Every country seeks development, for which a good governance system needs to be in place. A governance system functions well only when it is helmed by a competent government backed up by competent political parties, especially opposition parties. Viewed thus, a governance system functions well, when there is open politics. Open politics creates an enabling environment, wherein two or more political parties contribute their mite to development sitting either in the government or in the opposition.
Open political competition is the heart and soul of open politics. But this does not mean that various political parties indulge in cutthroat competition for petty interests. Nor does it indicate the politics of negation. Such a tendency may lead to authoritarianism or despotism, which proves to be unfortunate if ever it exists. Political parties have a crucial role to play in strengthening democracy. In today's world, democracy is considered the best political system as it puts people at the core of governance. Although direct or pure democracy is not possible, people can exercise their democratic rights through their representatives who are elected in general or other elections.
In Nepal, the history of political parties dates back to less than 100 years. The country was under the clutches of the Rana oligarchy for 104 years. During the Rana dispensation, the Rana rulers ruled the country heavy-handedly by even sidelining the kings. Any attempt at overthrowing the Ranas was dealt with an iron-fist. So it was well-nigh out of the question to form political parties at the time. Still, there were some people who showed undaunted courage to form political parties. The Rastriya Praja Parishad was the first party to be formed in 1936, followed by the formation of the Nepali Congress in 1950 and the Nepal Communist Party in 1949.
The Nepali Congress and the Nepal Communist Party were highly impressed by the pro-independence movement of India, which freed India from the colonial yoke of Britain in 1947. Emulating the Indian movement, King Tribhuvan, these political parties and Nepalis carried on a joint struggle against the Rana regime and defeated it ushering the nation in democracy in 1951.
Although democracy was introduced into the country, the political situation remained chaotic and topsy-turvy till 1958, when general elections were held. The Nepali Congress came out victorious in the elections with a two-thirds majority. With the first democratic government in place, public expectations of a better life snowballed. But within less than two years, King Mahendra put the kibosh on the democratic system through a military coup d’état and introduced the party-less Panchayat system in 1960.
During the Panchayat era, political parties were banned. However, the parties continued working towards ousting the Panchayat dispensation clandestinely. During the 1980s and 1990s, the waves of open economy and liberalisation swept across the world. And the country could not remain aloof from such global developments. The political parties and Nepalis rose against the Panchayat system and were able to reintroduce multi-party democracy into the country in the early 1990s.
With the reinstatement of multi-party democracy, the political parties were revived. And new political parties also emerged. Even the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which was a monarchist party affiliated to the defunct Panchayat system, came on the political scene. However, during the 1990s only two parties - the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML- dominated the politics, forming most governments alternately. The Maoists were not satisfied with the successive governments, thinking that more people were still under the jackboots of the rulers. So they initiated the People's War for the so-called liberation of the people in 1996, which continued till 2006. The Maoist insurgency bombarded the country back to 10 or so years by dismantling development infrastructure. Around 17,000 people had to lose their lives, with thousands wounded and made to disappear.
The Maoists returned to mainstream politics in 2006 by signing a Comprehensive Peace Accord with the Seven-Party Alliance of political parties in 2006. The peace agreement paved the way for the proclamation of the Interim Constitution of Nepal, the holding of elections to the first Constituent Assembly and the abolition of the 240 year-old monarchy. The first Constituent Assembly held in 2008 witnessed the participation of 25 political parties. As the CA miserably failed to fulfill its mission of writing the new constitution, elections to the second CA were held in 2013. Over 30 political parties took part in the elections.
Now the country is in the republican setup. There are umpteen political parties. Despite such huge numbers, only a handful of political parties are dominating the political scene. The Nepal Communist Party, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party- Nepal are recognised as national parties. The Federal Parliament has representation from other parties like the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Rastriya Janmorcha and the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party. The Nepal Communist Party has, however, split into two former parties- the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC - due to the verdict of the Supreme Court rejecting the merger of the erstwhile parties.
Although political parties can play a proactive role in consolidating democracy, instances of their breakups and re-mergers are galore. Party breakups often take place not because of ideological differences but because of petty interests, opportunism and egoistic attitudes. There are many irons in the fire. The peace process, which began in 2006, is yet to be accomplished. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons have proved to be duds.
The political parties are now in a tug of war. The ruling party is trying either to remain in the government or push the country into mid-term polls, while the disgruntled faction of the ruling party, the CPN-MC and other parties are trying to pull down the government. If the political parties continue to behave with indifference to public aspirations and expectations, democracy cannot be consolidated and the very responsibility of these parties to the nation and people will be impugned. It must, therefore, dawn on the political parties that their first and foremost responsibility consists in safeguarding and consolidating democracy, fulfilling public aspirations and expectations and leading the nation on the path to development and prosperity. After all, the political parties must act responsibly.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. email@example.com)