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Seminar Report on

Initiative for State-building within the context of constitution making process

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

16-17 May (Nuwakot) and 23-24 May (Dhulikhel)

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 '(Modern) State-building and Constitution-making Process' in Nuwakot and Kavre district. The main objective of the programme was to educate people at the peripheral level on the issues underpinning constitution-making process in order to enable them to participate in the political process significantly.

The programme was attended, among others, by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist), lawmaker(s) from the CPN-Maoist, academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, members of civil society, students, government officials, youths, representatives of trade unions and other stakeholders of society. Overall, the programme was well received.

There were 165 and 176 participants in Nuwakot and Kavre district respectively who actively participated in the discussion. Mr Bhanu Bhakta Pokharel Chief District Officer (CDO) of Nuwakot attended the programme whilst Mr. Krishna Prasad Banstola, the Judge of the Nuwakot District Court, chaired the programme. Likewise in Kavre, Judge of the District Court Mr. Prakash Mishra chaired the programme and Mr Kabiraj Khanal, CDO was also present.

The proceedings

Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal apprised about the current state of political affairs in the country. The intellectuals, political leaders and civil society members of both the district discussed about the various social, economic and political issues underpinning the Nepali state. They argued that drafting of a new democratic constitution requires inclusion of contesting visions, voices and views of all strata of society. Mr Dev Raj Dahal recalled on the fact that mismatch between (people's) expectations and dispensation of political justice and perpetual political deadlocks in the country is slowly dashing away high hopes held on the new political April showdown of 2006. The central theme 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) as well as the challenges brought about by the new social movement(s) in the country. Failing to do so, he argued, will exasperate people's faith on political leaders and subsequently push the country towards perpetual (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. He further elaborated on the fact that neither democracy nor the developmental activities take place in security vacuum. Hence, peaceful situation is always considered to be prerequisite to strengthen democratic values in a given society. He emphasized on the fact that we should also 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.

Similarly speaking from the chair, District Judge of Nuwakot district Krishna Prasad Banstola said, mere floating of various concepts in the public is not sufficient unless they are implemented to change the life of the people for the better. In the transition phase of politics, justice should be fostered at the various levels of society so that conflicts can be contained and losers of the political game have faith in the future. Similarly Chief District officer Bhanu Bhakta Pokharel stated that constitutional debated are essential to educate the public about the issues and build their informed choices and opinions on political affairs. Speaking from the chair in Kavre, District Judge Mr Mishra said that the new constitution should adopt our traditional values and at the same time make endeavour to adopt with modernity.

Constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal while presenting various models of constitution, such as the US, Indian and German stressed that constitution basically legitimises the political ideology of the nation. Since constituent Assembly election in Nepal has produced a fractured mandate recently, politicians of all hues must evolve a politics of compromise and consensus. What is essential is to understand national issues so that social cohesion contributes collective future of Nepalese people. Mr Kashi Raj Dahal further elaborated that unless political parties come out with clear political agendas on different issues such as state restructuring, the future model of governance, the head of the state - we cannot achieve sustainable political system as well as peace in the country.

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 Floor Discussion

Majority of the questions were thrown-out on the issues of federalism, regional autonomy, state-restructuring, ethnic federalism, model of governance, nature of political parties, political culture, contents of democracy (human rights, separation of power, rule of law, good governance, civil society, globalisation, models of democracy and many more) in both the district. The participants were not happy with proportional electoral system as the system has been maneuvered to such an extent that it became very easy for political leaders to bring their close relatives and family members into the Constituent Assembly. The classic example is that in almost all the political parties, husband is representing through direct (election) quota while the wife is on proportional quota and vice versa. Through this system elites are accommodated secretly without involving public at large for the fear of opposition that is, public are not informed or responsible enough to play a direct and decisive role in making polity. The absence of civic democratic culture is pervasive within the Nepalese political leaders, said participant(s) in both the district.

In Nuwakot Mr Thakur Pudasaini (Lecturer of the Economics) said that economic factors are important for the political stability in the post-conflict society. He further said that economic well-being increases the level of 'civic awareness' and also decreases the class conflict. Hence, the strong economic policy is need of the hour.

Mr Keshan Pandey (from UML) said that the tendency of our political leaders to pose as rulers rather than the agent of "citizen" is giving bad message to the people at large. On the foreign policy front, he stated that the notion "Nepal is an yam between boulders" is a wrong concept because the 'yam' between two boulders can never prosper. In the same vein, we should not consider ourselves as the 'yam' between two boulders but a small power between two giant powers.

Likewise, Mr Madhu Dawadi from NCP(Maoist) stated that youths are the major power of the nation and government should attempt to bring them into the institutional life of the state rather than sending abroad (that too, Gulf Countries) for employment. For the development of Nepal major focus should be given on the overall development of youths, women, discrimination against dalits has to be stopped. Similarly Mr Ganesh Adhikari from NCP(Maoist) said that the ownership over land should stay with the one who uses it (the labour) not with the one who merely owns it (the landlord or malik). Likewise, Mr Arjun Nepali Damai said that dalits have be brought into the social, economic and political mainstream through reservations and affirmative action. Health and education has to be free and provided by the state. The gap between private and public education and health system has to be bridged.

On federalism - majority of the participant(s) in Nuwakot and Kavre were of the view that Himal, Pahad and Terai region should be integrated while creating federal states. Federal states should not be created merely on the basis of ethnicity, geography, regionalism, languages, and alike. All the factors should be taken into account so that state does not falter away in the longer-run.

The current state of political deadlock (after the abolition of monarchy) is merely the product of power struggle among political parties and their leaders. The participants argued that how can we have new Nepal within the old notion of thinking and political practices.

Conclusion

The seminar has been able to fulfill its objective of advocating civic education and explore the agendas of state-building and constitution making process. The debate in both places has generated very valid questions, which need immediate collective attention from the state.

Concluding, 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, nationalism is noteworthy. Equally, important is their ability to differentiate chaff from the wheat (between bad leaders, bad policies, good leaders and good polices). As a cautionary note, election and parliamentary government shouldn't merely become the basis for rituals of gaining political legitimacy, while the habits and attitudes required for a civic culture and participatory democracy are largely uncultivated or absent. The tendency of generating mass support through a combination of ideological indoctrination and violence has to be stopped outright. Perhaps programmes like this will help to get rid from this phenomenon and as such these types of programmes need to be further extended in other parts of the country.

 
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