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Seminar Report on

Initiative for Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Baglung (25-26 August), Parbat (27-28 August) and Lamjung (29-30 August)

By Chandra D Bhatta
PhD Scholar and Research Fellow on Social Development
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com


Introducing the Program

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation has organised training-cum- seminars on 'Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights' in Baglung, Parbat and Lamjung districts. The voter's education programme was supported by the German Foreign Ministry. 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.

In all three districts the programme was attended by, among others, political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, and members of civil society, student leaders, youths, representative of trade unions and other stakeholders of society. In Baglung the programme was attended by 140 participants, in Parbat 122 and in Lamjung 180 participants showed up. In Baglung, the Chief Judge of the Baglung Appellate Court, Judge of the District Court and other high ranking government officials attended the programme, in Parbat Chief District Officer, Judge of the Parbat District Court, Security Officials, Woman Development Officer, among others, were participants. Likewise, in Lamjung the programme was attended by the District Judge of the Lamjung Mr. Shiv Kumar Bhele and other high ranking government officers based in the district attended the programme.

Proceedings

The head of the FES Dev Raj Dahal talked about state building and social transformation and highlighted various issues impinging Nepali state in the light of current political development in the country. The central thrust of Dev Raj Dahal's presentation was that Nepali state should strike a balance between different factors such as freedom and order, rights and duties, aspirations and organizations, politics and law as well as the challenges brought about by the forces of globalisation per se for the sound economic development of the nation. 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 nature of head of the state, state restructuring, the future model of governance the 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 New Nepal. He explained various modalities of CA, comparative lessons of various countries, importance of voters and civic education and right to information. Likewise, Chandra D. Bhatta talked about various components of democracy. The central theme of this presentation centered on political culture, rule of law, good governance, civil society, public sphere, separation of power, globalisation and issues which are vital to strengthen democratisation process in the country.

Floor Discussion

The majority of the participants in Baglung were curious to know on various forms of transformation that are taking place in Nepali politics such as rationality behind the rise in the leftist political forces, emergence of armed non-state actors and farewell of rightist political forces from the scene. In all three places participants expressed great deal of concern on the current state of anarchy in the country which EPA government has failed to address in one way or the other. That participants were curious to know about the political anarchy which came into scene following the inability of Nepali state to strike a balance between demands posed by the various non-state actors and anarchy in the governance which came into light due to inability of state to make decisions in the various filed such as appointment of ambassadors, appointment of secretaries in the ministries, appointment of the university officials, justice and reconciliation commission and other issues. The crux of the problem lies with the fact that political parties are dividing positions among themselves on partisan lines. This is the vertical division of bureaucrats, technocrats following the division of mass society.

Likewise, participants as usual in other places, wanted to know about the various political terminologies that have been thrown-out in the market by the professional politicians and political pundits. The major concern was on inclusive democracy versus participatory democracy, prajatantra versus loktantra, state restructuring, federalism, modalities of the CA election and its aftermath.

Another important concern expressed by the participants in all three places was on methods to straighten Nepali politics in line with democratic values. That is, how can we civilise politics, how can we make Nepali politics pro-public rather than pro-leaders. This perhaps, as expressed by the participants has become major problem in terms of strengthening democratisation process in the country. The cycles of political movements without any concrete or sustainable political system in the country have raised various questions, said participants in all three places.

Participants also wanted to know about the model of the head of the state and type of democracy (libertarian versus social) would best suit for Nepali state. In Parbat and Lamjung participants expressed great deal of dissatisfaction about the current Anglo-American model of education. They lamented that this education has not contributed towards nation building and national development. They said that through private education state itself is engaged in producing two types of citizens (the class formation). That is, one those who are brought up in the private education system and others are those who are brought up in the public education system. They suggested that education system needs to be streamlined by eradicating existing imbalances in this sector and it should be in the hands of public sector.

Another concern expressed by the participant was on the moral bankruptcy in political leaders and intellectuals. They said that the main objective of the People's movement was to bring about overall changes in the society but political leaders are not working in line with the set objectives. This, perhaps, is major departure on their commitment towards state, democracy and citizens at large. They have suggested that continuous civic education needs to be introduced at the different levels of society to avoid this crisis.

Participants have expressed great deal of concern that politicians have been radicalizing society merely to fulfill their goals through cycles of (people's) movement but once the movement's are accomplished, political leaders are becoming bourgeoisie (retreating from their original commitments). This is the classic indication that Nepali state lacks visionary leadership. This crisis in leadership has become major problem in the country.

In Baglung, some intellectually charged questions were raised on Marxism, capitalism, socialism, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism and class struggle. Participants enquired how can we strike a balance between all these 'ism' and minimize class struggle in Nepali society.

In Lamjung one of the participants also asked about the current state of 'secularism' in the country. He enquired can state have its own religion? Another participant in Lamjung enquired how we can engage the younger generation into the constructive (civic) politics. As most of Nepali youths are alienating from the mainstream politics. Only the rural youths are concerned about nation and the politics and the urban youth are more interested to migrate from the country.

One of the most important points that was raised in Lamjung was on the crisis of identity within the political parties. Because of this crisis the political parties have not been able to streamline themselves. There are more than five dozen political parties with suffix or prefix linked with Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, and Marxist-Leninist. This can be avoided if they have their own clear agendas for the nation. The political parties are more fascinated by the ideological identities rather than some sort of comprehensive approach for the cause of nation and its citizens.

Conclusion

What can be drawn from the proceeding of the seminars is that FES seems to have fulfilled its objective of advocating civic and voters education about the CA and 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).

 
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