Report on Initiative for Democracy Building:
Building Modern State & Constitutional Questions
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
21-22 February, Nawalparasi
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) organized
a two-day seminar on "Initiative for Democracy Building in
Nepal: Building Modern State and Constitutional Questions"
on 21-22 February at Gainakot Village, Nawalparasi District. The
participants of interaction program consist chiefly of political
leaders across multi-party lines, members of civil society, NGO
representatives, human rights workers, teachers, journalists,
representatives of local women movement, police officers etc.
The total number of participants was 116.
On the first session of the first day, Dev
Raj Dahal, Head of FES, Nepal Dev Raj Dahal began his presentation
by 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 social democracy. He further
added that FES has four principal values-- freedom, social justice,
solidarity & 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.
Civic knowledge is of supreme importance to
rationalize our society and develop democratic political culture.
Our society also possesses knowledge; it does not come from
elsewhere. What we need to do is search it and use for our nation's
development. Outside source can help us to attune them as per
the spirit of time and help contextualize as per our needs.
He added, "Sovereignty rests on citizens.
The sovereignty which our legislators exercise is just delegated.
This is a reasons Constituent Assembly members are visiting
the society to collect opinion on various aspects of national
life. Many of the things citizens now articulate will be included
in the new constitution. Therefore, public consultation on constitution-making
must be informed." For a state to be stronger, four prerequisites
have to be met: authority and capability of punishment, monopoly
on taxation, loyalty of citizens to state and international
recognition. The last one is uniquely important for tax cultivates
the accountability of the state to its citizens. In a country
where most of revenue comes through poor citizens' taxes, the
state becomes redistributive; it the rich pay the bulk of tax,
the state protects their property. If the state is largely financed
through international revenues, that state loses policy sovereignty
and become accountable to outside audience. This weakens the
base of democracy.
Only that state can survive which fosters
ties with the society and maintains democratic equilibrium.
The basis of the modern state is ideology not biology. There
are three principles as regards the nature of state: liberalist,
Marxist and nationalist. None of these is pure and independent,
they rather learning and influencing each other. The present
era is governed by three factors: democratic inclusion, third
generation of human rights, third generation of sovereignty
and third generation of technology such as micro-electronics,
information and communication. Nepali state and society must
adjust to them, embed itself in the life of citizens and maintain
autonomy from the interest groups of society.
In order to achieve a sustainable peace and
solidarity at the time we are living is to strengthen the meaning
of citizenship and foster civic identity which involves developing
secular political and social identity transcending parochial
ones rooted in the absolutization of caste, class, ethnicity,
region and religion. State is the apparatus for the organization
and management of society, hence the virtuous the state the
stronger the society and vice versa. Sovereignty of people also
means self-governance, an essential component of modern state,
which 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
the participation of people in its rules, policies and institutions.
He discussed about various types of leadership in society and
argued that leaders must have the capacity to generalize the
particular visions of contesting groups and translate them into
a national one.
There are five central pillars for building
a modern state: functional education, efficient economic policies
to meet the growing needs and aspirations of citizens; constant
technological innovation for the transformation of the structure
of production; efficient organization manned by capable citizens;
and visionary and accountable leadership who can inspire the
citizens for collective action. The modern state is a civic
state build on civic socialization of citizens. The sole purpose
of the state is people's security, welfare, cooperation, solidarity
and peace. We may become a failed or weak state if fundamentals
of state are removed through erosion of monopoly on power, competitive
violence, abdication of policy goals and perpetuation of clientalism
now existing in the country. In order to create an independent
nation with peace and justice, we must build up strong economy,
formulate and implement humanist education, promote and use
science and technology, create strong organization and finally
and most importantly have visionary leadership capable of capturing
the spirit of changing times. Dahal's presentation provoked
a number of questions and observations.
Some participants argued that reservation
may not liberate people for whom we are advocating it. People
who are already well-off or have access will make the best use
of it. Others questioned are parties all-powerful for making
constitution? People are sovereign therefore all-powerful in
deciding matter. Sovereignty does not rest in parties but on
citizens. Democracy is an opportunity through which conflict
can be resolved peacefully. Still others observed that such
training should be organized at various levels of society. As
citizens are not fully aware of their rights and responsibilities
they trespass each others' and generate distrust and conflict
in society. Many participants wanted to know various models
of state and democracy such as Japan, Germany, India, China
and Scandinavian countries.
The second session began with the presentation
of Kashi Raj Dahal, noted Constitutional Expert. He discussed
about key constitutional questions, such as federalism, nature
of state, government, model of democracy, power balances and
roles and responsibilities of various organs of government by
giving examples of the USA, India, Germany, UK, Japan, China
and Sweden. He argued, "Formation of new constitution is
needed only in the case of major political change. Politics
makes constitution and in turn constitution governs politics."
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 semi-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. A 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 is expensive, 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 also initiated debates among the participants
and they revealed their preferences.
The second day discussion focused on the principles
of democracy. Khagendra Prasai, lecturer of sociology at the
Eastern Zonal University led the discussion. 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 a 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 minded
ness 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 famous scientist Albert Einstein
said that democracy and constitution are not self-functioning
entities, they provide us opportunity. Everything depends on
moral and intellectual quality of citizen. How can these qualities
be cultivated and fostered? The answer would be- through the
use of reason and science.
People talk of preservation of culture but
our progress lies in developing and transforming culture according
to changing times. We may remain in status quo through its preservation
and lag behind others if it is not rationalized. We must create
culture which is democracy-friendly, equality-friendly, peace-friendly
and which promotes our critical mindedness. A critical mind
is a questing mind. Only by developing such mind, we can have
meaningful discussion and opinions and we become independent
citizen which is an essential element of the modern democracy.
Only an informed and critical citizen can keep the democracy
alive and vibrant.
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.
On the second session of the second day Kashi
Raj Dahal elaborated the principles and practices of democracy.
Some principal ideas upon which a democratic system must be
based are human rights, periodic election, separation of power,
transparency, democratic political parties, peaceful competition,
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 and elect a new one.
A number of participants submitted their observations
about the problems they faced in their particular life. Participants
thanked for this program on such important issue of the country.
They also suggested that such training should be provided to
political leaders and educators. Others argued that they had
never participated in program such as this. It clarified their
understanding. Some participants expressed commitment that with
the knowledge they gained and resource materials they got will
be used to multiply their activities. At the end, Kashi Raj
Dahal expressed that he is engaged in discussing constitutional
issues with CA members and politicians and thanked all participants
and local organizers for giving their time and attention despite
busy schedule. The two evaluators-one male and one female, shared
their experiences about the seminars and demanded to bring more
on specialized topics.