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Seminar on Initiative for State-building and Constitutional Dynamics

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

11-12 August (Malangawa, Sarlahi)


Introduction

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), Nepal Office, organised a two day seminar on 11th-12th August, 2009 in Malangawa of Sarlahai district. There were altogether 130 participants. The programme was attended, among others, by Mr Baliram Prasad Singh, Chief District Officer (CDO), Mr Kul Prasad Sharma and Mr Omkar Prasad Upadhyay, judges of the Sarlahai district court, Mr Bal Krishna Lal Karna, President of Sarlahai Bar Association, Mr Nagendra Mishra, Ex-President of Sarlahai Bar Association, security personnel, government officials, members of the civil society, human rights activists, teachers, lecturers, intellectuals, women activists, journalists, member of various political parties, students, lawyers and other stake-holders of the society. The programme saw very good presence of people from different communities such as tharus, Madeshis, women, pahadiyas, dalits, and ethnic groups. The overarching aim of this seminar was to educate local political leaders/civil society activists on issues pertaining to state-building and constitutional process in Nepal.

The Proceedings

Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES Nepal welcomed participants. During his welcome speech he spoke about the organisational goal of FES and emphasised on the fact that the whole idea of such types of programme is to generate sense of awareness in society about the issues of national importance. He said that we are in the process of writing a new constitution and restructuring the state, at this juncture, there are serious issues attached with this process which need careful attention from all strata of society. In particular, future model of governance, economy, foreign policy, and social policy, the model of federalism needs rigorous deliberations. Active participation of people and inclusion of their voices, visions and views increase legitimacy, people's ownership towards it and provides constitutional stability thereby constructing active citizenship rather than citizenship based on consumerism. In the past, Nepal never had constitutional stability. During sixty years of constitutional history Nepali state have had six constitutions, that is, one constitution in every ten years of time. This indicates that there are fundamental problems with the way we conduct politics which could be the reasons, among others, why Nepal is moving from one conflict to another. The current debate attempts to provide political stability in the country but we can only do so when state-society relations are intact and healthy. Hence unless we do not write constitution that address our fundamental problems (the grievances of the past, challenges of the present opportunities for the future) and carries public ownership there is no way that we can have constitutional stability, let alone political stability.

Mr Kashi Raj Dahal, as usual, presented various issues related to constitution, models of governance, models of federalism and highlighted on other legal issues. Likewise Chandra D. Bhatta presenting spoke on building modern state and necessary components of democracy that are necessary to be incorporated into the future constitution. He said that the clientalism that has been seen in every sphere of governances needs to discourage. The clientele politics has disassociated citizens from the state and the need of the hour is to bring citizens closer to the polity.

Mr. Bal Krishna Lal Karna said that Nepali politics should become process oriented rather than ranting slogans of new Nepal. Mutual understanding among political parties on the issues of national importance is necessary, and leaders of the political parties should rise above partisan interests and speak for the state and citizen honestly said Mr. Nagendra Mishra.

Floor Discussion

Those participants who took part in the discussion have raised questions on various issues. In fact the floor discussion spotlighted about the drafting of 'citizen's constitution' and mechanism to guarantee rights for various social groups, question on federalism, foreign intervention, democratisation of political parties and many other topical issues that beset politics of Nepali state.

Participants expressed their concern through written recommendation that political parties are changing their positions on various issues such as federalism, model of governance, executive power (who should hold it). This behaviour is jeopardising agreements/commitments that were already reached between them and pushing the peace-process towards dead-end.

Mr Devendra Ray Yadav said that political honesty is prerequisite for sustainable peace in the country. Another participant blamed that Nepali state, in the past, have discriminated on the basis of language, religion, and costume and alike and this should not happen in the future if we really wanted to create "new democratic Nepal". Many participants expressed their desire that constitution should be written in time. State should not spend huge amount merely in writing a constitution, attempt to uplift people out of poverty. Ms Nirmala enquired how Nepali state is going to protect minorities living in Terai in the future.

Likewise, Mr Ram Niwas Shah said that agriculture sector needs to be modernized and the government should allocate separate budget for its development. He has also asked for vocational education rather than "commercialising" it. Mr Achyut Kafle from CPN (Maoist - United) said that this programme on constitution and state-building should have come earlier. Had it come earlier, people in general would have known all the issues related to constitution, federalism and state-building. He also blamed that questions designed by CA were drafted by INGOs and legislators failed to justify them to the people. He also enquired how we can minimise external intervention which is going unabated in our domestic affairs. Ms Sundar Devi Gupta of Madeshi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF) said that basic needs of the people should be guaranteed through constitution. State should adopt inclusive employment policy and women's status needs to be uplifted through awareness programmes. Free education should be provided to those who are marginally poor and attempt should be made to make Nepal a prosperous state.

Mr Yugal Shah from Nepali Congress has said that Nepali congress focuses on freedom and believes in parliamentary system of government. Advocate Manohar Prasad Gupta has said that judiciary is free but the process of appointing judges is not free at all. This is partly because the parliamentary hearing which shows that judiciary is tilted towards legislative. And it appears that this process will not provide space for free judiciary. Many people have asked for free and simple electoral procedure which do not confuse people at large. The tendency of amassing property, which exists among political leaders, bureaucrats, should be discourage and law should be drafted to do so.

Advocate Md. Munna has asked to draft policies which guarantees rights enshrined in the constitution. In Nepal we have judicial rights but there is no wider dissemination about these rights. As a result, many people are barred from exercising their rights. Judicial rights should be decentralised through VDCs. The state has spent huge amount of money on education and health but the actual situation in this area is meager.

Advocate Madan Roy said that the practice to amend constitution for personal/group benefits should be discouraged. State should adopt recall system for those political leaders who failed to perform well.

Conclusion

Many people have expressed their serious concern about the current state of political affairs in the country. They are of the view that Nepali state is going to meet the same fate as it did during 1990s that is, the crisis of governance. At this backdrop, the challenge for us is not merely waging movements in the name of democracy but we need to develop mechanism for the political stability in the country. Democracy should be realized by the people at large not merely by few individuals who are elected to the "office" on the basis of money and muscle.

 
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