The Nepali Congress General Convention, now scheduled for November 25-29 in Kathmandu, is likely to be postponed for the fourth time. The party, as stipulated in its charter, must hold the gathering of its biggest decision-making body every four years. The 2015 constitution of Nepal obliges all political parties to complete their general convention every five years. Yet it has been over five-and-a-half years since Nepali Congress held its last convention, in a clear breach of its constitutional obligation.
This inability of the country’s oldest-running democratic party is a bad omen. With even Congress failing to organize its most important gathering on time, other party leaders too could find a handy excuse to postpone their conventions. And excuses are a legion in Congress. Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba has kept putting off the convention fearing that his rivals are in the ascendancy. Covid-19 became another excuse. Now the biggest roadblock is the distribution of party membership, as top NC leaders look to give (and renew) memberships to their close ones while blocking the memberships of those close to rival factions.
The bitter membership dispute has delayed NC’s ward and district-level conventions, which in turn has affected the scheduling of the national convention. This failure of the Congress party is indicative, above all, of the lack of internal democracy among Nepali political parties, which continue to be run like fiefs of a handful of leaders. And if these parties cannot practice even a semblance of internal democracy, they can hardly be expected to display better a democratic behavior on the national stage.
The only long-term solution to this perennial problem in Nepali politics is to constitutionally set strict term and age limits on party leadership. Once there is a natural churning of leadership at the top, the practice is bound to trickle down to the lower rungs of the party hierarchy. The question is: Who will take the risk of trying to bell the old cats in the national legislature to amend the constitution to this effect? In the meantime, the likes of Deuba and KP Oli will continue to play fast and loose with legal provisions to prolong their tenures.