All political parties are technically illegal

In May, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) faced a dilemma. The Election Commission (EC) was throwing the book at the ruling party for not meeting the constitutional requirement to have women make up at least one-third of its executive committee.

Made up after the union of the UML with the Maoists, NCP had just 16% women in its 441-member Central Working Committee. And it did not have a single woman in its nine-member top executive body.

The EC refused to register the NCP, asking the party to first reserve 33% seats for women. Women leaders within the NCP also urged Prime Minister Oli, and NCP Chair, to induct more women into the executive committee.

However, sources told Nepali Times that instead of meeting the constitutional requirement senior party cadre tried to intimidate and threaten Election Commission members.

Oli and his acolytes argued that the executive committees of the UML and the Maoists were elected before the Political Parties Registration Act 2017, and therefore would not have to abide by the one-third women rule. Election Commissioners who did not agree were threatened with being framed for corruption.

In a face-saving measure, the EC asked all political parties to ensure 33% women in their executive committees within 30 days. The deadline expired last month, but no party has yet inducted more women into their executive committees. They have just informed the EC that they will do so when they hold their General Conventions.

MP Binda Pandey says: “In a way, all political parties have now already lost their legitimacy because they have not abided by the law even in the 30-day grace period given by the EC.”

Within his own party, Oli shut his women members by ordering them not to “keep babbling with Westernised rights activists”. Oli immediately was slammed on social media for belittling women and their political contributions.

The way the NCP and other parties tried to bamboozle the EC doesn’t just prove the level of impunity and the erosion of the rule of law, but also indicates just how entrenched patriarchy is in the political leadership.

Given this, it is not surprising that they are trying to push a discriminatory Citizenship Bill that would make Nepali women second class citizens.

Ex Supreme Court Justice Balram KC, who delivered a landmark verdict on the Sabina Damai vs Government of Nepal case says the Constitution and the law have not overtly denied citizenship rights to women, but there are many cunningly ambiguous clauses that can be manipulated by the authorities to humiliate, harass or even exploit single women seeking citizenship for their children.

Says KC: “Since most authorities are steeped in patriarchy, they deliberately misread and misinterpret ambiguous clauses just like how political parties have manipulated the Political Party Act.”