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Initiative for Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Report of the Seminar held in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Palpa and Butwal
In May 2007

Prepared By
Chandra D Bhatta

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) has recently organized intensive two-day training-cum-seminar on "Initiative for Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights" in different parts of the country such as Kathmandu, Pokhara, Palpa and Butwal. The program was well received by the people of the concerned region and has had a very positive impact in society. Altogether 500 people have been trained on various aspects of democracy, CA elections, civic education and state-building.

The program was attended by the good number of people and had local leaders of all political parties (including Maoists), university teachers, local election officers, civil society members, representative of trade unions, university students, bureaucrats and other members of society as a target group. In Palpa, the program was attended by the Chief District Officer, Chief of District Police, Election Officer and the law makers from the ruling parties. The overarching aim of this program was to train local opinion makers and elites so that knowledge on the theme can easily trickle down to the grass root level. There was a great deal of positive feedback on the program. Some of the participants even said that they never had such types of program in their region in the past.
The voters education program was supported by the German Foreign Ministry and FES played lead role to launch the program in Nepal and in the peripheral areas FES and Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS), a Kathmandu based think tank, jointly organized the program.

The program had following resource persons:
Dr. Peter Hering - FES Advisor for Civic Education Programs
Mr. Dev Raj Dahal - Political Scientist and Head of FES in Nepal
Mr. Kashi Raj Dahal - Former Law Secretary and Constitutional Expert
Mr. Chandra Dev Bhatta - PhD Scholar, London School of Economics

In the inaugural session Dr. Peter Hering said that that the program was launched to support the development of democracy and FES will organize a number of such seminars in Nepal. He added neither FES nor the German Government does have any intention of meddling in the internal affairs of Nepali state but would like to provide ideas and alternatives in support of Nepalese People quest for democracy. It would be entirely up to Nepalese to decide as what type of democratically system they want to have in place. FES is not enforcing the German model of democracy and impartial in this context. However, we give utmost importance to social democracy based on social justice and principle of solidarity. Dr. Hering highlighted that democracy only works properly when it values the specific conditions of a country.

The successful democracy is based on four R's; that is, Rights, Responsibilities, Rules (written and unwritten) and Reconciliation. When exercising these basic mantras of democracy one has to be careful about others as well.

In every democratic society rights and responsibilities are directly combined. The more rights citizens get the more responsibilities they have to assume. One of the most important rules in a functioning democracy is to respect and protect fundamental rights of the minorities and the political oppostion. Governments should be aware that every opposition of today will be the government of tomorrow and the other way round. Political power in a democracy cannot be owned, it is only rented for sometime. Hence we have to listen and respect each other in a democracy. Likewise, Dr Hering said that social democracy is all about sharing the burden. Those in society having broader shoulders have a responsibility to carry more than those who have smaller shoulders. This means, too, those who are stronger have to speak up for those who are not represented and heard in the political process.

Emphasizing the importance of reconciliation for the peace process in Nepal Dr. Hering concluded by quoting Willy Brandt, the former Chancellor of Germany: "Peace is not everything but without peace everything is nothing."

Dev Raj Dahal (DRD herein after) talked about state, society and the future polity of Nepali state. DRD's presentation focused on how best state can address the challenges generated by internal forces (recent political changes) in the country wherein public expectations have gone high, various societal forces have emerged and external forces -globalization per se. DRD said that political movement(s) per se have widened the public expectations but the state has no capacity to deal with expanded and diversified public expectations. He said that political power has been transformed from the king to eight political parties but within this 'power transformation' neither there is intergenerational justice nor the transformation is felt by the citizenry at large.

With the successful completion of Jana Aandolan - 2006 various types of transformation are taking place in Nepali society. For example - transformation in discourse (loktantra vs prajatantra, ganatantra vs inclusive democracy); transformation in political parties, that is, rise of the ultra communists forces, transformation in actors, that is, rise of political leaders of various ideologies and suspension of the king, transformation in subjects; that is, from unitary to federal system of governance and transformation in procedure; that is, promulgation of interim constitution and initiative to hold election for the Constituent Assembly election to write a new constitution.

Having said this, however, there is no clear agenda before the state as what type of state we really wanted to have at the end of the day. Our political leaders talk about 'state restructuring' but it is still not clear how they want to go about. He said that there is a great deal of word playing going on at the political level and different types of terminologies have surfaced without any scientific justification.

He spoke about the current state of affairs in the country. He began by saying that there is a deadlock in politics and parliament which is normally regarded as apolitical in political science. He also said that there is no provision of constitutional court which might help to set the scene for the election to the CA. He also said that we don't yet have peace and reconciliation commission which might help to warring parties to a common platform for the reconciliation process. Weapons are in a state of demobilization but the steps are these are not yet followed.

There is a great deal of conflict between state and societal forces. The result of this conflict is that interim constitution has been receiving wrath of opposition from different sections of society and it had to be amended within 35 days of promulgation. The amendment of 'constitution' on installment basis certainly does not necessarily herald prosperous political culture in the country. In a nutshell, constitution has not gained constitutional stability and political legitimacy.
DRD said that since time immemorial there has been conflict between liberty and order, society and state, politics and law, aspirations and organizations, and nationality and internationality. Likewise, society always demands more rights whereas state always demands more duties from the societal forces. The struggle also exists between modernity and parochialism. Against this backdrop, the challenge for the nation-state is how best to balance harmony between all these conflicting ideas, concepts, norms etc. These conflicts or the anti-systemic or establishment movement are worldwide phenomenon and we cannot go against the spirit of the age but have to adjust our policies with the tune of pace of time. Old politics, culture, economy are being challenged one by one by post-modern and subsidiary identities. However, we also have to understand our own internal need while adjusting our policies. In fact the entire world is in transition and the political and the economic framework established by the industrial revolution is feeling the heat at the threshold when society and humanity is moving towards "choice based" society from the "order based," from inherited to social contract and status-bound to equality. The announcement of election to the constituent assembly election in Nepal has made our politics open-ended. However, the ground reality is that the date of CA election is not announced yet. Achievements of people's movement of 2006 have not yet been able to secure legitimacy because of the perpetual conflict between society and politics.

DRD said that we have entered into the third wave of democracy, third wave of human rights, third wave of technology and third wave of sovereignty and all these newfound changes have made today's citizen a truly global citizen. However, many countries in the third world are faltering away down the road partly because they are not in a position to meet the demand generated by the third wave of democratization, human rights and third wave of technology. This has led to the rise of various sorts of insurgencies, internal conflicts mostly headed by the non-state actors.

DRD reminded that the "reason of the state" is to protect weak from the strong in a society and that of the politics is to address the underlying problems that exists in a society by engaging people into the institutional life of the state through democracy. Likewise, state has a duty to maintain public order in a society and politics should bring changes in a society. The main logic of democratic politics, therefore, is to initiate dialogue, search for common agreement and provide alternatives (choices) so that diverse societal demands/interests could be peacefully negotiated.

Modern legitimacy comes from elections. Charismatic leadership is very timely and evaporates as time pass by. He pointed out that from the time of P. N. Shah our politics is controlled by geopolitics. The most important thing is that politics and state management has to be run on the basis of ideology not on the basis of biology. We have signed comprehensive peace accord but one year down the road conflict residues are still prevalent in society. Different types of societal groups are forming their own critical masses. Peace and reconciliation commission is yet to be established. State has not been able to play the role of 'state' due to which state is losing internal sovereignty to various non-state-actors. The security sector reform has not been fully initiated. Interim constitution has not gained stability and initiative for the constitutional process is very weak. This is hampering peace process. We also need to maintain extra systematic effects to maintain independent foreign policy.

The worldwide social movements against the 'establishments' are quire prevalent. This phenomenon has posed a great deal of threat to the political schools of thought including communist and capitalist school of thoughts. The presence of NGOs and non-state actors at the global level conferences, summits is the classic example in this regard. This threat came particularly because political leaders in many countries are not accountable to the citizens at large. However information revolution has increased the participatory level and public expectations in different aspects of governance. This, indeed, has posed a great deal of threat to the old system based on order (came into due to the industrial revolution) and humanity is moving towards "choice" based system of governance.

In Nepal citizen have been given too much of rights against the state but there is no efficient mechanism to ensure these rights. In a sense, no attempt has been made to make state machineries strong and prosperous so that they can meet the challenge generated by these rights. The decision to hold election to CA has increased citizens participation in the different aspects of state affairs but state has or is not in a position to develop its own capacity to prevent anomie. There is a great deal of tension between state and society and the challenge brought about by this dichotomy is to maintain order between state and societal forces. This has led to erosion in the capacity of the state in different arena such as erosion in policy (no sovereign policy), erosion in state authority (rise of the non-state actors), and increase in competitive violence (rule of might). Because of these state is not in position to fulfill main duties of the state (protect weak, resolve conflicts; maintain sovereign policies (including foreign) and delivery of public goods). In Nepal, therefore, civic education must involve a balanced education between rights and responsibilities so that freedom and order complement each other.

Kashi Raj Dahal (herein after KRD) said that CA election is the historic opportunity which may or many not come in a life time of a human being. Hence it is different than the normal elections. Why and for what purposes we are going for CA election? What made our political leaders to think about this? This has to be defined in advanced. To be more precise, the destination of CA has to be clear well in advanced. CA elections are normally conducted to establish: Sustainable peace in the country and guarantee constitutional state in the country. There are other reasons:

  • To readjust the existing structure of the state which has failed to deliver justice to all strata of society (to include those who have not access to the institutional life of the state and have been perpetually denied justice)?
  • To establish democratic political culture by abolishing all sorts of autocracies. He said that CA is a platform to generate legitimacy and put the achievement of people's movement into action. What has also to be defined well in advance for the smooth process of CA election is to have:
  • Clear political road map
  • Clear structure of the state (governance, federalism, unitary)
  • Clear electoral system (mixed, proportional, first-past-the post

KRD emphasized that existing transition period should not be prolonged and it has to be managed as soon as possible. The more we prolong transitional period the more existing governing machineries loses their legitimacy as they are not elected from people. The modern legitimacy (in a rule of law) comes from the election but this is not the case in Nepal. He maintained that while the constitution of 1990 has been formally declared null and void and there is no initiation to form new constitution - the existing interim constitution is only a "doctrine of necessity" and is merely a document which is based on the common minimum political agreements reached among eight-political party of various colours. It does not have the notion of constitutionalism. The national agreement that we have now in place has to be consolidated and we should be able to take advantage of this situation. We can only have a successful CA when we integrate all societal forces and maximize their participation. The beauty of CA election is that maximum number of people participates in the constitution making process.

He informed that the CA elections are held normally when drastic political changes take place. What has also to be decided in advance is what type of election and how that election will be held. If the state is moving towards federalism - what type of federalism - what are its bases? Federalism works under three conditions. (1) regional equality (eg. language, culture, geographic) (2) desire of the people (federalism has to be desire of the people of that particular region, that is federalism cannot be enforced from outside, and (3) capacity to sustain federalism (self-determination). Likewise, distribution of power to the federal states (how much power to which state) is central consideration. Federalism is also an emotional issue.

There are different views on federalism - some say that state disintegrates when we move towards federalism. This entirely depends on the political management, that is, how the leadership manages federal states- the political system. He gave different examples where CA elections were held successfully and where failed down the road. The most important point for the successful CA election, as he said, was the political will, competent leadership, political management, political tolerance, fear and free environment for the elections, etc. There has to be provision of check and balance after the CA election is held. Equally important is the role of civil society and media which will work as a watchdog.

Most important point Dahal said is that the election to the CA is always 'conditional' which has been understood otherwise in Nepal. Political leaders need to have a clear political roadmap, agendas has to be decided in advance before CA election is held. He cautioned that CA election should be held in time, that is, sooner the better. The delays in CA election can endanger the whole political process or the whole achievement of the political movement, revolutions etc.
There is no guarantee that constitution which comes from CA will be a panacea to our political problems neither there is a guarantee that democracy will be ensured as it only provides a way out but not the wisdom and rationality. Therefore everything depends entirely on politicians as to how they manages 'politics'. That said, however, CA has been considered best way out in Nepali context and we have to educate our people about importance of CA, its procedure in order to ensure maximum citizens participation.

The discussion in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Palpa and Butwal generated various issues relating to state affairs which are summarized below.

Prajatantra Vs. Loktantra
Which is more suitable prajatntra or loktantra? Great deal of concern on using terminologies among participants in all four places. Most of the participants were of the view that we should call 'Loktantra' instead of 'Pajatantra' as the latter one is somewhat connects citizen with monarchy. However, DRD said that we probably should use the word which is more acceptable, more acumen and more exclusive to democratic values. In this sense, he maintained, that prajatantra is much closer compared to loktantra which somewhat represent democracy at the grass root level not at the national level. Lok is undefined citizens and undefined space while democracy is defined with its citizens and territory. Lok has been translated into English as "folk," therefore, it does not capture the national essence.

Foreign Policy
Geopolitics has been playing a great role in shaping Nepalese foreign policy. In fact our foreign policy has been suppressed by the geopolitics. There is no foreign policy coherence among Nepalese political parties. Some of the participants were of the view that the P. N Shah's foreign policy doctrines are still relevant in Nepali context. The political movements should have able to provide 'openness' in the foreign policy affairs but this is not the case. Our policy, authority and political power is influenced by the external forces. We always talk about 'foreign power' meddling into our internal affairs but we are hesitant to pin point them? Participants also raised issues on treaties (uneven) that Nepali state has signed with India. For example treaty of 1950 (peace and friendship), the 1965 treaty of arms and the joint communiqué of 1990s. These all treaties/communiqué have weakened the bargaining power of Nepali state with neighbours. There is no balance in foreign policy. Participants blamed that the issue of foreign policy only comes into fore whenever there is need to balance domestic politics and this practice is undermining the external sovereignty of the state.

Democracy, Nationalism and Political Movements
Participants in Palpa and Butwal raised serious but important questions on the issue of democracy, nationalism and movement per se. They pointed out that given the lackadaisical character of our political leaders Nepali nationalism is on risk at the cost of democracy. Too much of foreign interference for the cause of democracy and frequent mobility of ambassadors in districts have become a case in point. Participants were of the view that democracy can be achieved through people's movement but if we loose nationalism it cannot be achieved through people's movement. They cautioned that our political leaders should make every effort to protect our nationalism and we should, at least, have common voice whenever it comes national issues like foreign policy, national security, and consumption of natural resources.

Some of the Maoist leaders in Palpa were more concerned about nationalism and the feeling of nationalism was very high. Some argued that nationality in Nepal is defined in terms of political interests (to serve political interests). There was a great deal of concern to oppose nationalism which is more motivated merely to gain access to political power. Likewise, political movements or revolutions should generate the feeling of change but this has not been happening in Nepal ever after the watershed political movements of 2006.

Inclusive vs. participatory democracy
What type of democracy? There was a great deal of confusion as well as concern on the model of democracy. Most of the participants were of the view that inclusive democracy would be panacea to their problems. However, it is been argued that participatory democracy based on social justice would be more acceptable than the inclusive democracy which is merely based on 'kind' and paternalistic in approach. It has been argued that to make participatory democracy more acceptable, we have to ensure both rights and participation. There was also great deal of concern and confusion on inclusive democracy particularly on its modus operandi. DRD maintained that since inclusive democracy is based on 'kind' and the modern nation-states should run on the basis of political ideology not on the basis of biology it would be better if move towards participatory democracy based on social justice. Information revolution, rights-based regime and the CA will push Nepal towards participatory democracy in the days to come.

Participants were particularly concerned that this sort of confusion needs to be cleared off and demanded that political leaders and our think tanks should define political terminologies so that they can be correctly utilized in a society rather than mere imposition from the outside world.

CA Election
Participants were of the view that great deal of discussion requires for the CA election. They were also confused is it the right time to conduct these types of seminars when there is no guarantee of CA election? Since CA election is the life-time opportunity, the challenge is to maximize people's participation in the election process. How feasible or practical is proportional election procedure when majority of people in the rural areas are illiterate? Some participants were skeptical that whether CA election is merely used as political strategy or to resolve political conflict for the sustainable peace. They also enquired how long do we have to let the eight political parties rule the nation unelected and how long is this transition period going to be. Some said that civil society and media could play a crucial role in putting pressure on government for the timely CA election.

Civil Society
Many questions were raised on the issue of civil society in all four places. There was great deal of confusion about the existing nature of civil society in Nepal. Most of the participants enquired 'whose civil society is this'? They were of the view that there is a great deal of gap between urban and rural civil society organizations and they blamed that the urban based civil society and the most of the NGOs are merely engaged in 'farming dollars' and driven by the foreign NGOs at the expenses of national politics. Against this backdrop, DRD said that we need to promote our old civil society institutions which are based on duty which are neither against the state nor against market nor it driven by the foreign interests but motivated by the philosophy that those who are in need of help have to be helped.

Participants also blamed that civil society is becoming more partisan. Civil society has not been able to play the same role as it has played during people's movement. This could perhaps be due to the fact that civil society is moving towards partisan line. Most of the participants agreed that the existing civil society is anti-state and anti-public it is merely engaged to fulfill the interests of those who were in the civil society sphere.

Peace and Conflict
Archeology of conflict has to be broken down for the sustainable peace in society. Deconstruction of anti-people policy is necessary for the human emancipation which can be achieved through knowledge. DRD said that both Buddha and Karl Marx talked about human emancipation through knowledge but we are suppressed by the knowledge which often is the cause of conflict. The imported knowledge has to be internalized for the suitability of our society. For the sustainable peace in a society both the knowledge; that is, spiritual knowledge which comes from Dharma and the rational knowledge which comes from the social science has to be balanced.

Participants demanded that Nepali political leaders should be able to provide a solution to the political conflict. They said that how many movement(s) we have to wage for? DRD said that politics should come out with a policy, should provide choice which will ultimately help to minimize competitive violence in a society and strike a balance between society and economics. Politics should provide 'voice' and 'platform' to those who have been denied opportunities.

There was a great deal of confusion on the issue of monarchy and CA election. That is whether we have to do away with monarchy before we go for the CA or wait until the CA election is held. However, some of the participants were of the view that we have to do away with monarchy even before the CA election. Interestingly, some of the participants said that those who talk more about 'republicanism' might not be the real ones; in contrast, they might be the real monarchists. Some said that we should respect the verdict of CA and we just cannot decide everything merely from the parliament as this parliament does not have authority to make important decisions. We have to keep views in mind of majority of the people. Monarchy is an institution that came along with Nepali state and hence we simply cannot on hotchpotch irrespective of the fact whether it is (was) bad or good.

Political Parties
Majority of the participants said that there is no internal democracy within the political parties. A serious question was raised in Pokhara with regard to political parties and the leadership. One of the participant event said that 'how could a person be the Head of the State (de facto) and at the same time Head of the Political Party'. And this should be avoided because partisan interests override national interests which also downplay the role of other political parties. Political parties are marred by the illusion of principle and this illusion has drastically reduced civic culture in mainstream political parties. This has also deviated political parties from their own party principles. Political process in the country is marred by the phenomenon that political leaders agree on all the points but failed to put them onto action.

Eight political parties are divided on eight sides and this has obstructed the constitution making process in the country. More over there is a great deal of ideological clash (school of thought) among political parties issues like social democracy, Marxism, democracy etc are the product of this thought. Some participants in Pokhara said that it would be better if this seminar would have been for the political leaders at the central level.

Serious questions were raised on leaderships as well. Some of the participants (in Pokhara) said that political leaders (some) are also engaged in inciting the sectarian movement in the country. Participants doubt whether political parties themselves are engaged in mobilizing political leaders for the sectarian movement that are taking place in different parts of the country. The leaders of eight political parties have failed to provide clear political roadmap to the country. The whole of the nation is captured by the eight party phobia and the citizens do not feel ownership over the state and its machineries. We lack visionary leadership. Leaders have made citizen revolutionary whereas they themselves are becoming more and more bourgeoisie. Participants wanted to know whose policy our political leaders are carrying anyway because there polices are not helping this nation to come out form the cycle of political violence in the country. Political leaders at the district level have the responsibility to put pressure on the central leadership as to how political socialization, communication and political acculturation should go the right way.

There is a mismatch between media, intellectuals and politicians. Nepali media is 'mission oriented'. Participants blamed that our leaders are more media frenzy, that is, they communicate more with media than with public at large. This is particularly blocking information to trickle down to the grass root level. The biggest change that has been noticed in Nepali media sector is that earlier advertisements were necessary to run the media now media is necessary to run the business houses. Participants were of the view that Media Empire in the country should be discouraged and media's role in the informing public about the elections, voters education and opinion formation must be encouraged.

Economics: Dependency and Interdependency
Globalization has integrated entire world and economic market and world economy are more or less same. The challenge for us is to move along with pace of world economy. Economic sphere is anarchic and there is no mentioning of democracy. We have two types of economy both formal and informal and they have to be integrated. But politics has failed to strike a balance between society and economics. Participants (in Pokhara) of the view that we should move towards production based economy. National Nlanning Commission should learn from socialization and set the development agendas accordingly. Recommendations were made that we should adopt backward to forward mobilization of budget to develop regions like Karnali at par with national level. Intellectual illusion has to be changed with regard to develop and face the reality. Where does globalization and state sovereignty clash?

State Restructuring
There were divergent views on state restructuring. Some said that federalism should be based on ethnicity but majority of the participations were of the view that they are not in favor of ethnic federalism. Majority of the participants claimed that federalism cannot be formed on the basis of ethnicity. Some participants were skeptical about the federalism itself and feared that are we retreating towards 22-24 principalities of yesteryears. Majority of the participants (in Pokhara) said that the whole idea of state restructuring or federalism is to oppose the Kathmandu centric opportunities. Nepal is ruled by 5% people and they are utilizing whole of the opportunities. It has been lamented that struggle for survival among political parties might force them to accept cosmetic changes rather than complete changes. If decentralization is considered good, than kings Gyanendra was right. What type of federalism? Perhaps the mixture of mountain, hills and Terai would prove best.

Language and religion strengthens civilization. Nepali languages have been in use 500 years before P N Shah came into power. Participants mostly from ethnic communities in Pokhara, Kathmandu, Palpa and Butwal were of the view that state cannot have its own religion. They also said that they are not against Hinduism but only looking for equal participation in the governance. However, they are against Hindu fundamentalism.

Women, Dalit and Janjati
One participant Shanti Bhusal of P. N. Campus Pokhara said the during the Vedic time there was equality between man and woman but women's rights have been usurped up during the medieval period by the patrimonial society. The current transformation is gender bias. There was also a great deal of concern that how can we include more and more women into the decision making process. Some argued that women need reservations and some argued about special rights. Dalits and Janjatis are still under represented and there is no genuine effort to include them into the institutional life of the state.

Human Rights
What type of human rights? Human rights for whom - for the leaders or for the citizens at large. Human rights are unipolar. The issue of human rights needs to be well defined and guaranteed by the state. They have to be class secular.

Armed forces
Some participants in Palpa argued that armed forces stand as a biggest problem during this transition period and demanded that they should be brought under the complete civilian control.

Conclusion and way forward
What can be concluded from the seminars in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Palpa and Butwal is that revolutionary politics does not have a future. People in the peripheral areas are far concerned and knowledgeable about democracy and politics. A critical mass is forming in every domain and they want to have equal share in every aspect of governance. The political leaders have to careful that they no longer fool them. However, development of democratic political culture across political parties is necessary for the prosperous political future. Nepali state should try to integrate all the forces in the national mainstream, any political changes that take place in the political spectrums have to be realized and should trickle down to the grass root level only then we can have a sustainable peace in the country. With regard to the CA election great deal of discussion is required on major issues like federalism, election procedure, and republicanism by engaging wider citizenry. The challenges that lie ahead Nepali state are many and perhaps these can be met when we introduce more practical education and prepare our youngster to face the challenges generated by the forces of modernity (technology per se). Equally important is economic empowerment of citizen which will allow citizenry at large to take part in political process without any major hindrances. Perhaps, introduction of social democracy might help to address the existing social bias in the country.

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