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Seminar Report on Democratic Choice for Nepal: Liberal or Social

Organised by Martyrs' Memorial Foundation (MMF)

26-27 February 2010

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in cooperation with Martyrs Memorial Foundation has organised a two day seminar in Kathmandu on 26-27 February 2010 on Democratic Choice for Nepal: Social or Liberal. The chief guest of the seminar was former Prime Minister and senior leader of Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba who is also the current Vice President of Socialist International. Bishnu Poudyal, Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal United (CPN-UML), Dina Upadhya , Central Committee Member of Nepali Congress and Constituent Assembly member, Sagar Kumar Pathak of Nepal Civil society, Dhundi Raj Shastri, former Minister and Dev Raj Dahal Head of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung spoke in the inaugural session . The two-day programme was attended mostly by the members of political parties and young college students and student leaders affiliated with various political parties. There are altogether 120 participants and four thematic papers presented on different issues covering the various aspects of social democracy.

Speaking in the inaugural session former Prime Minister Deuba said that we need to have a democratic set-up that empowers poor and powerless by providing health, employment, education and livelihood. Deuba said that we have to increase the capacity of the state to guarantee the citizenship rights and only then we can win the loyalty of the people towards state and democratic system. Citing J.S. Mill, who talks about individual liberty and freedom, Deuba said that individual liberty and freedom can only be guaranteed when people at large feel secured both from fear and basic needs deficit. For this to happen, Deuba said that we need to uplift majority of the people out of poverty and conditions of human rights established. When only few people enjoy liberty and freedom both political and economic and rest keep on struggling to meet their day-to-day needs. Under these circumstances, liberty and freedom always remain under threat and creating stakeholders of society becomes difficult. Deuba demanded the establishment of justice at all levels of society.

Bishnu Poudyal, Deputy Leader of Parliamentary Party of CPN-UML, said that we need to incorporate the provision of independent judiciary, pluralism in the upcoming constitution as an attempt to provide social justice and bring peace-process to its logical conclusion. However, communist party of Nepal (united-Maoist) has been obstructing the peace-process. He further said that both Nepali Congress and UML's People's Multiparty Democracy have firm commitment towards social democracy and have appropriately designed their party statute accordingly.

Dev Raj Dahal - Head of FES Nepal has argued that the composition of left spectrum in the CA, Nepal's commitment to all five generations of human rights, the structural condition of poverty in the state, and different social declarations of which Nepali state is a party, has forced us to move towards social democracy. However, social democracy can only fulfill its goals when state capacity is strengthened to subsidise the poor and increase their stake and participation in the political system. The current global economic crisis has given the state considerable role in public good, social justice and ecologically embedded economy.

Dhundi Raj Shastri, former Minister for Industry and Commerce, said that economy of the country is entirely supported by foreign remittance and the financial market of Kathmandu. He warned that rentier economy neither provides political stability not contributes towards state-building, the essential component that ensures social democracy. Hence we need to move towards production so that massive unemployment is addressed and people at large feel the positive change into their day-to-day lives. He further said that Nepal Congress, in practice should adopt democratic socialism rather than falling prey to the market fundamentalism. He defended the establishment of cooperatives, small scale industries, decentralise hydro-power and ecologically sensitive and labour intensive production. Shastri spoke in favour of indigenously drive process for CA, peace and reforms.

Both Deuba and Poudyal said that programmes like this will assist to balance the constitutional as well as peace-process in moving towards "people".

The working session

There were altogether four papers on different thematic issues. First paper was by Sumit Sharma Sameer, Director of Centre for Consolidation of Democracy, on "Redefining the Role of Nepali Youth in the Changing Context". Shamra, while presenting his paper, said that time has come for Nepali youths to change and be participant in the nation-building process. He further said that Nepali youths - both political and non-political has become hostage of the current situation and fatalism. They have been co-opted by the political parties and used and abused for their own benefits. They have little say on policy realm and now the time has come for them to be active participants on policy front such as what type of polity would best suit to Nepal. Dina Upadhyay - Central Committee Member of Nepali Congress and CA member and Kalyan Gurung commented on his paper.

Commenting on his paper from the floor, Peshal Niraula, Historian and Researcher, said that political instability in the country has disoriented youths even the newly established republic set up will not produce any tangible result if it does not embarrass some sort of positive political elements. Nepalese youths are more interested in political movement and regime change and less in social change said Narayan Gautam. Sarita Prasai has said that we need to clearly define the youth and the gap that exist between urban and rural youth needs to be bridged and they need to have common agenda for the development of the nation. We need to provide equal opportunity to the youth which has not been the case until now said Bishnu Rijal. He further blamed that state (Rajaya) has not given opportunity to the youths. We need to make youths economically independent. Equally important is that we need to bring both political and non-political youths into the common platform so that they can contribute towards nation-building process.

It appears that, from the discussion, everybody wanted to have the presence of the state to address the societal problem and empower poor. Political leaders have also floated very ambitious agenda like social security and social justice but the capacity of the state has not been strengthened. We need to give much attention towards this end.

The second paper was presented by well known constitutional lawyer Kumar Regmi on the "Democratic Socialism and Current Nepali Constitution". His paper was chaired by Chandra Kanta Dahal, former lawmaker from Nepali congress.

Regmi said that all of Nepal's past constitutions starting from 2004 BS have element of "social democracy" in them but the fact is that state has always failed to translate them into action due to weakness of the leaders. There has been great deal of ideological differences within the CA. For example UCPN (Maoist) is not in favour of pluralism (because they practice loktantra- English translation of which is democracy only) and want to ban all political parties who have different ideology other than theirs. Regmi said that pluralism survives in prajatantra (democracy) not in Maoist loktantra (democracy). This has stalled the constitutional process in the country. Khem Raj Regmi, former Education Secretary, Sagar Pathak, Peshal Dahal, Hari Ram Poudyal and many others commented on his paper. Sagar Pathak of Nepal Nagrik Samaj has asked who is responsible for democratic deficit in the country. Peshal Niraula has said that BP's commitment to constitutional monarchy, democratic socialism would have strengthened nation, nationalism, democracy and socialism but this has not been upheld by Nepali Congress over the years. As a result, Congress today has become "loser' in Nepali politics as none of its agenda has gotten place and the party fell pretty to the agenda floated by the ultra leftist. The agenda of monarchy, republicanism, secularism and federalism are never floated by the political parties at first instance. Its founding member and respected leader of Nepali politics Krishna Prasad Bhattari disassociated himself from the politics of Nepali Congress as it could not defend the interest the nation. The popular agenda floated by the leftists in the country has recently gotten a backlash. In fact, Nepali congress, after 1990s adopted neoliberal economic policy which has resulted in the great deal of crisis in the country despite the constitutional provision of economic policies based on democratic socialism.

The third paper was presented by Prof. Yagya P. Adhikari, Executive Director of Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS) on "Democratic Socialism in Nepal Context and its Relationship with Social Justice", while Sagar SJB Rana chaired the session. Constituent Assembly member Pushpa Bhusal and former Secretary of the Government Khem Raj Regmi commented on the paper. While presenting his paper Prof. Adhikari said that democratic socialism is not only philosophy but it should be taken as a means to change the society. He narrated the historical evolution of social democracy and tried to fit in Nepali context. He further argued that capitalism cannot serve the need of the society if it is implemented in its absolute form. It needs to be made people friendly by distributing its benefit equally at different layers of the society. He suggested that market should be regulated by clipping its negative effects. He emphasised that we need to be clear about the fact that as what type of social democracy would best suit for Nepal. It has to be modeled to fit in our context; therefore debate at local level is essential. The European model may not suit here given our socio-economic disparity as European states have fulfilled basic needs of people but the fact is that our economic and political hierarchies can only be addressed by adopting social democracy. He further said that without good economy, there is no way that we can have democratic socialism. That said, however, we really need to have economic policies that benefits broader society not few individuals who hold the capital.

Commenting on his paper CA member Pushpa Bhusal has said that we need to redefine the philosophy of social democracy scientifically particularly in the context of Nepal because Nepali youths have shown little interest towards agriculture where nearly 80 percent workforce is employed. Perhaps time has come to develop an area where they could be mobilised. The industrialisation and expansion of service sector would best suit for Nepali youths said Bhhusal. This process, however, should reflect the component of social justice. Likewise, Khem Raj Regmi has said that BP Koiral, indeed, was the real social democrat who initiated various steps to uplift poor out of poverty such as ending the feudalistic system in the country by adopting land reform porgamme, eliminating the principalities and providing citizenship rights to all kinds of people at equal footing. He initiated an approach wherein both power and resources could be decentralised at the grassroots level.

Commenting on his paper Peshal Niraula said that we need to carefully study the structure of society as well as the development in intermediate technology. We also need to highlight the positive side of capitalism. He blamed that Nepali Congress has failed to upheld the principles of democratic socialism as the party has been dogged by the culture of nepotism, croinism, and sycophancy. Even the cooperatives are engaged in profit making business - where will democratic socialism come from asked Dhruba Puri. Another commentator Swastika (Ram Kummari Pokhrel) has said that country has been "NGOised" and the NGO led development, NGO guided politics, NGO guided security policy and service has weakened the state and its capacity for redistribute welfare.

Speaking from the Chair Sagar SJB Rana said that we need to initiate the process of socialisation (civic education) through schools and we also need to have discussion about the social democracy that both BP and European advocate.

The final paper was presented by Constituent Assembly member Shovakar Parajuli on "Constitution Making and Peace-Process". His paper was chaired by Prof. Birendra P Mishra (who led the peace-process) while Kashi Raj Dahal, Chairman of Administrative Court of Nepal, and Yuba Raj Ghimire, Chief Editor of Rajdhani Daily, commented on the paper. The authors blamed that peace-process has been obstructed by the ultra leftist and it appears that if the situation continues, constitution may not come in time. Kashi Raj Dahal has said that we have been ranting about peace but the culture of peace has not been established in the country.

Likewise, commenting on his paper Sr. Journalist Yuba Raj Ghimire has said that when rulers failed to strike a deal, they merely blame the constitution but do not introspect why particular constitution has failed. He said that human behavior can be regulated through constitution but morality cannot be enforced. He blamed that the issue of republicanism, secularism and federalism has been merely floated by the certain influential political leaders for their own vested interest. History will judge it - whether those decisions were right or wrong. He further blamed that the authority of the state has been transferred to the political parties and other sister organizations as a result Nepali state has become weak. The peace process is entirely led or influenced by the donor community who often set agendas of their own. Prof. Mishra said that this is not a peace-process, its merely a ceasefire process.

Speaking from the floor Peshal Niraula opined that Nepali Congress has surrendered all of its ideology under external pressure as a result NC is not a real player in Nepali politics. The greed exhibited by NC leader has brought this nation into the crossroad. The issue of monarchy, secularism and federalism should have been discussed with the public before jumping down to any conclusion.

NC lost its economic ideology of democratic socialism under the pressure from World Bank and business community and political ideology under the pressure from UCPN (Maoist) and others. In fact NC and UML both supported the agenda of UCPN (Maoist) said journalist Ghimire. Vijaya Dahal enquired whether federalism will guarantee peace and democracy in the country.

The organisers of the seminar has decided to take it to the grass root level and include more youth participants in the days to come as they are the real engine of the society.

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