Report on Initiative for Democracy Building:
Building Modern State & Constitutional Questions
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
19-20 February, Tistung-Palung, Makwanpur
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) organized
a two-day seminar on "Initiative for Democracy Building in
Nepal: Building Modern State and Substance of Constitution"
at Tistung-Palung, Makwanpur District on February 19-20. The participants
of program consist chiefly of local political leaders from various
parties, members of civil society, human rights workers, teachers,
journalists, representatives of local women movement, police officers
etc. The total number of participants was over 147. On the first
session of the first day of the seminar Head of FES, Nepal Dev
Raj Dahal began his speech by thanking and welcoming the participants.
He gave a brief summary of how FES was founded and a small amount
of seed money grew into such a great international movement for
freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace.
The principal areas that FES, Nepal has been
working on since its foundation in Nepal are political discourse,
labor issues, women rights and conflict and peace. In order
to achieve peace and solidarity at the time we are living is
to build up citizenship which involves developing secular political
and social identity transcending our primordial local ones.
State is the apparatus for the organization and management of
society, hence the stronger the society the stronger the state
and vice versa. For a state to be stronger, the four prerequisites
have to be met: legitimate monopoly on power, taxation, and
loyalty of citizens to state and international recognition.
The last one is uniquely important for small and weak country
like ours. Tax is such an important dimension of state which
cultivates its loyalty to citizens by distributing welfare benefits.
Self-governance, an essential component of modern state, can
be progressively built up creating sense of security and mutual
trust; rule of law; decentralization of power and responsibility;
and expansion of social base of state through inclusive measures.
He mentioned three types of leaders: a visionary,
knowledgeable about history and broad-based statesman; leader
who is partisan, election-oriented party and poor in both comparative
and historical sense; and boss in a party who is faction-ridden,
ignorant of history and survival-oriented. Post-conflict Nepal
needs a statesman to handle the bundles of socio-economic and
foreign policy challenges, conflict residues and initiate reconciliation
process. To set the vision in new constitution, Nepalese leaders
have to synthesize the particular visions of various groups
and parties into a national framework and get approval and legitimacy
of sovereign citizens. He also said that the infrastructures
of democracy have to transform the subsidiary identities of
peoples into equal and free citizens having the concept of national
identity. He highlighted five preconditions of modern state:
education, economy, technology, organization and leadership.
The modern state must be secular in terms of its loyalty and
be based on citizenship not on other non-secular and divisive
identity. His presentation was followed by floor discussion.
The participants of Tistung and Palung were
more interested to know about building capacity of state to
prevent state failure and the viability of federalism, the treatment
of minority within state, etc
Ishwor Nath Paudel asked: Some advocate
federalism and others do not. Which one is good?
Indra Dhwoj Adhikari: If a state fails,
what will happen? Will our nation cease to exist or will it
be invaded by foreign power?
Bidur KC: Will the new constitution
give same or different rules and laws for Himal, Pahad and Tarai?
Krishna Bahadur Karki: Will federalism
based on ethnicity lead to national disintegration?
Dhruba Singh Bista: What are the roles
of different organs of the state? What is the process of making
of new constitution?
Bhim Lal Neupane: Our boarders are
increasingly being encroached. What roles can intellectuals
play? Some participants made observations.
Akkal Bahadur KC: We should include
all three geographical regions while making a federal state
so that all states can take advantages of their geographical
diversities and the economic benefits and opportunities thereof.
Madhumaya Tamang: Students should be
encouraged to participate in the constitutional talk so that
youth participation can be increased in non-political areas
Urmila Bhatta: The first identity that
we must develop and feel proud of is of being Nepali not of
being member of particular caste, region or ethnicity.
Niranjan Adhikari: In order to carry
out economic revolution we must take action against corruption
and build up our industrial capabilities.
Responses from Presenter
We do agree that our identity should be national
not regional and ethnic so that we can build up national unity.
Modern state requires civic state. Young people should be encouraged
to think and act about national issues. We must promote and
secure social justice for everyone. We must stress the need
and usefulness of public sectors. It is advisable that federation
must be made by incorporating all three geographical regions
in all states or provinces. In order for the people to be powerful,
local government should have more authorities and responsibilities.
We must not forget, in the meantime that we need a strong central
government for national identity and security. Whether we really
need federal system is open to question. But one section of
political class needs this. Our development represents our identity.
We can grow stronger through our development. If we become weak,
external influence is very likely which may manifest in variety
of forms ranging from diplomatic to army intervention. Intellectuals
are public property of society and nation. But at the present,
a large part of our intellectuals are factionalized therefore
do not act as public intellectual- the independent producers
and possessors of knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of society
and the state. This is one of the reason we are weak in public
policy making suitable to national needs.
In the second session Kashi Raj Dahal,
noted Constitutional expert, made his presentation on various
issues of constitution. He said, "All political parties
must reach consensus on fundamental substance of constitution,
such as model of democracy, type of head of state (parliamentary
or presidential), nature of federalism, distribution of power
among various units, and management of post-conflict issues.
So far various countries of the world are structured in three
patterns: unitary, federal and semi-federal. In a unitary state,
the central government is all powerful but may delegate its
power to lower levels and apparatus of the state such as Japan,
China, United Kingdom etc. In federal system, powers and responsibilities
are shared by different levels of the state. The semis federal
are those that are characterized by intermingling of unitary
and federal system such as Finland and France. When we evaluate
the two systems, we find advantages and disadvantages on both
sides. Federal system can ensure greater opportunities for representation,
identity and access of the people to the government which a
unitary state cannot as effectively as federal state. On the
other hand, a federal system may be at the risk of disintegration
and conflict of various kinds if it lacks a strong national
government representing the entire nation. His presentation
provoked a number of questions and responses.
Gopal Prasad Bhattarai: I feel federalism
is being imposed on us. Some leaders are trying to break the
nation into tiny principalities.
Tanka Bahadur Karki: How can the people
we have elected illiterate to Constituent Assembly make good
suggestion for making a good constitution.
Hari Bahadur Karki: Political parties
have failed to reach agreement on certain points. If agreement
is not reached, revolt may break out. Do encroachment of our
boarder by India and demand for federalism have some connection?
Indu Dhwaj Adhikari: Will constitution
come in time? Who is creating obstacle to the coming of constitution?
Santosh Man Karki: The federalism based
on ethnicity will create ethnic discord and confrontation.
Madhumaya Tamang: The federalism based
on ethnicity is not acceptable. Kashi Raj Dahal responded from
the floor arguing that many of the questions of federalism are
based on resource, management and solidarity of people.
Khagendra Prasai, Lecturer of Sociology
began the second day presentation on the principles of democracy.
He said, "One of the most important components of democracy
is inner party democracy. Only those parties which practice
democracy in their internal affairs can expand democracy to
state and society. History shows that some parties which were
democratically elected to power have run authoritarian government.
Democracy is not all about periodically electing leaders to
the power. It is also about developing the kind of culture in
our social and personal life in which everyone is treated equal,
given opportunities, paid attention to, respected as person
etc." In nutshell, in democracy we must treat each other
as equal. But are we really dedicated to creating and promoting
Another element that contributes to and is
essential for the flourishing of democracy is scientific mindedness
in citizens. Each of us has now realized the importance of right
to information. How can this be materialized? Only by having
and using scientific mind, we can have information and knowledge
and through our own critical analysis can sift which one is
true and which one false and can make our position on any issue
or question. The means that we choose to reach our ends also
influence our life and system. For good ends we must choose
good ends. Some people give exclusive importance to ends and
adopt and justifies any means that lead them to the ends they
have set and do not care for whether those means are moral.
"End justifies the means" is what they believe. But
in democratic system, means and ends are not separable. Both
have to be moral and good. If we are committed to create a peaceful,
prosperous and democratic society our choice of means should
be governed accordingly.
Kashi Raj Dahal stimulated the participants
by presenting several cases on as to how to judge democratic
system. Some principal ideas upon which a democratic system
must be based are human rights, periodic election, separation
of power, transparency, democratic political parties, nonpartisan
civil society and rule of law. Human rights of everyone must
be duly respected. In order to make the system of making the
representative responsible to the electors, system of recall
is very effective which ensures the right and responsibilities
of electors to withdraw representative back and elect a new
one. His cases also evoked some observations and questions.
Akkal Bahadur KC: The workers must
be the owner. When can we create such a constitution?
Tek Bahadur Karki: What is the measure
to be taken if leaders go wrong? The constitution should make
provision of referendum for some cases. Right to property must
be guaranteed for everyone. An effective system of taxation
must be put into effect. We must rely more on internal sources
and resources so that we can decrease our dependence.
Ram Bahadur Karki: Workers in general
and farmers in particular have been ignored. I don't think federalism
will lead to disintegration.
Bidur KC: We are very thankful to you.
In this two-day interaction, I got opportunity to learn a great
many important issues concerning nation, constitution, peace,
human rights, rule of law etc. I would like such programs to
reach every corner of the country.
Sanumaya Adhikari: I feel now that
it is a great learning opportunity. I also want this to reach
our villages and remote areas. The constitution should abolish
social evils and should also lay foundation for non-discriminatory
treatment of all citizens in various occupations.
Finally, Kashi Raj Dahal thanked all
participants and organizer for their time, attention and effort
to make the program a success by quoting ancient wisdom that
all should possess and implement: understanding in the mind,
honesty in the heart and responsibility in the shoulder. One
male and one female participants evaluated the seminar and found
the seminar very useful.
FES distributed several handouts to the participants.