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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.

Questions:

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 as well.

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 such culture?

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.

 
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