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Leadership Selection in South Asia


In South Asia, the top leader of a party is normally chosen by general consent, rather than contest. In most parties, the top leader, called president, chairperson or general secretary, assumes the position because of his or her role in founding the party, or the popularity, reputation, image and appeal they have among the electorate, or both.

It is a kind of ‘natural choice’. There would rarely be contenders for this post. In most liberal and social democratic parties, the party chief is routinely reelected at the national party conventions or conferences. There is a general consensus in the party— among the members, workers and leaders—on the choice of the top or the supreme leader. Where the chief of the party cannot or does not want to assume any party position for some reason, his or her nominee would fill the post (as happened in Shiv Sena in India or the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Pakistan). When the party is in power, the tendency is to combine the position of party chief with that of the head of the government or state.

There appear to be two ways of choosing party chiefs:

  • The party chief is elected at party conventions and conferences either by general approval or according to the procedure laid down in the party by-laws. Normally there would be no contest or, if there is one, it would be only nominal. Examples are the PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the Awami League, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the United National Party (UNP), the Nepali Congress, the Indian National Congress (INC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
  • Party conventions or congresses elect the highest decision-making body, and this body in turn chooses the party chief. This model is mainly followed in communist parties, for example, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and the Communist Party of NepalUnited Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML).

Source: Political parties in South Asia – the challenge of change