Why Political Parties Shatter Dreams of Constitution

Professor Baral was conveying his fear that a procedural democracy-based system would further accentuate the already existing elitist Nepalese system.

Nov. 10, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 07 No.-10 Nov. 08 -2013 (Kartik 22, 2070)

In 1993, during an interview regarding his book untitled Problems of governance, Professor Lok Raj Baral was underlying the need for a more democratic political leadership. At that time, the two-year old Nepalese democracy comprised Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninist parties as major political forces. They won successively the highest number of votes at the 1991, 1994 and 1999 elections. In the interview, Baral was conveying his fear that a procedural democracy-based system would further accentuate the already existing elitist Nepalese system. He was standing for a "democracy by performance" being that powerful to ensure democracy in facts rather than just in principle through official texts and procedures.

But time has moved on ever since. Along with the end of the conflict in 2006, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) came to be considered as a new political force. Twenty years later, is a system with four strong political parties the guarantee for diversity and functional democracy?

The scholar D. Mayhew was noticing in Partisan Balance, Why Political Parties Don't Kill the U.S. Constitutional System the unprecedented role of political parties as key-element in the creation of the U.S. constitutional system. In Nepal, so far, they did play a substantial role but in a different way. Nepalese political parties are actually known morefor constitutional deferral than formation of a constitutional system. The interim constitution effective since 2007 still waits for being replaced by a permanent, sustainable constitution.

Did the Nepalese political system have proven to lack of procedural provisions by excessively supporting politics while leaving aside the technical part?

Actually, in 2013 as in the past, criticism is pervasive over the overall political landscape. Political leaders and political parties are blamed on several grounds. They are said to blame one another as soon as things go wrong. They also did not meet citizens’ expectations. Criticism seems however to have become more diverse while political parties were flourishing.

Nowadays some contend, in addition, that they do not publicly explain concepts, and conditions underlying political issues at stake. Dipendra Tamang, President of Alliance for Peace, regrets for instance that political parties had given neither a clear definition nor details on federalism; which is yet a critical issue. Little explanation inevitably leads to misinformation. According to M. Tamang, the lack of ability to interact and listen to people, of simply feeling what others feel is the reason behind that hurdle.

A study conducted by Paul Piff of UC Berkeley showed that upper-class individuals have reduced sensitivity to others' suffering. By being able to live without needing to develop solidarity-based relationships, people with greater financial means, political leaders included, would seek first and foremost to differentiate from others. Elitism feared by Professor Baral did not vanish. But sparking criticism is not restrained to simple citizens. Political representatives themselves emphasize flaws of political leadership. "This is what has made the four-major-political-parties-system replacing a vital technical system" central committee of RPP Sunil Tapa asserts.

Some others also underscore the point that political parties' manifesto always reflects same matters, the old matters. That might be against the following criticism than political parties lately advocate the importance of young people to renew political thought.

Nonetheless, in spite of criticism, political parties' indispensable function has been kept intact ever since the birth of the first political parties in the 1950's. M. Tamang and Som Niroula, Senior Programme Officer of Alliance for Social Dialogue are categorical. Political parties are essential to rule the country. Political process through appointment of politicians enable political representatives to get legitimate support from Nepalese citizens, who particularly enjoy politics without being able to undertake what imply politics: time, risks, and resources. In brief political parties are needed but reviving them is the most urgent task to achieve for the so-called legitimacy, M. Niroula sums up. "They must stop wrangling to leave room for productive debates integrating people" M. Tamang also says.

Beyond criticism, common grounds are coming into sight. When asking whether taking the 1990 Constitution back and reviewing it would be a solution to the present political deadlock, most of the people interviewed rather choose a constitution draft which goes forward. Even RPP Nepal, apparently fiercely opposed to other parties' political agenda by willing to have a King back as symbol of the state, is basically looking for a similar purpose; political stability and national unity.

Consider criticism between political parties themselves this time. Criticizing "the traditional parties" for not being enough committed into the new constitution writing, CPN-M Dipak Sapkota was assuming in the 2012 Bulletin that the mission of a new constitution is to bring about "an equalitarian and welfare society through state restructuring". And what means "state restructuring" if not change bringing about political stability, the greatest hope and first goal of central committee member of Nepali Congress Nabindra Raj Joshi? At the end of his article, the CPN-M Bulletin writer was clearly stating the objective: "to get a pro-people constitution which will bring the political stability and economic progress".

Today, the most contentious issues have been identified. Questions over ethnicity or geography-based federalism and type of governance have to be given high priority. But constitution does not make all. “The function of the constituent assembly would be to take the identity and values of the New Nepal fashioned through social and political processes and give it constitutional recognition and expression” (Foreword of the model constitution of Nepal, Alliance for Peace initiative). In 2008, within ten days, a mini constituent assembly of twenty-five young students representing national political parties managed to get along in order to draft a consensus constitution. One can thus take a positive stance. It is surmised that procedural democracy is fully compatible with democracy by performance. Political parties will have to push forward efforts towards a balance between several democratic trends, and to be ready to make concessions. Excess has limits that moderation transcends.

Lala Nara Dadci

Lala Nara Dadci

Lala is an intern from France

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