party democracy helps
for the smooth transfer of leadership and accommodates the diverse
views within the party," they concurred. A variety of associated
issues also cropped up in the meeting and Dr Wagner tried to
satisfy the queries of the participants. He delivered his lecture
on the subject and then it was followed by lively deliberations
and questions. The representatives from the different political
parties, academic institutions, civil society, media and other
domains of social life were in attendance at the function.
Dr Wagner's presentation:
'Inner-party democracy contributes to democratic
In parliamentary democracies, the parties
have an intermediate function between the society and the state.
This involves the recruitment and selection of political elite;
the representation of specific interests, not the common welfare,
and the settlement of interests and adoption of compromises.
To ensure the legitimacy of political system, the parties set
norms and rules on how conflicts in society should be managed.
There has been wide-range of methods for including party members
in inner-party deliberation and decision making. The political
parties are organized according to democratic principles, e.g.
legitimacy of leadership decisions from bottom up, freedom of
expression, protection of inner-party minorities and participation
with regard to defining clear-cut policy options. Participation
in inner-party processes is most often limited to party members.
The enrollment of supporters as party members might be difficult.
Two to three per cent enrollment rate is common nowadays. The
enrollment of supporters as members gives the party legitimacy,
connects it with the supporters, and assists in getting financial
support, volunteer labor during elections and helps find appropriate
candidates for leadership.
The inner-party democracy is implemented in following ways:
- Selecting party
candidates: By either a direct ballot of eligible supporters
or nomination by party assembly.
- Selecting party leaders: Selecting the
party leader is often equivalent to select the party's leading
candidate in elections. He/she should represent the party's
course and image. Selection can be made through national party
conference or membership ballot.
- Defining policy position: Individual party
members may vote on specific policy positions or endorse a
set of commitments.
Party organization is the key to inner-party
democracy. This features inclusiveness, which indicates how
wide the circle of party decision makers is; centralization,
which describes the extent to which decisions are made by a
single group or decision body and institutionalization that
covers the party's autonomy from other actors - the extent of
its internal organizational development - the extent to which
supporters identify with the party and view it as an important
actor. Factors that shape party organization include party laws
and other legal constraints, institutional and communication
environment, cultural and historical setting and ideological
commitments. There are both proponents and opponents of inner-party
democracy. It advocates argues that inner-party democracy is
potential to promote a "virtuous circle" linking ordinary
citizens to government. They say it makes the party more inclusive
and offer voters better choices and contributes to the stability
and legitimacy of the democracies. But, the detractors claim
that too much democratization could dilute the power of a party's
inner leadership, makes it difficult for that party to keep
its electoral promises and may undermine the parties' competitive
The German experiences
In Germany, the parties play their dominant
role in the political life of the citizens. As per Article 21
(1) of the Basic Law, the political parties shall participate
in the formulation of the political will of the people. They
may be freely established. Their internal organization must
conform to democratic principles. They must publicly account
for their assets and the sources and use of their funds. In
Germany, inner-party democracy has been guaranteed by Article
21 of the Basic Law and the Party Law of 1967. The Basic Law
prescribes that the internal structure of the parties has to
follow democratic principles. This, among others, include elections
of all party institutions, responsibilities of the party institutions
as laid down in an authoritative charter, equal voting rights
for all party members and the party convention as highest decision
making body. Likewise, the elected members (MPs) have a free
mandate and are not bound to decisions of the parties and the
MPs are representatives of the whole population, are not bound
to order and directives and only subjected to their conscience.
In parliament, "informal" faction discipline allows
common party line. If MPs vote against party line, they are
likely to lose their right to candidacy in the next election.
New forms of inner-party democracy
In 1980, the Green Party unveiled new policy
and structures in which there is no rotation and accumulation
of political offices. It does not have professional politicians
and MPs wield imperative (direct) mandate. Many things could
not be achieved because of small leadership of the Green Party
but it influenced other parties on gender and minority quota.
Likewise, the Pirates Party went for "Liquid"
democracy that is a mix of representative and direct democracy.
The contents of intra-party decision are permanently discussed
on social media. The Social Democratic Party sought the consent
of party members for a grand coalition with Christian Democratic
Union (CDU). For this, it held regional conferences in which
members cast a vote in December 2013.
Prospects and challenges for inner-party democracy
Inner-party democracy is in a state of transformation. There
is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution for inner-party democracy.
There are changes with regard to communication relationship
between party leaders and members (media, social media).The
influence of party officials is diminishing and elements of
direct democracy are being introduced. One of the major problems
of inner-party democracy is the apathy among party members.
However, it increases transparency and accountability within
parties and contributes to democratic consolidation.
'Debates on inner-party democracy created
FES, Nepal office head Dev Raj Dahal said
that his office had been organizing the debates on the inner-party
democracy for more than five years and it had positive impacts
on the Nepalese political parties. He said that of late the
parties had been weakened by a lack of inner party democracy
by caucuses identity politics and social movements, and became
unable to resolve conflicts. "Ideas, changes and transformations
come from the parties. If the parties are democratized, this
will also help democratize the state and society as well. The
ideas generated from the grassroots help widen the scope of
democracy," he added.
Dahal noted that the Nepalese political parties
resorted to a catch-all tendency. They lack clarity and precision
in their philosophy and approach, he added. He stressed on fostering
the idea of volunteerism to strengthen the parties. Dahal, also
a political scientist, said that the parties and their leaders
should embrace knowledge produced in the society with a glowing
tradition of enlightenment and wisdom. He noted that the people
fought for democracy many times but they failed to get opportunities
to reap benefits for them and their children. "We need
to think collectively but need to be aware of the attempts from
the non-organic intellectuals, who want to make the people parrot
"When the centre becomes weak, the state
organs cannot be held accountable to the people. We need to
inject a sense of social volunteerism into the political realm.
In order to translate knowledge into action, we need power.
Leaders, headmasters and priests need civic education so that
they will be enlightened," he said. In another context,
he said that around 5.4 million Nepalese youth are sweating
blood in the Gulf countries. Annually, the country receives
about 2,200 bodies of Nepalese workers. "The youth are
the strength of the country and they should not be sent to the
Gulf and employment opportunity for them should be explored
here." Dahal said that the FES came to Pokhara to interact
with the representatives of the critical masses so that it would
add a new dimension to the given discourse.
Comments from the participants:
Prakash Adhikari said that in a country like
Nepal, politics is all pervasive and it is difficult for the
political parties to rise above the partisan line. How can they
be impelled to rise above the party boundary? Laxmi Adhikari
of CPN-UML claimed that her party is practicing inner-party
democracy. She expressed her worry over the ethnicization and
regionalization of the politics. She claimed her party is focusing
on the inclusive and proportional representation of the people
in the state organs. Shalikram Poudel noted that the Nepalese
politicians have the habits of making tall promises before the
people but they hardly fulfil them once they get elected or
become the part of the government. Another bad habit of them
is that they often engage in slugfest and insult each other.
"How can these problems be solved?" asked Paudel.
'Ethnic federalism is not an answer'
Dr Wagner's response: My country had also
similar problem. The politicians used to give big assurances
to the voters but hardly lived up to their expectations. The
Supreme Court introduced a Party Law in 1967 to check and balance
the parties. I hope Nepal will devise similar law that could
bind the parties to their word. Nepal has many minorities and
ethnic groups. I do not suggest that Nepal should go for ethnic
federalism. It is not a good answer to its problems associated
with the state restructuring as it has over 100 ethnic groups.
This is because all cannot be given same rights. The question
of ethnicity and regionalism needs to be solved by strengthening
the local government. There should be the provision of quota
and employment for the minorities and the marginalised. In Pakistan,
it has four provinces for four ethnic groups. In India, it is
based on languages.
Yuva Raj Tripathi, a university teacher, said
that he did not belong to any party. "I think politics
divides the human beings. So, I maintain zero-attachment on
politics." (Tripathi showed two ballot papers of last election
and said he did not find any appropriate candidate whom he could
cast his vote.) To denote word 'democracy,' there is a bundle
of Nepali counterpart words- prajatantra, janatantra, loktantra,
janabad and so forth. This has created a mess. I found no any
right candidate to vote for. The quandary is that there is no
loktantra sans the election. What to do? Madhav Sharma said
that the topic of the discussion is appropriate. Vote is an
important aspect of democracy, he said, adding, "But, the
votes are bought with alcohol and money during the election.
When one attempts to introduce a new idea
in the party, s/he is not encouraged. For example, Dr Baburam
Bhattarai attempted to float new idea in his party but he was
attacked. The south Asian politics is dominated by dynasty.
Some are demanding not to enforce party whip in the CA but in
the absence of the party whip, there will be anarchy, said Sharma.
Dr Lekhanath Bhattarai said that Nepali society is not a capitalist
one but still a feudal. The parties are not policy-centric but
they are leader-centric. Money, muscle, lobbying and vested
interest groups are dominant in the politics. There is a trend
of pitting one against other. The parties sell their post of
lawmaker to businessman. The leaders live on hapta (a collection
of money from business people illegally by goons on a weekly
basis). The parties protect goons and dons to run their economic
lifeline. Srijana Sharma asked Dr Wagner to shed light on the
woman leadership development in Germany. Ashok Chhantyal of
UCPN-M said that the South Asian politics is infested with the
dynastic and ethnic politics. "In transition, our party
has talked about ethnic rights but our final goal is the evolution
of human beings into the international race." He said that
it is difficult to make the people understand the concept of
right to self-determination. So is the implementation.
'Electoral politics is also a compromise'
Dr Wagner's response: I understand your frustration
(to the query of Tripathi). Of course, politics divides the
people as the parties represent interests, ideology and identity
of certain groups but the electoral politics is also a compromise
among them. To bring an end to the use of money and muscles
during the polls, the Election Commission should be empowered
and the polls should be monitored by the independent institutions
to ensure the electoral integrity. In India, the Election Commission
is independent. In the beginning, it was also affected by the
parties. It keeps vigil on the buying of voters. The parties
should be financed based on the votes they garner in the elections.
Following the promulgation of the statute in Nepal, a threshold
provision needs to be introduced for the normal election, which
will be an instrument for the democratization process. The man
and woman ration in the Green Party is 60:40. This has an impact
on other parties too. Federalism is a boring subject for the
students in Germany. It is a bureaucratic process of compromise.
There are four ethnic groups in Germany and they are assisted
by the state.
Kapil Mani Dahal said that the proportional
representation electoral system has invited many anomalies.
Focus should be given to the direct election, he said and called
for the national debate for electoral reforms to strengthen
loktantra. Trinath Baral of UML said that many aberrations have
surfaced in the absence of the threshold provision. He said
that his party has turned into a mass-based party from the cadre-based
one as part of its democratisation process. There should be
cooperation between the centre and the provinces after the country
is federated into federal units. The concept of welfare state
will be implemented when local government is strengthened. The
elements of population, geography, resources, accessibility,
languages and cultures should be taken into account when provinces
are created. Sunita Basnet enquired about the criteria of getting
citizenship paper in Germany. She asked as to from whose name-
father or mother-, the citizenship certificate is obtained in
Germany. She said that until the women have their 50 per cent
share in the organs of the state, development is unlikely in
the country. The provision that the women have their 33 per
cent participation in the mechanism of the state has not been
yet implemented. In the quota of 26 CA members, nominated by
the government, the women from the grassroots levels need to
be picked. Another participant said that with the abolition
of the monarchy, many new kings were born. The parties are power-centric
and making the people fools. There is the need of fiscal discipline.
The cadres of the political parties are struggling to scrape
by. How to guarantee the financial security of the party workers?
'PR links with inner-party democracy'
Dr Wagner's response: (He expressed his ignorance
about the provision whether the citizenship certificates are
issued to the sons/daughters on the basis of mother's name in
Germany or not). Proportional representation electoral system
is linked with the inner-party democracy. Germany has witnessed
many changed in the last 30 years. Many women in Germany are
engaged in part-time jobs. Thirty per cent of women affiliated
to the Social Democratic Party are engaged in informal sector.
One participant said that the old political
parties have become incompetent and are operating on the backing
of the foreign powers. They have been unable to address the
problem of the 80 per cent oppressed people. As a result, a
new basis of revolt is emerging. The dependency mindset is rife
in the parties. The billion dollar question is whether Nepali's
democracy will be successful. The first CA was dissolved owing
to the intervention of foreign power centres. There is the loss
of sovereignty and the people do not feel a sense of loktantra.
In such a situation, how can there be inner-party democracy?
Shanta Bhusal called for identifying the position of women in
democracy. There is discrimination between son and daughter,
and women are treated as second-class citizen. Democracy means
equality and freedom but it is not for women. Some women have
risen to prominence because of their own capacity. The tentacles
of patriarchy have spread everywhere. The women all the time
fetch and carry for the family for11 hours a day but their works
are not counted from economic point of view. To the contrary,
the males work only 4 hours. Still they rule over the family.
Bhim Karki urged the participants not to spill their guts to
the organiser. He said that when the things are seen from distance,
they look beautiful, for example, the mountains and the moon.
But, when one goes close to them, they turn into boring objects.
It is natural that the people do not like the place where they
are living in. The fact is that the country where we live is
the best place in the world. So, we should not criticize the
organizer. Let's cooperate with them and provide them with useful
suggestions so that they are incorporated in the national policies
and programmes. Nirmala Subedi of UCPN-M said that the NGOs
and INGOs are blunting the current of revolution worldwide.
She was referring to the organizer of the seminar. She asked
why the women in Germany are not involved in the full-time job.
She blamed patriarchy system for the women status there. She
said that there was intergenerational gap in the Nepali politics
and asked German expert about the gap between the old and new
'FES connects society & promotes civic
Responding to the question of Nirmala Subedi,
Dev Raj Dahal, the head FES, Office Nepal said, "The FES
is neither an NGO nor an INGO but a political foundation that
has been registered at the Foreign Ministry with a mandate of
promoting political and civic education in the country. We connect
different thoughts and take to them to the policy making forums.
We believe in solidarity, freedom and emancipation as envisioned
by the father of socialism Karl Marx." Dahal said that
they hold interaction among different cultural and linguistic
groups to learn and produce social knowledge. He also informed
that the Social Democratic Party of Germany, with which the
FES is close, had maintained the house of Marx and made it a
museum. He said that loktantra is a bottom-up approach while
bureaucracy is based on top-bottom hierarchy. "So, we hold
interactions at the grassroots level to promote democracy and
educate the people about the fundamentals of democratic system."
'German is an aging society'
Dr Wagner's response: There is a provision
of quota for women in Germany. It is an aging society. People
retire from their job at the age of 60 while life expectancy
is 70 years. In Germany, the child birth rate is zero. Nepal's
leaders look aged but the people are young. Nepal's strength
lies in the energy of the youth and the programmes should be
brought to attract them. The quota for women and youth should
be increased in the parties.
Tanka Adhikari lamented that the media has
been widely politicized. If one journalist dares to write about
the condition of inner-party democracy of any political party,
s/he is harassed. It is a challenge for the journalists to discharge
their duty independently. During the insurgency period, altogether
35 journalists were killed by the state and non-state forces
in Kaski district. Gyan Bahadur Karki said that when there is
debate about ideology within the parties, the people start to
conjecture that the parties in question would split soon. Many
young people have become netizens and are indifferent towards
the election. Baburam Paudel said that the parties failed to
come to one place over the national interest. They pull in different
directions and have become pawns at the hands of foreigners.
Despite the fact that Nepal has over two decades of democratic
practices, the parties and their leaders have not freed themselves
of the feudal mindset, which has blighted the inner-party democracy.
He said that the leaders tend to stick to their post although
they are senile and ailing. Hari Mohan Sharma said that the
constitution writing in the US and the unification of Nepal
took place simultaneously but we are now far behind the US.
The parties laundered their illegal money through the election.
It is imperative for the parties to make public their incomes
and expenditures. A national law needs to be devised to control
black money used in the political field. Dhan Bahadur Chhetri
said that parties are the key actors in democracy. We need to
put press on the parties for promoting internal democracy and
accountability. Bhawani Pandey noted that the parties are not
class-based rather they are guided by vested interests. Loktantra
has turned into chaos. Inner-party democracy is a beauty and
asset. The concept of right to self-determination has been misinterpreted.
The concept of New Labor is not new; Marx has already described
it. Politics is service or profession? If it is a service, then
how can the party workers get by?
Dr Wagner's replies: The media should
act as a watchdog. In Germany, the media are independent. The
politics is essentially service but it also needs professionals
to devise legislation because it is the experts' job. There
should be transparency in the public financing system. Inner-party
democracy is also an organizational question. It is not just
for the old parties; even the new parties should foster inner-party