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Seminar Report on Initiative for Democracy Building Education about Voters and Civic Rights

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Dharan (06-07 Dec) and Dhankuta (08 -09 Dec)

By Chandra D Bhatta
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com


Introducing the Programme

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation has organised training-cum- seminar on 'Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights' in Dharan and Dhankuta districts. The German Foreign Ministry supported the programme. The main objective of the programme is to educate Nepali citizens on civic and voters rights to enable them to participate in the political process, particularly, on the upcoming Constituent Assembly election significantly.

The programme was attended, among others, by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, and members of civil society, student leaders, government officials, youths, representative of trade unions and other stakeholders of society.

In Dharan, the programme was attended by more than 200 participants, in Dhankuta 100 plus participants showed up. In Dhankuta, all the judges of the District Court, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Election Officer, District Education Officer and other high-ranking government officials attended the programme. While in Dharan academicians, local political activists, members of the ethnic community, among others, were participants.

The proceedings

Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal discussed about the current state of political affairs in the country. He recalled on the fact that mismatch between (people's) expectations and dispensation of political justice is slowly dashing away high hopes held on April showdown of 2006. The central thrust of Mr Dev Raj Dahal's presentation was that Nepali state should endeavour to strike a balance between different factors such as freedom, rights, duties, demand(s) and as well as challenges brought about by the new found political changes in the country. Failing to do so, he argued, will exasperate people's faith on political leaders and subsequently on (cyclic) political movements. Our attempt should focus to build civil state rather than a state based on class and clan, said Mr Dahal. Mr Dahal further argued that political settlement through democratic exercise is always peaceful. Peaceful situation is always considered to be conducive to strengthen values in a given society. He emphasized on the fact that we should develop a mechanism to strike a balance between majority and minority and equally important is that the intellectuals and political leaders should work together for the welfare of the nation. Intellectuals should provide ideas/opinions to the political leaders.

Equally important is to strike a balance between written and unwritten constitution of the state. Mr Kashi Raj Dahal - the constitutional expert has said that unless political parties come out with clear political agendas on different issues such as state restructuring, the future model of governance - the proposed election to CA will not yield much result. He maintained that none of the political parties so far have clear scientific agenda on various issues which perhaps will become major cause of further conflict in the country or that Nepal might lose much hyped achievement of People's Movement (the agenda of utopian New Nepal). Similarly Chandra D. Bhatta introduced hands-out on democracy. The central theme of hands-out was to promote democracy based on rule of law and introduces civic education at different layers of society, which will help to construct civic citizenship based on civic nationalism. The overarching aim of this session first, was to promote democratic political culture in the country and second to balance existing political bias in the country.

Floor Discussion

Majority of the questions were thrown-out on federalism, state-restructuring, ethnic federalism, model of governance, nature of political parties in both districts. This was obvious, because the region host majority of ethnic communities and some of them are hell-bent to make ethnic state (Limbuwan-Khumbuwan). Question was also asked on right to self-determination. Kashi Raj Dahal clarified that right to self-determination (of 1648) does not necessarily provide legal basis for secessionist (state disintegration) right. By contrast, the whole idea of right to self-determination is to provide opportunities (freedom) within the federation for the economic development and alike of the people living within that federation.

In Dhankuta the Dr. Gopal Bhattari (left intellectuals) raised questions on American hegemony, Indian expansionism and enquired how tiny state like Nepal can overcome from this perceived security dilemma. Anand Santosi Rai (member of Nepali Congress) asked question about ethnic state. He said that today the identity political has come into fore and the concept that ethnicity is state and state is ethnicity has developed. He maintained that the modern state has to be built on the basis of consensus and there is a need to strike a balance between this concept. Likewise, one participant (Bantawa Rai) asked which comes first, nation-building or constitution making. He was of the view that the process of nation-building can only take place when we write constitution through proportional electoral system. Questions were also raised on the declaration of Republic through parliament. What will happen to our voting right if parliament declares Nepal as a republic without even going to the public? This will, for sure, usurped up our sovereign right and is in no way democratic.

Many participants wanted to know how do we civilise the state and society, for the matter politics and political actors. What type of education system will help to get rid of from this dilemma of anarchy and order. Will the civic education resolve problem. How can we introduce civic education at different layers of society?

Conclusion

What can be drawn from the proceeding of the seminars is that FES seems to have fulfilled its objective of advocating civic education and social democracy, which are very much needed in Nepali society. The programme was well received and succeeded to fulfill its goals in all three districts. The debate in all places generated very valid questions which need immediate collective attention. A critical mass is forming in every domain and this mass wants to have equal share in every aspect of governance. The worry expressed at the rural areas on the national politics and their de-serious faith on democracy is noteworthy. Equally, important is their ability to differentiate chaff from the wheat (between bad leaders, bad policies, good leaders and good polices). Perhaps programmes like this needs to be further extended in other parts of the country.

 
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