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Seminar Report on Initiate for State-building and Constitutional Dynamics

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

(15-16 June) Jhapa, (17-18 June) Ilam


Introduction

Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nepal office recently organised two day seminar in Ilam (15- 16th June) and Jhapa district (17-19th June) on state-building and constitutional dynamics in Nepal. There were 141 and 132 participants respectively in Ilam and Jhapa district. In both the districts, the programme was attended by the leaders of all political parties, members of civil society, civil servants, lawyers, lecturers, teachers, students, journalists and other stake-holders of the society. In Ilam the programme was also attended by Nepal Army Colonel whereas in Jhapa the Chief District Officer (CDO), Yadav Prasad Koirala and SSP also participated in the programme. While Chief District Judge of Jhapa Gyanendra Bahadur Karki chaired the programme. The overarching aim of this seminar was to educate local political leaders/civil society activists on issues pertaining to state-building and constitutional dynamics in Nepal.Speaking in the inaugural programme CDO Yadav said that the upcoming constitution should address problems (feelings) of civil servant as well as common people.

Speaking in the inaugural session, and setting the scene for discussion, Chandra D Bhatta, Programme Officer of FES said that state didn't collapse in Nepal, however, there has certainly been some sort of erosion in its legitimacy which is primarily because state's legitimacy has been shifted to political parties and their sister organizations, non-state armed actors and to some extent even to the individual leaders who play prominent role in national politics but failed to provide political stability. As a result, Nepali state's authority has been diluted and is on the verge of losing Weberian legitimacy in all spheres. The classic example of this crisis in legitimacy can be manifested from the gradual withdral by Village Development Secretaries (VDCs) from their location citing security reasons. In addition to this, he further said that, there have intermittent political changes in the country but it was only cosmetic in nature this is also primarily due to the fact that the agenda of change propelled by the masses has been hijacked by the elites from the political parties and their leader who, in turn, later co-opted with the former. So unless and until we do not restore the legitimacy of the state (people's confidence on state institutions) and translate people's agendas of social, political and economic transformation into action justice cannot be ensured and under these circumstances Nepal is bound to face another political crisis. We really need to establish democracy that is more substantive than procedural, said Bhatta.

Proceedings

There were three papers presented by Senior Journalist Yuba Raj Ghimire on State, Senior Constitutional Expert Kashi Raj Dahal on Constitution and Chandra D Bhatta on Democracy and its elements. Presenting his paper Yuba Raj Ghimire said that political change should serve the interest of nation and its people rather than serving the interest of few individuals. He pointed out that the popular movement of 2062/63 was waged to end all sorts of authoritarianism but with the rise of power centered individualistic and group politics we are caught up in the same cycle. He further said that the common purpose of the movement of 2062/2063 should have been explained, understood and implemented collectively by all the actors but that has not been the case due to which we have not been able to bring about the necessary change desired by the people through movement into action.

Three major issues (federalism, monarchy and secularism) were decided in advance by the few individuals without taking consent of popular voices. It showed that there was some sort of individual vested interest behind this approach and gradually which ultimately resulted in the loss of people's ownership on state and its institutions said Ghimire. There has been a mere negative acceptance by the people on these issues, which should have been decided by the upcoming constitution. How can we guarantee that federalism will be better than unitary system asked Ghimire? There are no bases for this. He further said that constitution is not dynamic it has to be operated by the people and those who operate it should keep people in the centre. The tendency to disown 'unsuccess' and claim every 'success' will lead us nowhere. People's issues were rarely discussed in the CA over the two year time. He said that the journalism as a profession in Nepal has become partisan and has been blackmailed by those who are in power and also those who operate media houses. Journalism and journalists have been used to promote the business interests of media owners who have multiple interests with multiple stake holding.

The tenure of CA has been extended by one year but no attempt has been made to explain how constitution will be written within that stipulated time-frame, if at all it is going to be written. No dearth was made why they have failed to write constitution within the given time-frame. This showed that Nepal political classes do not feel the need of being accountable to the people (the sovereigns). By contrast, attempt has been made to rebuild a state without people and history. What has been done, in contrast, is to develop slogans tailored to meet the demand of political parties and interest group which is inevitable and easy in a society like ours which is poverty stricken mainly due to inability of political leaders. This has resulted in the crisis in citizenship building.

The cumulative effect of all these have created constitutional as well as political vacuum in the country due to which the external interference increased dramatically over the years. Both China and India, followed by other international powers, showed keen interest on Nepal's domestic politics argued Ghimire. While elaborating China-India factors, Ghimire argued that like India China also came heavily and presented her views forcefully with Nepali state. China now is of the view that whatever interest India has in Nepal, we, too, have the same interests and thus wanted to treaty and agreements signed with Nepal at par with.

The need of the hour is to create central authority of the said Ghimire. Democracy is not a level its behavoiur of the state towards people said Ghimire. People at large, who are dynamic, are the elements of the state and state should realise/respect this dynamism through the political actors.

Presenting his paper constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal said that the upcoming constitution should address the issues of the people living in the rural areas and emphasis should be given on education, science and technology, economic development so that people at large feel ownership towards constitution. He also explained about the different models of constitution and emphasised that we need to develop the model that serves our interest most. Likewise Chandra D Bhatt explained about the components of democracy, civil society and other issues.

Discussion

Devendra Prasad Guragain of Ilam Campus has said that the CA has been extended for one year without amending constitution and there was no emergency like situation At this backdrop, the question arises where lies the accountability and constitutionalism? This showed that there is a great deal of crisis in morality in our politics. Bindu Parajuli of Nepal Women's Association blamed women's in Nepal are being used for the business purposes. Kanchha Lawoti argued that when we say that people are sovereign than the initiative for the statebuilding should bear in mind the interest of the people . Arun Nepal of Ilam Campus asked why democracy has failed in Nepal? Where did we fail in sixty years of our active political exercise ? Could FES come up with some sort of publication in this line said Nepal ? He further said that the corruption in bureaucracy, lack of internal democracy in political parties could not contribute towards state-building initiative. We need to weed out all these ill practices argued Nepal. He also wanted to know about the situation of judiciary and media in Nepal, that is, whether judiciary and media are independent or not? Whether judiciary is really delivering the justice or not? He argued that justice can be bought with "power" in Nepal. He said that less than 15 percent people got to the court to seek justice primarily because "courts" in Nepal do not deliver justice in a real sense of the term.

Krishna Mukhiya pointed out that we have failed to internalise constitutional practice in Nepal since 1990 . In many times politics was dissolved into law and vice-versa. The classic example of this phenomenon is that the interim constitution has been amended several times without consulting sovereigns (people). Consultation was done at the core level, periphery has always been sidelined, merely to serve the vested interests of ruling elites and this has to be stopped if democracy is meant for people as well argued Mukhiya.
Sukh Wantaba said that press has been misused by the powerful people of society. He enquired on which ground we shall trust political parties - rational or compulsion. Urmila Tamang of UCPN (Maoist) asked about the basis of building modern state. She said that women should be given all sorts of rights (political, social, economic and cultural) to uplift their status. They should not be given mere reservation but should be backed up by the special rights. She further said that the beauty pageant should stop.

Geeta Poudyal asked what would be the basis of modern state while there has been agreement among selected political elites for the extension of CA. She further said that the erasing the history of the state is not a good practice as we live in a history and it indicates the present stage. We should respect the women and their contribution in statebuilding.
Rabindra Subedi enquired as what is the purpose of education? The rise of the culture of revenge and vengeance ( that has been lately witnessed in our society) is not healthy to maintain societal harmony and we need to educate society through civic education. Nav Raj Shankar of All Nepal National Student Union said that the need of the hour is to have social, economic and cultural democracy merely political democracy will not bring desired transformation in our society. In the name of uplifting powerless and marginalised members of society such as dalits, women and backward communities different types of politically charged slogans have emerged but the problem remains the same. Some sort of structure has been built up to look into these issues. Dr. Nrisingh Khatri of Ilam Campus blamed that we have different types of laws but they are never been implemented and as a result we failed to establish rule of law in our society.

Dr Prasad Upreti from Nepali Congress said that federal states should not be crafted on the basis of ethnicity. Perhaps economic viability should be taken into consideration while crafting federal states.

Dibya Bhattarai from Chamber of Commerce said the political parties alone cannot build the state and they alone are not the representative of the state. Collective effort form every member of society is required and some sort of commitment needs to be expressed for that argued Bhattarai. Bhim Khatri, Legal Professional and Member of Limbuwan Parishad, inquired why constitution could not be drafted in time - whether it was deliberate or accidental. What did political change give us, overall, said Khatri? If the ethnicity has become the basis of our identity, which is also the pillar of our cultural identity, why can't we have states on the basis of ethnicity argued Khatri.

Dambar Kumar Bhattari enquired what type of modern state are we planning to build and what would be the modus operandi for that. In fact democracy should also work for those who are living at the periphery. Uttam Poudyal blamed that political leaders are vying for cheap popularity and engaged in the politics of "space is creating" for themselves. The space creating tendency now has shifted to other social classes as well from the political classes. Today more and more people wanted to have societal representation in politics than political representation based on popular mandate.

Some of the participants blamed NGOs/INGOs for aggravating our political ills. Perhaps the time has come in Nepal to reflect on their roles. Chhabi Rai of YCL said that there is no way that we can construct new ones without deconstructing the old ones so the need of the hour is to dismantle the institutions of the old establishment and replace them with the new ones which will have people's ownership.

Mr Ranga Lal Rajbansi said that the greatest challenge that lies ahead of us is the management of transitional period and protect national sovereignty and integrity. This can only be done when political leaders come to common platform and chart common goals that serve the interest of state and its people. Tara Nath Sapkota, Media Personnel, said that political debate exists in every society but the need of the hour is to manage them by using our own knowledge, own institutions in the given context. Sambhu Dhakal of Mechi Campus said that Nepali should be made national language and should be inserted in the constitution accordingly. And we should also recognize the regional languages'. Jeevan Chapagain of Mechi Campus said that political parties have floated the idea of federalism merely to gain sympathy and cheap popularity. Tek Nath Upreti , Teacher, said that conflict also brings change in a society and for that we have bring marginalised people/communities into the political mainstream. He also argued that the time has as why we elected 601 CA members. What is their utility? They have failed to understand/read people's psychology.

Rajendra Dahal , Mathematician of Mechi Campus, said that political system does not matter as long as it works for the people. We have to identify our resources for the economic development of the society, without it there is no way that we can address the need of the people. We also need to promote English language to boost up the competitiveness of our people.

Dil Bahadur Limbu, legal professional, enquired whether Nepal is really an independent state in practice. Neither laws nor decisions of the courts are implemented in Nepal. Chitra Bahadur Sherstha of Mechi Campus said that how can a person who has lost election form the two places can become Prime Minister of the country. Democracy has become rule of fools in Nepal. Captain Birang Limbu argued that we need an autonomous Limbuwan state. We need to develop the tendency of respecting labour. Devi Ram Bhattarai of Nepali Congress said that the issues related o federalism needs to be discussed carefully.

Conclusion

The conclusion of these two seminars generates some important question, that is, do we want change or more of the same. If we wanted change than it has to be realised by the people at large and mere adopting procedural democracy will not work. In fact both procedural and substantive democracy should go hand in hand. Likewise, the spirit of movement, which is to empower people, of 2062/2063 should not be deserted left at the mercy of political leaders. By and large, almost 25 percent participants actively participated in the seminars.

 
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