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

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Dhading (26-27 Sep), Syangja (28-29 Sep) and Tanahu (30 Sep-01Oct) 2007

By Chandra D Bhatta
Email: cdbhatta@yahoo.com


Introduction

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German Political Foundation has organised training-cum- seminar on 'Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights' in Dhading, Syngja and Tanahu 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, among others, by 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 Dhading the programme was attended by 125 participants, in Syngja 100 plus and in Tanahu 140 participants showed up. In Dhading, Judge of Dhading District Court, Chief District Officer (CDO), Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Election Officer, District Education Officer and other high ranking government officials attended the programme. In Syngja the programme was attended by Chief District Officer, Judge of the Parbat District Court, DSP, Local Development Officer, among others, were participants. Likewise, in Tanahu the programme was attended by the District Judge of Tanahu, Chief District Officer, Election Officer, DSP and other high ranking government officials present in the district.

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.

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 introduce 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. Likewise in Synjga, Ms. Nar Kumari Gurung presented a paper on women's participation in the political process in the country. She demanded for the increased women's participation in the upcoming CA election. She said that contribution of women in political movement is immense but even after the successful completion of people's movement their participation in the decision making process has not been given due recognition. She fared that even the extant provision will not help to uplift women's status in the policy making level and hence some sort of special protection is required to bring them into the national mainstream.

Floor Discussion

The level of political consciousness as well as feeling of nationalism was found high in the peripheral areas. This can be demonstrated from the fact that, for example, in Dhading, the District Education Officer (DEO) raised question about the pervasive level of corruption in the country. Mrs Durga (DEO) said that if an individual gets involved in corruption he or she will only spoil the household but if a leader gets involved in corruption he or she will spoil the entire nation and the system and the country and its people will have to pay for it. She further said that Nepali leaders are knowingly engaged in corrupt activities and this has come down heavily in the recent years. Participants also wanted to know about state restructuring. They enquired what would be the best ways to restructure Nepali state, that is, geographical, religious, nationalities or any other options. Questions were also raised on the fact that Nepali state has been dependent, for ages, even for intellectual know-how, economic well-being and alike. And Nepali state should create a situation wherein we can get rid of this situation.

Questions were also raised in Synjga on the inclusion of People's Liberation Army into Nepal Army. However, it is argued that since the cadres of PLA were the product of society (who carry certain political ideologies) not the product of security forces as such. Hence they (PLA) have to be integrated or assimilated into society rather than NA. It is because PLA carries certain type of political ideology which cannot fit into NA which is politically neutral and upholds, theoretically, nationalistic view (ideology).

Participant(s) in Synjga have also raised points about the lack of intergenerational justice in Nepali politics. Questions were also raised on contradictions within the political parties on various issues such as state restructuring, CA elections, nature of the governance, fate of monarchy. Contradictions within the political parties on these issues are pushing Nepal state onto the verge of collapse. Questions were also raised on 'nationalism'. Participant(s) argued that every effort should be made to protect our nationalism. Our leaders travel to Delhi for even minor things - this might endanger Nepali nationalism. There have been no changes in the character of political parties. Eight political parties by contrast are working like the government of SHREE EIGHT.

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.
Participants also expressed great deal of concern that Nepali leaders are not working in line with citizens expectations. The contradiction between public expectation and expectation of leaders is pushing this country further into political chaos. There was also query on the fact that what type of movement will bring about change in the social structure of the country, which has not taken place so far. The main function of politics is to create opportunity and address societal problems but this has not taken place in Nepal. That said successive political movements down the road haven't been able to work in this direction despite the fact that political movements (for their success) have always capitalized on social owes. This dichotomy needs to be resolved.

Another dilemma with Nepali politics is that our political consciousness is centered on political parties but lacks political consciousness in a real sense of the term as a result politics has failed to fulfill its traditional political religion. To keep an interest on politics is the duty of citizens but too much of politisization of society on partisan line can be vary dangerous. Questions were also raised on clientalist political practices by the political parties including Maoists. Up till now Maoist is a party whose demands have been getting fulfilled one after another but this party, too, is not serious about democracy in the country.

A very important question was raised on Synjga on the current position of youth in the country. It was argued that youths are alienating from the state and system day-by-day, they are either migrating to abroad in search of job or disillusioned with the politics. If the situation continues - perhaps, the future will have to depend either on retires or on women for the politics. Hence this is high to time to integrate youth into national politics and polices but this has not taken place so far..

Likewise, participants were also curious to know on various forms of transformation that are taking place in Nepali politics such as rationality behind the rise of leftist political forces, farewell of rightist political forces from the scene (this questions were also raised in previous seminars). 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 being 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 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. One of the participants in Tanahu enquired whether we will get international legitimacy or not if we restructure Nepali state in ethnic lines. In the same vein, one of the participants, agreed that political organizations cannot be restructured, they can, by contrast, be democratized but he enquired how can we democratize geographical structure of the nation. One of the participant enquired can the Madhesi Forum be registered as political organizations.

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 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). The biggest challenge in Nepali politics is that Nepali political parties have become leader oriented rather than citizen oriented. This bias has to be changed.

 
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