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Transitional Politics, Youth and the CA

A national seminar organized by the School of Democracy (SoD)

23 December, Kathmandu

Report prepared by:
Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

Nepal's vicious cycle of political transition is like a rolling stone of mythical character Sisyphus. Like his never-ending task of rolling the large stone to the top of hill, the Nepali politicians have never completed their engagement with the transitional politics. The country has been weighed down by the prolonged transition for the last over six decades. It saw three major political revolutions but the revolution fed revolution and never concluded logically. The protracted transition unleashed instabilities and wasted the energy of one after another generation. It has put a crimp on the entire health of the nation: retarded development, rampant corruption and the loss of moral politics.

The Nepalese are impatient to get rid of the tedious transition. Their hope for finding a convincing outlet has been rekindled with the second Constituent Assembly (CA) election in which they participated enthusiastically. It saw a record vote turnout. Ending transition has become a recurrent political discourse debated in the academic circles and seminars. Against this backdrop, the School of Democracy in collaboration with FES, Nepal office organized a seminar that had a theme of engaging youth in statute writing and making the nagging transition a history. It called for giving a due role to the youth so that they would infuse dynamism and vision to the politics dominated by the old guards. It brought leaders of major political parties and sought their commitment to ensure internal democracy, recognize the role of youth and guarantee the new constitution within a year. The attended leaders vowed to work to give a logical outlet to the transition and deliver the statute in a year.

End transition at the earliest: Deuba

As the chief speaker of the seminar, Nepali Congress senior leader Sher Bhadur Deuba said that the transition period needed to be concluded at the earliest.

"We need a stable constitution. Liberty is the heart of democracy that ensures people's sovereignty and the rights of the marginalized people," said Deuba, added that it is the best system of forming government through election

He said that the new statute should be drafted on the basis of consensus, and all parties should be represented in the new Constituent Assembly (CA). "The statute cannot be written by keeping some parties out of the CA."

Deuba said that it had become urgent to stop the flight of youth towards foreign countries for employment.

Recent study has shown that around 100,000 megawatt of electricity could be generated in Nepal, he said and added that the country could see prosperity by harnessing its immense hydro power potential. The parties need to strike a consensus for the development of hydropower. There should be security guarantee for the foreign investment. India can be our market for selling electricity.

The road networks should be expanded. The youths the basis of human resources and should be provided job. Durable peace is a must for taking the country ahead. The new statute must guarantee the employment to the youths, said former PM Deuba.

NC leader Dr Narayan Khadka said that there should be interactions between the applied and theoretical sides of democracy.

"Nepal has been a fertile land for the political experiments for many years. If we fail to change our mindset and culture, the transition is unlikely to be over even after writing the new statute," he added.

It is nice that the SD had engaged the parties in the theoretical debates.

Khadka said that 50 per cent of countries that witnessed conflicts had fell back into the vicious cycle of conflict after the leadership failed to manage it. Only around 30 per cent of them saw functional democracy.

"Without change in mental and cultural mindset, transition is unlikely to end. The prolonged transition puts the country's identity and independent under threat," he said.

He said that around 9 million youth, aged between 15 and 35, were suffering from multiple problems. About 400,000 youths join the labour market annually and 250,000 leave the country for abroad in search of job, he said.

Stating that it was a critical time for introspection, he said that all parties should embrace the universal dimensions of democracy.

"While mapping out the federal structure and framing the statute, mountains, hills and Terai need to be taken into account. Peace, development and stability must be ensured," he said.

CPN-UML leader Bhim Rawal said that the nature of loktantra varied according to the social-economic conditions of the countries.

We want to develop the kind of loktantra that can ensure political, economic and social rights of the people.

He said that the parties had no right to prolong transition, and the federal set-up should be carved out in a way that would ensure the national identity of the country. "The UCPN-M should respect the people's verdict. If the parties fail to submit the list of the proportional representation candidates by deadline, it will be tantamount to a disregard for the people's mandate."

Rawal said that the new provinces should be created in a way that would be economically viable. "The people's mandate, expressed in the second CA polls, is that the parties should work together to deliver the new statute within a year. The youth have their vital role in safeguarding loktantra."

UCPN-M politburo member Devendra Poudel said that the people had asked the political parties to move ahead as per consensus and collaboration.

"We need to develop culture of running the country based on consensus. We must be able to find middle path to end transition and bring about economic revolution so that the opportunities of education and employment could be created for the youth," said Poudel.

He hailed the seminar citing that it happened at a time when there is a dearth ideological debate. In the 70s when postmodernism held sway in the society, the debate of thoughts declined and with the creeping effects of consumerism, a sense of anarchy took a frontline seat of politics, further blighting the spirit of democracy.

Stating that the forms of democracy varied according to the countries and contexts, he said that the elements of self-independent and dignity should be added to the list of freedom, equality and justice for a consummate democracy.

Portraying the transitional situation of the country, UCPN-M leader said, "Feudalism is nearer to its demise but the edifice of capitalism has not been erected because there is not development of capital and industrialization drive. In such a situation, there is a strong longing for development and creation of employment opportunities."

He called for people's democracy by ensuring the identity and rights of the marginalized communities. "New democratic culture can evolve with sacrifice and commitment of the parties and the leader."

'Engage in building reflective consciousness'

Dev Raj Dahal, Head, FES Nepal, said that Nepal's transition was multiple and complex and it would continue as long as leaders did not invent a system to stabilize the behavioral expectations of the state and its citizens.

Dahal categorized the existing political actors into three groups - the radicals, the reformists and the traditionalists:

The radicals have infused revolutionary consciousness to restructure the state along secular, federal, and democratic line. They acted under the assumption of 'destructive creation' and accordingly, cancelled the national unification day while also contesting the nation's history considering everything associated with Nepali hegemonic, called 2006 political movement Jana Aandolan 2, bade farewell to the political movement of 1950 and mobilized those that refused to accept Nepal's independent existence considering its semi-colonial.

The reformists believed in 'creative destruction,' feared internal radical onslaught and also prospect for power sharing with it some agenda of the forces of destructive creators. They were dragged into radical agenda without the change of hearts and minds, and commitment to radical restructuring because they could see that the state can ill-afford to survive destructive creation.

The traditionalists became victims of political negation owing to their defeat in political agitation of 2006. They sought 'creativity in the sanity of tradition' to adapt to changing times, feared the continuity of legitimization of violent politics and wanted the continuity of tradition and want to preserve some of positive contribution of ancestors, values, symbols and institutions to overcome crisis of substantive democracy, state fragility and retarded development.

Dahal noted that Nepali youth should seek a middle path between these three streams of thought and action and contribute to fulfill CA-II's mandate of drafting a new constitution, democratic nation-building, inclusive development and stable peace.

"The youth should engage in building reflective consciousness that is an experience derived from both historical achievements, changing needs and aspirations of people. They needed to construct a political project and build discursive bridges between different life-worlds of gender, ethnic, caste, religion and region, and integrate the diverse sub-cultures into national political system through reformist means."

Calling for striking balance between universal interests of democracy and particular interests of parties, he said, "Nepal's urgent need is to build an efficient state capable to subdue chaos. The constitution, without a sovereign state commanding general will, simply becomes unenforceable."

Democracy demands the national self-determination in three realms: politics to establish popular sovereignty, human rights, subsidiary and affected; law on discursive public reason to prop up independent justice system; and indigenous development policies to strengthen the capacity of CA and parliamentary structures so that it remains above the dominant interests groups of society and make public policies to resolve conflict, he added.

NC central committee member Min Bishwokarma said that the SD was established three years ago with the objecting of realizing freedom, justice and equality.

"Until democracy is linked with day-to day-life of the people and development, democracy can't be a viable means of change. There is a yawning between the principle and actions of the parties," he said.

He said that if the leadership was democratized, only then had it positive chain-effects on the people. "All parties need to engage in democratization process and rise to above the party line."

SD chairman Nain Singh Mahar said that there would have been right application of ideologies if their propounders themselves had implemented them.

"A whole generation wasted their life in political transition and conflict. If the transition continues, the new generation will not be able to see the country in stability and peace," he said, and urged the politicians to rise above petty interests.

Taking a swipe at the politicians, he said, "Our leaders are so obsessed with power that they want to take their chairs along with their coffin. There should be the provision of the retirement for the leaders. He asked the Nepalese politicians to emulate former British prime minister Blair and former US presidents Bush and Clinton who disappeared from the political scene after completion of their terms in office.

Welcoming the guests and participants, Bishnu Pande of SD lamented that democracy had not been for the people, of the people and the by the people. The SD also seeks to ensure gender justice, she said.

Paper presentation sessions

First Session

Former president of Nepal Student Union Guru Raj Ghimire presented his working paper 'the Role of the Youth in Writing the New Constitution' in the first session chaired by Nabina Lama of All Nepal National Free Student Union. Former president of Federation of Nepalese Journalists Dharmendra Jha commented Ghimire's paper.

The gist of Ghimire's paper:

In fact, until any society or the nation taps into the ability and energy of the youth, it does not catch the pace of the development. Unfortunately, the young generation in Nepal has never been assured of the leadership. The people have pinned their hopes on the youth lawmakers for the timely statute writing:

1. Hope of new generation

The onus to meet the expectations of the new generation lies with the young lawmakers in the CA. The CA members below 50 consist of 40 per cent in the new assembly. The young CA members have their role to make their leadership realize their responsibility towards the statute- writing. In the context of widespread worries whether the new CA will write the constitution, the youth lawmakers must play their proactive role to make the CA effective.

2. Rise above the partisan line

The young lawmakers need to understand that the statute is a national legal document that is far above the statute of the political parties. If needed, they must break the narrow boundary of the political parties they are affiliated to and engage in the statute-writing task with a sense of broader national duty.

3. Intensive discussion

The only way to resolve conflict is the mutual dialogues among the parties. The parties to conflict should be involved in the relentless debates. Sometimes, it requires rising above the parties' line.

4. Competence/expertise on the statute's contents

The young lawmakers should sharpen their knowledge on their areas. The things such as one spent a long time in the prison or suffered tortures in police custody or had a long history of political struggle will not help write a good constitution. These are, of course, a certificate of political integrity. The lawmakers should have knowledge about the important elements and parts of the world's best statutes and they should be taken to the discussion in the thematic committees and finally be incorporated into the new statute.

5. Strong confidence

The youth lawmakers must have 'I can do' spirit. Writing the new statute is not an easy task. They should take a resolve of delivering the statute within a year.

Those youth, who are outside the CA, should also play their effective role. The history is a witness to the fact that the big political changes have become possible owing to the powerful pressure or resistance of the students and the youth. The youth lawmakers have got a chance to work in the CA. If an individual fails to discharge his/her responsibility even after getting a chance, there will be no any big stupidity than this. It will be a betrayal of the people's trust, if they merely become pawns or do leaders' bidding.

Comments from Jha

Although his paper encompassed many things, it further requires facts to substantiate his arguments. If the paper had clearly specified the role of youth inside and outside the CA, it would have been far better. I would like to express my personal views on the themes being discussed today. It seems that we lacked proper language to convince the people about loktantra. Whether our language has become more classical? The politics needs to be linked with social service. The rise of Aam Admi Party in India has added new dimensions to loktantra whose continuous exercises make it mature. The youth need to seek their role- what should they do in the CA and what should they do outside it? They can play a creative role outside the CA. The political schooling needs to be strengthened and pro-youth programmes should be chalked out.

Comment from the floor

A host of participants, including Bishal Shrestha, Menuka Prasai, Santosh Kshetri, Tekjang Awasthi, Omjang Bhusal, Abhijanh Pathak and Dharmendra Paswan aired their opinions on the working paper.

There is a low participation of the youth in the new CA. Their role should be defined. The political leaders do not suit their action to their words. They must exercise their conventional wisdom. There is still no hope that they will give a good constitution to the country despite the election of the second CA. There should be evaluation of the role of youths in the last CA. They failed to intervene in the statute-making. They just worked at their leaders' bidding. On a different note, one participant said that the NSU that makes a clarion call for the rights of the students is unable to hold its own convention. Likewise, the students' organization became unable to hold the FSU polls.

It makes no sense if the youth endorse the agreements struck in the last CA. The youth should take their agenda in the CA. The youth have their vital role in the national politics so they should be active to assert their role. The youth organizations affiliated to different parties should create their network. Likewise, the parties with ideological proximity should form an alliance to ease the statute writing task. The positive pressure will bear fruit.

From the chair Nabina Lama said: There lies a great prospect of having a pro-youth statute. The people gave their mandate to write a loktantrik constitution. The condition of youth is miserable owing to poverty. It is sad to note that the youth's role ahs been confined to documents. Around 60 per cent of youth want that the PM post should be awarded to a youth. Youth in all parties should be active so that they are granted an appropriate role to play.

Second session

In the second session, UML youth leader Thakur Gaire presented his working paper 'the Nepali Society: Youth and their Role'. The session was moderated by Rhisikesh Jang Shah. Min Bishwokarma commented the paper.

Ensure youth's participation in leadership: Gaire

The summary of Gaire's paper:

Youth encompass both thought and a particular age group. There have been diverse debates on the role of the youths in the world. The Youth Policy 2063 BS has underlined the need for bringing a concrete youth policy to ensure the youths' active role in every process of the state management and economic, political, social and cultural transformations. It says that people aged between 16 and 40 years old are youth. Based on this assumption, youths consist of around 40 per cent of total population in the country. A large faction of the youths is affiliated to the political parties. Virtually all parties have identified themselves as the socialist forces. In this context, socialist thought and programme is the youth's thought and programme. However, there is not sufficient debate on kind of philosophical bases of socialism. There are two schools of thoughts on achieving socialism. Some youth believe that violence is necessary to bring about social changes while some others believe in the periodic election for the purpose. Another stream of youths considers peaceful movement and democratic method as the viable means to achieve their goals. There have been enough discussions about the problems of the youth but the zeal for taking initiatives to resolve them is not there. The youths should be engaged in the following activities in order to work to the benefit of the nation and the people:

1. To spread ideological awareness among the youths,
2. To guarantee the participation of 40 per cent youths in every political party,
3. To ensure the sufficient presence of youths in the leadership of the parties,
4. To determine the youth role in the policy making,
5. To ensure the participation of the youth in the leadership level of the state organs,
6. To get youth involved in the productive works, make them pay the taxes and develop the ethics of not abusing the state's coffers and
7. To make a resolve for social justice and equality and stand against social, economic, cultural discrimination and discrepancies.

Comment from Bishwokarma: Democracy is a process of civilization. It becomes mature after passing through a long practice. Those above 40 cannot be called youth. However, it is not just age that makes one youth. In fact, youth signifies contemplation. They are the agents of changes. They should have missions, visions and plans. Democracy is itself inclusive but we started dividing people into real and fake. The constitution should spur development. The youth are disillusioned if there is bad governance. In democracy, every citizen should feel that s/he is a bona fide member of the state. Democracy never discriminates people on the basis of caste, colour, gender and region. It envisions a society sans discrimination. For this, youth need to participate in the political process. The distributive system of the agriculture should be enhanced. The youth should assert their role in every political party.

Comments from the floor: A host of participants, including Menuka Prasai, Kamala Bohara, Rajeeb Lamichhane, Omjan Rawal and Bishal Shah commented Gaire'paper:

The change should emanate from oneself. There are 15 CA members below 40. It is a daunting task for them to play their role in the favour of the youths. The condition of the youth in the UML is pathetic. They have to discharge their duty to the family, party and the nation simultaneously. The youth should be made to realize their responsibility. The youth is a thought group that never gets old. But, it is not clear as to how they get opportunity. Likewise, there needs to be clarity for the mobilization of the youth outside the CA. The National Youth Council should be activated. The youth should rise above their parties' agenda.

The youth leaders have shown their arrogance. Like the old guards, upon reaching the leadership rung, they become active to scuttle the rise of their rivals. The paper is not research-oriented. It has not clearly put forth the problems of youths and their solution. Employment creation should be the prime agenda of the youth. They should engage in the activities of tapping the potentialities of the hydro power and natural resources. When the political leaders visit villages, they are asked to provide drinking water, electricity and job. The paper has not clearly defined the politics of competition. All youth should be up in arms to press the leaders to write the new statute within a year so that the prolonged transition will come to an end soon. The youth should be taken to the decision-making forum.

From the chair, Rhrishikesh Jang Shah said that the youth wanted that a democratic statute be written. Peace and prosperity will be our goal. The youth outside the CA need to keep vigil at the statute writing task, he said and asked them not solely depend on the leaders. "The youth should try to purify themselves and their organizations. They should play interventionist role in development and planning at VDC, Area and District Committees. The things might be quite different if the youth become active to get 4,000 projects endorsed from the 400 VDCs."

Third session

Dr Uddhav Raj Pyakurel presented his working paper in the third session chaired by Ram Krishna Lakandri. Dr Ram Krishna Timilsina commented the paper. However, the organizer could not distribute Dr Pyakurel's paper to the participants and the presenter had to ad-lib the whole speech.

Leaders must understand social structure: Dr Pyakurel

Dr. Pyakurel's opinion: In fact, Nepal is not in transition that implies a situation in which the state has no the statute and is in the process of getting it. But, we have interim statute and working to write another to replace it. The country has seen several governments. Transition is an excuse for the leaders to avoid the pressure from the lower class people. The youth are the most vulnerable lot in Nepal. The youth have sought their representation in the governance system after discourse on the inclusive democracy began to take centre stage. The youth are not only thought but also an age group. The state should bring a policy to tap on the potentials of the youth. There should be the system of grooming the youth leadership. The statute should be youth-friendly. Making the new statute is like the leaders' cup of tea. There is also the system for the management of the leadership. The term of the leaders in office must be fixed. There is negative culture that if the cadres do not visit the leaders' houses and refuse to suck up to them, it becomes difficult for them to climb the leadership rung. The leaders must develop the habit of appreciating the cadres of independent minds. The leaders must be able to examine the social structure. The agricultural and hair-cutting occupations should be made prestigious. If so, many youths would not leave the country abroad for the job. The old structures are being dismantled but the new ones are not yet to be erected. The youths should be patriotic. They should refrained themselves from being reactive. There should be smooth leadership hand-over system.

Comment from Ram Krishna Timilsina: The politics should be blended with the social elements. The country has been in transition since 2007 BS. We are running after a statute. Those countries that started their democratic journey are exercising mature democracy but we are still at the nascent phase. The youth should not be confused with age and ideology. One, who is capable of taking on the leadership mantle, is youth. The youth force should be utilized for the development. Evil spirit should be transformed into civil sprit and destructive into constructive one. The youth should not be used to pester others. The youth, who have not assumed the posts, have also played important role. They should not run after posts but strive to tap their potential. We need a small statute that takes us into the era of constitutionalism. We should feel proud of present and live in the present. The efforts should be concentrated on enhancing the core values of democracy.

Comments from the floor: Nabina Lam, Shree Ram Lamichhane and others

The people of all professions should be honest. The tendency to reproach the leaders must be stopped. We are in transition. We have not found outlet. The youth is all- thought, age and vision. Politics requires youth with vision. There is a tendency among the youths to brownnose their leaders to grab the leadership. They should engage in learning the new technology. The youth should involve in the acts of awareness drive and putting pressure. The transition phase can come to an end only when we get a new statute. The country is operating on the basis of interim statute that has not barred anyone from doing something constructive. The youth should not be selfish. To be youth, they must be clean in their conduct. There is corruption at the ideological and economic level. The management of leadership is necessary. Conflict in the organization stops the leaders from being autocrat and promotes internal democracy. The youth leaders have confined themselves as the yes men of the leaders. The Nepalese youths are toiling in the deserts of Middle East while some others have indulged in burning tyres on the streets. The youth must intervene to formulate the youth policy. A youth council must be created.

From the chair, Ram Krishna Lakindri said: The new constitution should be ethnic and Dalit friendly. It is sad that the NC failed to field a single candidate from Dalit community in 240 constituencies under the direct polls. The CA will give an outlet to the existing deadlock. Democracy is a continuous process of refinement. Its alternative is the better democracy. Politics is the umbrella and all belong to it. In order to improve the character of the state, the youth and state should be linked.

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