Thursday, 28 September, 2023

NC Election Bolsters Inner Democracy

NC Election Bolsters Inner Democracy

Narayan Upadhyay

When the month of November arrives, the country's ruling party, Nepali Congress, will be set to hold its 14th general convention that would not only endorse the party's new statute but, most importantly, would elect leaders to important positions through intensely contested elections.

The NC election, held every five years, is being organised after the preceding election held in March 2016. The delay is attributed to the outbreak of coronavirus along with the existing political scenario that witnessed the House of Representatives being dissolved twice. Though the coronavirus is not yet over, the constitutional provision has obliged the NC to hold its general convention by November end. The provision cited that every national-level party must hold its elections after extending the term of its existing central working body for one time.

War convention
As such, the NC cannot skip its November deadline, as the party's registration can be revoked. To avoid invalidation, the party has already started its Ward level conventions. During the last week of September and October this year, the party will hold district and provincial level conventions and elections. The provincial representatives elected by the active Ward level members would then elect 4,125 representatives to participate in the general convention to be held on November 25-29.

It will be fascinating to watch the general convention set a new yardstick for the oldest democratic party, which will see many stalwarts contesting fervently with each other for several coveted party posts.  At present, over half a dozen senior leaders have declared that they would compete for the party president's post.  Incumbent president Sher Bahadur Deuba is certain to defend his post in the approaching elections, while leaders Ram Chandra Paudel, Dr. Shashank Koirala, Bimalendra Nidhi, Shekhar Koirala, Prakash Man Singh, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, as well as Gopal Man Shrestha, among others, are expected to challenge him.
Similarly, the three of the party's young Turks, Gagan Thapa, spokesperson Bishwo Prakash Sharma and Pradeep Paudel, would be contesting for the two general secretary positions. Others may move forward to contest these positions. Deuba's confidants, Purna Bahadur Khadka and Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, are also likely to compete for the vice president's posts, while many leaders will compete for the 168 central working committee positions.

What is exciting about the NC elections is that many party bigwigs have been engaged in building teams to contest the party elections. The Paudel group, which includes Singh, Koiralas and a few others, has been mulling to hammer out consensus over presidential nominees as well as aspirants for general secretary and diverse positions.  The faction is yet to take a final call on the candidacy of its leaders. Another faction led by Sitaula too is busy building his own team that will vie for the party's coveted position. The prevailing scenario in the party drops a hint that the forthcoming election will be contested hotly, while the partisan divide may upset the chances of many leaders in the elections, forcing many of them to withdraw their candidacy.

This makes one thing clear: during the election, the factional feud will come to the fore once again, which may further aggravate the rivalry. It appears that Deuba is in no mood to give up his desire to contest the election for the second term.  The backing Deuba receives from Congress leaders hailing from the far west and some others holds him in good stead. As a result, he holds an edge over many of the aspirants for the president's chair. Against such a backdrop, many contestants vying for the president's position are likely to prove a blessing in disguise for the incumbent president when he contests the post.
The feud between and among rival leaders has made one thing certain: unlike in the past when party posts had been shared among leaders through consensus or the generosity of senior-most leaders, many leaders are likely to take part in the party election. With several stalwarts embracing the idea of contesting the election for grabbing coveted party positions, the NC's general convention and subsequent election to elect leaders to various key positions would have another significant aspect: it would help buttress internal democracy in the party. 

Nepal's political parties, including the NC, the UML, the Maoist Centre and a few others, drew ire for overlooking the democratic process of electing their office-bearers and leaders on powerful party committees. Senior leaders of the party selected or appointed leaders to the different committees at their will by bypassing the desires of other leaders that often pushes the parties towards splits and division while giving rise to factionalism within the party. The recent splits in UML and Maoists have taken place owing to these tendencies among the senior leaders.

Election outcomes
No denying, elections boost inner-party democracy in any political party. The NC election will be no different. All the leaders and factions within the party will have to respect the outcomes of the election, therefore they must be engaged in consolidating democratic norms and values within the party. However, all parties must make their election an impartial and decent one so that all would respect the outcome of such elections.
A commonly held belief tells us that a party that shuts eyes on its internal democratic well-being cannot give full respect to democratic norms, values and spirits when they embark on running the governments. The Congress and its leaders should ponder the idea that the party's November general convention and subsequent elections set a new benchmark for bolstering internal democracy in any party in the nation. 

(Upadhyay is the managing editor at TRN.