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Report on Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

7-8 April, Melamchi


Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nepal office organized a two-day seminar on "Promoting Active Citizenship for Building Modern State" at Melamchi on April 7-8, 2012. The seminar inspired over 150 participants of all walks of life-politicians, government officials, teachers, community leaders, civil society members, NGOs workers, students and attentive citizens. Presenting his paper on constitutional process of Nepal Constitutional Expert Kashi Raj Dahal said that the verdict of Supreme Court does not leave any option other than to draft a new constitution by the Constituent Assembly by May 27. It is possible to do so if there is sufficient political will of leaders, can demonstrate their ability to stand above partisan interest and enter into a compromise formula on many unsettled issues-federalism, form of governance, election system, autonomy of judiciary, etc. Otherwise, fresh mandate is needed which can carry the work left by the CA and settle issues. Failure in either case can trigger constitutional and political crisis and languish the nation into uncertain times. Dahal narrated the way out of the national crisis and also explained the key concepts of democracy, such as human rights, rule of law, separation of power, election system, party politics, civil society, etc by engaging the participants in lively interactive discussion.

Another Speaker Prof. Lal Babu Yadav asserted that the purpose of the constitution is to unite all Nepalese, not divide them. This means the concept of nation building requires the leaders stand above class, ethnic and regional preoccupations and think as national citizens with equal rights and equal duties. Federalism devoid of any sense of nationalism is conflict-generating. The constituency-oriented tendency of leaders blurred their larger national vision, reduced their perspective to parochial ends and weakened the base of Nepali nation-state. Civic initiatives should be generated for path correction and creation of participant political culture. Post-conflict peace building in Nepal requires early formulation of a national constitution as it is the base of socialization and sets the political process into common goal-orientation of peaceful and stable Nepal. Yadav also explained the role of political culture for democracy consolidation, reforms in party politics, electoral integrity and local self-governing bodies.

Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES Nepal office discussed about the concept of "active citizenship" to build constitutional state which is capable of making governance efficient, responsive, transparent and people-oriented. He argued that a transition from post-conflict phase to durable peace, stability and progress requires enlightened education and action on the part of both leaders and citizens and fulfillment of legitimate interest of all sides. As one of the oldest nation of the world Nepal has rich civility which needs to be shored up to foster comprehensive reconciliation in society and remove the element of fear arising out of violent action and needs deficits. But, it needs to transform diverse people into citizen and alter pre-modern politics of divide and rule into modern politics of cooperative action. In time of national stress sustained by the uncertainty of protracted political transition, Nepalese leaders too should be governed by shared national vision than remain dictated by crowd psychology, populism and the exigency of post-modern turmoil. Creation of a mindful society needs virtuous action and enlargement of the enlightenment education at multi-stakeholders of society. He also explained the functions of the state, nation, polity, government and political parties conducive to civic political culture which is highly participant one. He said that the civic education aims to awaken the passive citizens and enthuses in them a feeling that they are sovereign bodies and their conscious participation can affect the life of the nation.

Many other participants such as Rajendra P. Shrestha, Radha Krishna Shrestha, Ganesh Bikram Silwal, Siddi Narayan Shrestha, Kedar Nepal, Prakash Shrestha, Bal Krishna Deuja, Shambhu Panday, Yadav Dulal C. P. Dulala, Ms. Indra Maya Gurung, Laxman Dulal, Balchandra Sapkota, Narayan Subedi, and many others took active part in the interactive discussions that followed after lecture presentations and furnished suggestions to strengthen state-citizenship relationship for Nepal's peaceful and stable future.

Floor Discussion

Rajendra Prasad Shrestha (educationist) asked as to whether due to foreign intervention on Nepal's resources and politics the country has hard time to prosper? He referred closure of Nepalese projects on drilling oil from the eastern part of Nepal and Rasuwa's iron ore. The engagement of teachers and parents in motivating students to cheating in the examination marks the decline of civic virtues which does not augur well for the production of competent and honest personnel needed for nation-building and moralization of society. He said that it is because of such evil tendency Nepal's leaders are weak incapable of planning national vision. He also referred to the dichotomy in public and private schools lacking social connections and negligence of rich parents to their children. He asked when children themselves do not recognize their parents most of time living boarding schools how can they become aware of national identity? The same applies to media which too is weak in fostering public opinion due to their engagement in party politics. He, therefore, suggested the need for educational reforms and socialization of youths about personal and public morality. Only then future generation will remember this generation of citizens.

Ganesh Bikarm Silwal ( social workers) inquired how can federalism ensures our access to resources when contribution of tax to GDP is only 12 percent? Is there scope to redistribute income generated from trading centers to remote areas? He suggested that centre should hold power for the unity of the nation, Federal provinces should be devised on north-south axis and Central Fiscal Commission should have key role in the allocation of resources.

Siddi Narayan Shrestha (entrepreneur):There is a vicious circle in the appropriation of resources even food support donated by Japanese and friendly nations. This vicious circle is the obstacle of Nepal's underdevelopment and welfare of needy people. Only right men in right place can contribute to the resolution of Nepal's maladies. This can be done through the professionalization of experts away from party politics and moralization of political leadership able to serve public interest. But, he said experts must be organic having the sociological and spiritual knowledge of the nation and society. Mere professionalization of politics away from public service is the root cause of Nepal's present crisis of authority and legitimacy and backwardness of citizens.

Kedar Nepal (intellectual): Can the unhappy marriage arranged by our leaders postulating French model of president and British model of prime minister create stability or foster dual authority system and become a source of conflict in the country? If there is lack of clear demarcation of authority between the two then perhaps challenges posed by governance can be resolved. Resource persons viewed that it is a best strategy at the moment for compromise of contending interests but in case it does not work we need to devise different formula of power sharing.

Prakash Shrestha (civil society): Despite so many political movements in Nepal why the condition of poor Nepalese remain the same? Is it because of the same functions performed by political leaders? Why leaders of Nepal adopted neo-liberal economic model and forgot their constitutional responsibility to serve people? Can there be independent and balanced foreign policy in the context of India always negotiating regime change and globalization of political economy? What kind of economic policy would be suitable for Nepal? Why secularism and federalism suddenly emerged when they were not demanded by Nepalese citizens during the movement? The discussion focused on the fact that leaders should be accountable to policy as per the aspiration of citizens and that economic development should be based on the comparative advantages of its various regions and needs of people. A balanced foreign policy alone can satisfy neighbors and global powers and easily sail to changing world conditions. Why there is lack of statesmen in Nepal? How can patronage system fostered by leaders be abolished so that all citizens have equal opportunity? Why Hitler won the election while Churchill and Gandhi lost it? Statesperson can emerge out of leadership if they are capable of understanding the correlation for forces, understands the national interest, synthesizes sectoral perspectives into a national one and mobilizes human and material resources for national development. National circumstances are critical factors in determining the election victory. "Critical self-awareness" is important at the level of citizens so that they are less emotional in casting ballots and think in terms of long-term collective interest.

Laxman Dulal (social worker): What is the connection between conflict resolution and federalism? Perhaps power-sharing is one of the modes of conflict resolution. Can there be connection between federalism and nationalism? Yes, if federalists have practical approach of interest accommodation between the two. What is the difference between nation and the state? In Nepal we need to establish correlation between the two as the state is based on common identity of citizenship while nation is collective identity of a group with common history and destiny. Now, with democratization wave ethnos is transformed into demos-the citizens. Therefore, civic education is important to broaden the minds of citizens from family socialization to socialization about humanity and cosmos.

Balkrishna Deuja (Politician): what are the costs and benefits of unitary state going into federal ones? Should we give more power to provinces or local bodies in order to empower people? What lesions can be learned from Spain, Belgium and Ethiopia going from unitary to federal and Cameroon from federal to unitary? Resource persons viewed that it depends on the preference of citizens and the leaders. Resource capacity and determination of people are critical factors for the choice of polity. In the name of proportional representation big leaders will try to capture seats. Instead big leaders should contest election rather than prefer proportional representation and remain disconnected from the citizens. They should also have national vision beyond electoral politics of politicking. He wondered should party then context election to rectify this pitfall? Participants asked that when the country is declared secular there should not be religious or ethnic commissions.

Shambhu Panday (Politician): So long as change is inspired from outside people do not bear ownership in it and democracy cannot take roots. Similarly, he said that only a few leaders from the parties acted arbitrarily on deciding national issues, therefore, people do not feel comfortable. On education also we have to make it practical and context-sensitive rather than rote learning of externally-manufactured text books. Only then it can stoke patriotic sentiment. Due to lack of education all the fertile lands are converting into settlement. Agriculture subsidy has been cut when we had socialist government. There is uncontrolled migration also. May be we have to rethink about the report of Dr. Harka Gurung who gave recommendation for border regulation. From climate change and security point of view also it is important.

Yadav Dulal (Teacher): What are the problems in the institutionalization of federal, democratic republic? Is it only because of contesting views on federalism? Or there is a lack of capacity and space-sharing difficulty? Resource persons viewed that the struggle for power and resources has sidelined the dispute settlement mechanism as well as connection of these themes with peace process. Civil society too remained divided, so are experts as the recommendations of state restructuring commission produced fractured reports.

C. P. Dulal (Secretary, Local Peace Committee): The country is afflicted by civil war. There is a need for commitment for peace. To move to post-conflict situation, we need to provide relief and reconciliation measures to wounded and conflict affected, disclose the whereabouts of disappeared, set up Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also manage integration and rehabilitation of combatants. There are spoilers of peace such as disqualified combatants, escapists from the security agencies and combatants, non-state armed groups and those victims of transformation. Blanket amnesty to all perpetrators does not offer transitional justice, reparation and compensation and rebuild broken relationship. Without justice peace does not become durable.

Ms. Indra Maya Gurung (Women's Association): How to ensure the implementation of gender rights and increase women's participation in political and public sphere in a meaningful way beyond 33 percent existing representation? Resource person argued that there are six kinds of rights embedded in the constitution for women: property rights, inheritance, reproduction, rights against discrimination and domestic violence, proportional representation in all the institutions of governance and promotional rights in education and health. Women's organizations must oversee that these rights should be implemented and gender-sensitive society fostered.

Balchandra Sapkota (Intellectual): This program has become very useful for us to give informed opinion on the draft of the constitution and include many of the issues that are left out. As a sovereign citizen our role is always important in determining the course of the nation.

Narayan Subedi (Civil society): Why re-recruitment of judges? Which comes first- justice or right? Why there is a conflict between Special Court and anti-corruption watchdog- CIAA? To the first, resource person said to affirm commitment to new political dispensation. To the second, the answer is obvious both are interrelated. To the third, because of different values and interests upheld by the institutions. Law should be based on public reason otherwise different ideology, interest and identity lead to multiple interpretations. Should there be quota or capacity building for marginalized communities? Both for the time being until there is equal level of playing field as citizenship demands certain equality in the social and political sphere.

Radha K. Shrestha (Campus Chief) chairperson of the seminar stressed the need for taking constitutional discussion at the grassroots level to building civic competence of citizens.

Conclusion

Participants viewed that they did not have an opportunity to have multi-stakeholders meetings and discussion on national issues and therefore suggested that the FES and its team should come next time and provide resource materials so that they will be informed about national situation. They also observed that Nepali society is basically a tolerant one and there are vital uniting forces. But, the current politics of class, ethnicity, caste, race and geography etc tend to divide the country. In this context, federalism should be handled properly keeping in mind the resource capacity and secular identity and provinces should be named after geographic place. They also argued that divisive tendency should be controlled by the state and minorities should be given special rights for their self-preservation and development. They added that civic education training should be given to political leaders also so that they can also think beyond self-interest and work for public welfare and national interest. The new constitution, they argued, should appreciate the positive aspects of Nepal's culture and the heritage of its tolerance. Participants liked the interactive mode of discussion and citation of cases to explain the various concepts of democracy. The chairman, speaking on behalf of participants thanked FES and invited to come again with similar programs. FES also distributed three relevant resource materials to the participants on the occasion and appreciated their cooperation in making the program successful. The resource person of the seminar was invited in a side-by-side training of officials of the government of two districts on good governance.

 
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