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Seminar Report on Democracy, State-Building, Constituent Assembly Elections and Security

Organised by Nepal Ex-Police Association (NEPA)

14-15 June 2007
Dhapasi, Kathmandu

Prepared by
Chandra D Bhatta
London School of Economics, UK


Introduction to the programme

Nepal Ex-police Association and Saugat Legal Research Centre has organised a two-day workshop on Democracy, State-Building, Constituent Assembly Elections and Security. The programme was supported by the German Foreign Ministry with facilitation from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German think tank based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The programme was attended by more than 265 high ranking officials (former and serving) from the civilian police forces, armed police forces, Nepal army, secret service agents, and civil servants, representatives from British and Indian Gurkha regiments, the Singapore police and their women's organizations. Similarly, the program was attended by journalists, NGO members, political and social activists, academicians and other stake holders. By and large, the two-day seminar drew good crowd and was able to reverberate dialogue on critical political issues (CA election, civic education, voters security and beyond) which are crucially important for Nepal at this juncture.

The programme was inaugurated by the Speaker of the Interim Legislative-Parliament, Mr. Subash Nembang. Speaker Nembang said that nation stands at the juncture of 'challenges and opportunities' and we all have to work together to reap the opportunities by addressing underlying challenges of social bias which are impinging heavily on state-building in Nepal.

There were four sessions altogether with papers on State-Building and Social Transformation (by Dev Raj Dahal - Head of FES in Nepal), Constituent Assembly: What, Why and How (by Kashi Raj Dahal - Chairman, Nepal Administrative Court), CA Election and Security (by Dr. Govinda Bahadur Thapa - AIGP, Retd.) and Voters Education and Protection in Post-Conflict Situation (by Dr Chuda Bahadur Shrestha- SSP, Rtd). The sessions were chaired by the top civil servants of the country.

Mr. D. B. Lama, former chief of the Nepal Police and member of the Interim Parliament - speaking in the inaugural session, said that peace is important. He highlighted importance of former civil servants (police, army included) in moving political process ahead. He maintained that their expertise can be of great value in designing polices in the various fronts of governance (bureaucracy, economic policy, foreign policy, security policy, internal security etc). Mr. Lama stressed that it would be great if the country utilizes skills of this vast (unused) human capital (ex-civil servants, army and the police forces) who are spread all over the nation. They could perhaps, contribute towards establishing peace in the country through experiences and expertise said he. He further suggested that it is the right time of developing some sort of 'coordination mechanism' to mobilize former civil servants (police and army included) for the broader national cause.

The overarching objective of this workshop was to impart knowledge on current state of affairs such as democracy, state building, social transformation, Constituent assembly election and civic and voters education. In the same vein, to explore alternative approaches and strengthen existing modalities of security in the country in line with changing paradigm of internal security that have come into fore when non-state and extra state actors are challenging the international sovereignty of Nepali state and destabilizing political process (CA election) thereby. That said workshop tried to address various facets of national security such how peace can be restored and who we can strengthen national security organs of the country, at a time, when internal security of the state is being threatened by the flaring up of new conflicts and non-state actors. It has been realised that peace is the prime condition to move forward the political process, let alone holding election successfully to the CA.

The Proceedings

Mr. Dev Raj Dahal (DRD herein after), presenting his paper talked about state, society and the future polity of Nepali state. DRD said that following the April uprising public expectations have gone up but Nepali state has failed to manage these expectations. As a result, various types of non-state-actors are emerging with their own sets of demand in place. Nepali state, in one way or other, is witnessing the currents of 'new types of conflict' day-by-day. DRD argued that political movements per se have widened public expectations but the state has no capacity to deal with these expanded and diversified expectations. This has forced peace process to be stuck between anarchy and order.

The larger challenge for Nepali state, perhaps, is to bail out from this 'state of nature'. And this can only be done by managing all sorts of societal forces internally (by addressing their genuine demands) and externally by taking international community into confidence that Nepali political leaders are genuinely engaged towards the peace and democratic process. Moreover, dealing with the forces of globalization per se is equally important as it will help to manage political economy of the country. He said that the capacity of the state is eroding - for example state is losing internal sovereignty to the non-state-actors and policy sovereignty to the donors, multilateral and multinational organizations. This has co-opted Nepali state. In a new governance regime the state's imperative of order and society's need for freedom have to be balanced. This means training of diverse peoples into citizenship is important so that social identities of people do not contest with the national identity of citizen. There is an urgent need for socialization, civic education and knowledge-building of citizens on various public issues including CA.

Participants of the workshop argued that Nepali civil society contributed significantly towards regime change but lacks coherence in its voice on the modalities of straightening domestic politics. In fact it is not clear who exactly governs Nepali civil society as civil society keeps on changing its stances on the issues of national importance. In a response to these queries DRD maintained that it is primarily due to the fact that civil society is aligned with political parties and hence accountable to them and also to the market regime (for funding) as against the state at large. Civic society should act as a part of conflict mediator of society rather than becoming a part of high political dynamics.

Many participants were of the view that coalition between eight political parties is likely to breakdown and there are chances of further conflict in the country. Likewise participants were curious about various political terminologies (janatantra, ganatantra, loktantra, prajatantra, samabesi prajatantra) being thrown up by the political parties, civil society leaders and (in)organic intellectuals in the market. This has only confused citizens' and raised questions on the rationality of both movement and the CA election itself. This also generates some fundamental question as what do we really want out of the movement in general and CA election in particular. DRD said that we need to have some sort of common consensus on this; otherwise it will create more value-conflict than the solution in the country. Moreover, our political leaders need to develop coalition culture as it is likely that upcoming politics of the country might also move towards coalition. Against this backdrop, we need to develop spirit of understanding, tolerance and give and take culture to compliment each other (political necessity and social necessity).

Lieutenant General (retired) Krishna Narayan Singh Thapa said that the provision of security and rule of law are missing in Nepal and there is a great deal of crisis of confidence lurking between political forces and national security organs of the state. The security organs and their members have been undermined, discouraged and demoralised in many occasions which is only adding up further problems to national security. Another important point that was being raised by the General is that we have never had complete revolutions - all the revolutions, at the end of the day, have ended up in compromise between the parties in conflict and regime at the helm of power. The dilemma, he pointed out, is that we have revolutionary political culture but not revolutionary thinking (approach) in addressing achievements of political movements and daunting problems.

Another problem DRD pointed out is that there is no adequate social representation of political power in the governance which is causing political instability in the country. For example - there is no intergenerational justice (that is, the highest number of voters lies between the age group of 18-35 years but we don't have leaders to represent this age-group). Likewise whenever political parties move onto power they are habitual to capture not only the government but also political system and the state and make their policies less and less impersonal. This practice has developed patrimonial culture in Nepali politics. Some of the participants lamented that the eight party phobia is the product of this culture which has repeatedly undermined other societal and political forces of the nation. This eight-party phobia is likely to push Nepali state further into the lap of political chaos, if they don't correct themselves on time.

Another presenter Mr. Kashi Raj Dahal (KRD herein after) discussed rationality and modality of the CA election. KRD stressed that we can only have successful CA election when there is a clear political roadmap (in advance), express commitment from political leadership (political will) and ability of leadership to implement the political will and conducive environment (political and security). He said that state can have 'legitimate CA election' when it integrates all societal forces into the institutional life of the state. He mentioned that the beauty of CA election is that maximum numbers of people directly participate in the constitution making process of the country. He however, warned that CA should not be taken as panacea to our problems; it only provides opportunities and its upto the political leadership how they are going to exploit opportunities.

KRD also said that we have to learn from the experiences of other countries of the world that have gone through CA election but how do we want to go about for the CA election depends entirely on or own approach and need. We have to decide what would be suitable for us and why do we want to have this. He also cautioned that merely increasing the number of CA will not guarantee representation as inquired by some participants. In contrast, he said that we perhaps need to follow up the principal of equity which is more rational and scientific. With regard to the federalism KRD maintained that we cannot create federal structure on the basis of emotion and sentiment. He emphasised on the fact that politics should run on the basis of ideology not on the basis of biology. Some of the participants were of the view that geographical condition and possibility of development within the region have to be looked into while creating federal states.

Dr. Govinda Prasad Thapa presented a paper on CA election and security. Dr Thapa said that 'peaceful and politically conducive environment is necessary' to hold CA election as it cannot be held under the state of terror. He further said that CA election is not only technical process but also political and needs great deal of discussion by including various stakeholders. The crisis of confidence that exists between political parties, non-state-actors and citizens at large has to be balanced (minimised) said Dr Thapa.

He said that all three phases (pre-election, during the election and post election) security scenario needs to be calculated well in advance and security forces have to be mobilised accordingly. He said that it is essentially important to train and induce security forces with the changed political realities of the country rather than condemning them for serving earlier regimes. The crux of his presentation was that security should not be taken as taboo and there should be transparency. Likewise the number and physical presence of security forces do not determine 'security' what is needed, he stressed, is that the feeling of secure among citizens at large (psychological security) which can only be created by the political parties and their cadres through their express commitment to the agreements (political).

Dr. Thapa was also of the view that some sort of discipline needs to be maintained across the rank-and-file of political parties as the tendency is that political parties and their cadres basically try to destaiblise 'national security' for their own vested interests. For him, political will is vital for 'security' as well. Responding to the question whether election will be held at all given the current state of security, Dr Thapa said that unless politics do not create conducive environment it is unlikely that we can have election at first instance let alone free-and-fair. If the conducive environment is created by the political forces there is no need to have 'police or excess forces'.

The present security vacuum which has emerged following the limitations of armies in the barrack and emergence of various colours of non-state-actors like YCL and other splinter groups (political) who are commanding writ on various aspects of security and governance by taking law into their hands. This vacuum can be bridged, to some extent, by mobilising former police and armed personnel who are spread in the different parts of the country and possesses immense experience and expertise. It would be great if the government develops some sort of mechanism to involve them into the national security during the election time.

Dr. Thapa said that political movements in Nepal have brought about significant changes in the political landscape (political freedom) but, argued that, they have always posed threat to the nation-building. This is partly because after the temporal settle-down of movements, they are dragged by the infinite desire of power among actors involved in the movement per se and partly due to external forces (as they are guided by the foreign powers) and partly infighting between regressive, status-quoist and progressive forces. The balance is required among them to enhance the process of nation-building and maintain national security.

Presenting his paper on "Voters Education and Protection in Post-conflict Situation" Dr. Chuda Bahadur Shrestha discussed the genealogy of conflicts (both inter and intrastate) in the world political history. He has reminded participants on the internationalisation of Nepali conflict that started from Rukum-Rolpa, negotiated in New Delhi through 12 point agreements which brought all political forces into a common platform to wage people's movement in 2006. Dr. Shrestha talked about essential elements such as supervision, voter's registration, election campaign and conduct, election funding, poling management, voting patterns, representation and electoral system and conflict management for the free and fair election. He stressed on the accommodative culture among political parties (who comes into power through movements) as an endeavour to create conducive political environment in the country. The tendency of taking action against security forces merely because they were serving in the past regime have demoralised Nepal's police force. This behavior of political parties is heavily obfuscating national security forces. Perhaps, boosting moral of the security forces will help them to deal with extra state actors and non-non-state actors. Likewise, initiative to build up congenial civil-military relations will contribute greatly in democratizing security forces and creating the feeling of ownership among citizens towards forces.

Conclusion

On the conclusion, what can be drawn from the two-day workshop is that most of the participants were of the view that unless we have visionary leadership we cannot have democratic politics and unless the government creates conducive environment it is likely that much talked CA election will falter away down the road. Vital political issues (structure of the state and model of governance) have to be resolved in advance. Most of the participants feared moral bankruptcy, the level of incivility and lackadaisical character exhibited by existing leadership will delay CA election. They argued that the current members of the interim parliament are not in favour of CA election in time. They will not create an environment for this purpose. For them, these lots are the one who will file nominations for the election and it is clear that the fear of losing the election will act as a catalyst to prolong the status quo in the country. It is clear that under no circumstances they want to gamble the position and benefits which they are enjoying shamefully. Great deal of emphasis was put on the fact that we need to have national polices and national consensus on the issues of national importance like foreign policy, national security and economic policy.

Despite all the political and leadership incongruity, it has been argued that conflict can be resolved if we employ rational approach as they are our own creation. The tendency that "I should prevail over and against all" has to be dropped outright otherwise this attitude will merely transform conflict from one stage to another. Mr. Bir Bahadur Shahi one of the chair of the session and former secretary of the government said that politics need competent and intelligent persons as the weak and incompetent can not and do not service society justifiably and Nepali politics, for many years, have been dominated by the incompetent lots. Civic awareness of public about vital political questions, their effective collective action and civic competence are critical resources to make leaders accountable for their actions.

 
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