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The Changing Politics, Youth and Constituent Assembly

A seminar jointly organized by the School of Democracy (SoD) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nepal office

23 April 2014, Banepa

Prepared by
Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal


Nepal is a very young country. A third of population is below the age of 15 and nearly 60 per cent between the productive ages of 15 to 59. The individuals, whom we call the ideal youth in term of age, comprise 40 per cent of the populace. This demographic scenario offers a great opportunity to push for economic growth. But, the country is not in the position of harnessing the immense potentialities of its young population thanks to the cycle of political instabilities, prolonged transition, poverty and the lack of developmental activities and creation of enough jobs. Speaking roughly, the country has produced two types of youths- the first group of youths comprises those having little skilled or barely literate and another group constitutes educated or those who are pursuing higher education at home and the abroad. One common element in them is that they are making a beeline to go abroad for job and education. The nation is unable to give job its young offspring. This has posed a big dilemma to the youths who want to ensure their brighter future in their own mother land.

In a similar manner, a sizable chunk of youths are involved in politics. They want to change the face of nation through democratic reforms and changes. The common problem of the country's young politicians and cadres is that they have not been given a fair crack of the whip to prove their leadership mettle. This is a reason why they were pushed into the political wilderness during the first Constituent Assembly (CA). Consequently, the nation did not get the much-talked about inclusive constitution from it. Now we have second CA since November and it has already got down to the real nitty-gritty of the constitution writing task. Another historic moment lies before the young CA members. Now, they have to batten down the hatches to write the new constitution. The youths from CA and outside it should coalesce into a telling force so that they can lead the statute-writing campaign from the front. Against this backdrop, the School of Democracy and the FES, Nepal office took a praiseworthy initiative to organize a seminar 'The Changing Politics, Youth and Constituent Assembly' in Banepa of Kavre district to motivate the youths for the timely statute writing. The speakers at the function highlighted that the youth should play their proactive role in writing the new statute and taking the country on the path of stability and prosperity. The people from different walks of life attended the seminar that was divided into inaugural and paper presentation sessions.

Opening Session

Addressing the function, Minister for Urban Development Dr Narayan Khadka said that the political scenario was changing fast and the media were emerging as the powerful player.

Dr Khadka said that it was still a matter of study as to how the much the political parties had plumbed the essence of politics.

He noted that the youths are the agent of change and the IT revolution had enhanced their role. "If the youth are not brought to the political mechanism, it is likely that the society is plunged into anarchy."

"It is high time to utilize the energy of youth to bring about positive socio-economic changes in the country. They need to be put at the centre of the politics. The parties should find ways to tap the youth power," said Dr Khadka.

He admitted that the definition of youth was coherent in his party. "The leaders continue to call themselves as youth even after crossing 50 years age. I am still a youth leader in the party," he quipped.

Dr Shankar Sharma, former Nepalese ambassador to the US, said that there was no alternative to democracy but the scope for improving and making it vibrant always existed there.

Democracy has now become a universally accepted concept, he said.

Dr Sharma underscored that effective service delivery, rule of law and property rights were some fundamental requirement for the deepening of democracy. "It needs to be linked with economic opportunities."

Constituent Assembly Ram Hari Subedi said that despite having the glowing tradition of democratic movements and unprecedented level of awareness among the people, the leaders had not yet sloughed off feudal mindset, which had caused trouble within the parties.

He said that 21st century was the era of Loktantra. Subedi noted that the last CA failed to deliver the new statute because of the extremist thinking and approach of some groups. He expressed his confidence that the nation would get the news statute by the Nepali month of Magh 2071 BS and with this, the country will move on the path of development. "We will go for process to decide the contents of the statute if consensus bid comes to a nought. In the statute, our Loktantra will be defined as one that contains the elements of social justice." He said that Nepal was endowed with immense natural resources and these needed to be tapped.

FES Programme officer C D Bhatta said that freedom and equality was the cornerstone of democracy. "Freedom is not enough. There should be economic justice to consummate democracy."

Bhatta said that where the incidence of poverty was high, democracy simply did not fare well and social justice needed to be put in place.

He stressed on molding democracy as per the inherent cultural and social values of the given society. "Our state has become weak because we could not imbue democracy with the inherent cultural and societal knowledge."

He also urged the youth to learn history to widen the horizon of democracy. Failure to learn from history results in the attenuation of the society. There is should be consensus on the modality of democracy that suits Nepal.

SoD president Nain Singh Mahar said that democracy was a continuous process of refinement and the SoD aimed at enriching knowledge for changes. He expressed his worry that individualism is taking over collective thinking. "The SoD believes in the notion that when we strive for the welfare of ourselves, let's also help others for their progress and prosperity."

Krishna Bahadur Pachahattare of Nepal Congress, Tej Bahadur Chhetri of UCPN-M and Niraj Maharjan also expressed their views at the seminar.

Discussion Session

During the paper presentation session, NC lawmaker Min Bahadur Bishwokarma, CPN-M central committee member Lekha Nath Neupane and lecturer Chirnjivi Bhandari presented their working papers 'the role, responsibility and challenges of youth lawmakers in the constitution writing', 'Youth, the nation and politics' and 'the status of the Nepali youth and their role' respectively.

The gist of Bishwokarma's paper

In the nature of things, the young people always stand for freedom. They are the real agent of change. If we look at the world history minutely, it is the youths who had presided over the big political changes, made important scientific inventions, wrote great books and composed famous songs and music. In Nepal's various democratic revolutions, the youths had their pivotal role. The 2007 BS Revolution was carried out by the leaders aged between 19 and 30 years old. The age of most of the martyrs of the political movement is between 14 and 30 years. But, when it comes to institutionalizing the achievements of the revolutions, their role has been largely overshadowed. The youth has been defined in term of age, thought and dynamism. In our political circle, all youths are not dynamic and those, who are dynamic, lack ideological clarity. The youths should have their effective role at important decision-making level to take the nation and the people on right path on the long-term basis.

The first CA had come as a new dimension in the political history of Nepal. The presence of the youth was encouraging but no rights were granted to them to take crucial decisions. All issues were left to the senior leaders to decide. There were extensive debates and discussions in the contents of the statute but in vain. The people were enraged by the ways the top leaders acted and they looked to the youth lawmakers for the statute writing. The youths inside and outside CA were rendered helpless. The old leaders failed to strike a deal and consequently the statute could not be drafted. The activism shown by some popular youth lawmakers failed to go beyond the ruckus of the media. Even the second CA is thick with the young lawmakers. However, it is still not clear as to how they will play their role in the constitution writing. If we are not condemned to repeat the past and if the statute is written, the youths of major political parties representing the CA need to foster a common understanding on the following issues:

1. On all theoretical matters that will impact the nation building,
2. On the matters relating to simplifying the complications to the statute writing,
3. On creating pressure groups within all parties expeditious and fast decision-making process,
4. On forging a common concept on the matters of the national welfare and social transformation,
5. On forming an ideologically dynamic youth force comprising the youths inside and outside the CA to exert pressure on the CA to incorporate the agreed points into the new statute.

During the run-up to the November election, the parties promised that they would write the constitution within a year, hold the local polls in six months, and solve power outage, not to organize banda and strike, declare the educational institute as the zone of peace, adopt effective policies for the socio-economic transformation and build a discrimination-free society. It will be big achievement if the new statute is promulgated by incorporating the aforementioned ideas. It will be unwise to doubt the leadership capacity of the top leaders in taking the charge of these radical changes but there is no doubt that the pace of change will be slow if they lead from the front. Therefore, it is not only the youth CA members but also all youths outside the CA need to take onus to realize their objectives. Given the status quo mindset of senior leadership, it is not easy for the youths to play their decisive role to accomplish the historic task but it is not unattainable either.

Comment from Prachanda Man Pradhan, Vice-chairman of the Law Commission:
The politicization of every sector will put a crimp on the state mechanism. The youth have become a handy tool for the parties' rallies and sloganeering. The thoughts of youths are better understood by the youths themselves. The periodic elections bring a change to the politics, parties and policies. Democracy is a way of life. It should ensure self-dignity and justice. There must be functional rule of law in place. We should go for the kind of democracy that would accommodate all. It is natural in democracy to have winners and losers. The youths should not be subservient to the leaders and the parties. The attention should be given to quality education so that skilled manpower is produced and employed in the country.
The gist of Neupane's paper

The people are becoming disenchanted with the politicians, who have made politics as a means of earning fast buck. Even the UCPN-M's leaders have beaten the parliamentary parties in amassing money through the political chicanery. This has created a disgusting situation in which the cadres show their gall to slap their own leaders in public. No matter how much the people have developed their anathema to the politicians; it is after all the political parties and the leaders who take up the leadership mantle. The youths need to learn a lesson from this and strive to restore the notion that the politics a service, a sacrifice and a commitment. At the moment, the youths have following tasks to do:

  • In order to ensure peace and prosperity through the new constitution, those forces outside the CA need to be brought to the statute writing process by striking consensus on the process and contents of the constitution. We, youths, have to play an active role in this regard,
  • A proportionate and inclusive representation of youths in the leadership rung of the parties and the government is a must. Promoting democratic culture should be the primary concern for all youths. For this, the youths should forge an alliance, prove their mettle by developing greater expertise on the related subjects and pay special attention to putting methods in place so that they will be accountable to the people and the country. The fact that the youths could do nothing if they lack unity and competence was vindicated by the failure of the first CA that had the presence of 40 per cent of youths,
  • The current situation can be well addressed if there is synthesis between the historical contribution, experiences and patience of previous generation and the dexterity, consciousness and speed of the youth. The youths need to develop consciousness of self-criticism and we cannot justify our ability by just chiding the senior leaders. We should learn, learn and again learn. The learning process requires serious, difficult and great amount of work that will ultimately convert us into an army of labour to build the nation.
  • The youths should create a structure or a platform wherein the youths of all stripes and from all areas- political and non-political, villages and cities- come together so that they would play their intervening role in both the parties and the government. The youths' role should not be only confined to the movement and sacrifices; there should be one-thirds of representation of youths in all decision-making bodies,
  • When it comes to synthesizing the gains of the political movements, the parties have often faltered. As a result, the character of power never changed and the youths' hopes were shattered. Now it is time to formulate a vision of 10, 20 and 30 years of development and all the youths should be mobilized for this grand task.
  • Although the youths are divided ideologically and organizationally, they are in the same place when it comes to their marginalisation and exploitation. The narrow boundary of organization should not obstruct their desire to liberate themselves from oppression, discrimination and inequality.
  • The youths of all hues- uneducated, educated and unemployed- should stand together to fight against the discriminatory education policy to ensure their brighter future.

Bhatta's comments on Neupane's paper:

I agree with most of the views of Neupane that he has pointed up in the working paper. Nepal's dependency has grown at an alarming rate. In 2046 BS, the country's dependency on foreign nations stood at 29 per cent and now it is around 75 per cent and has posed a threat to the country's sovereignty and weakened democracy. Democracy and economic development need to be contextualized. For democracy to flourish, it needs democratic culture and discipline that emanates from religion. Those involved in the political field should plumb the society. As the politicians have used the politics as a means of career ladder, the sector has confronted many problems. The entire education system was thrown into disarray following the 2062/63 BS political change. There is no direction as to what kind of education the country is imparting to the students. It is sad that many of the plus 2 students have very poor understanding of history and culture of the country. In order to build a strong state, the politicians must gain knowledge of history. Universal tenets of democracy and human rights should be compatible with the tradition, culture and indigenous knowledge of the given society.

The gist of Chirnjivi Bhandari's paper

As per the census of 2068 BS, the population of youths is 40 per cent. Nepal is a pluralistic society and the problems of the youth are also multidimensional. They have distinct status, identity and problems. For example, the problems of youths of village differ from that of the town. The Nepalese youths are in dilemma owing to the prolonged transition, scanty economic opportunities, declining social goodwill and individualistic thinking. The prevalent problems of all youths, who are in the parties and outside them, include the lack of identity, job opportunities, recognition of their contribution and role. Their problems can be identified in following way:

1. Unemployment, semi-employment and unmanaged foreign employment,
2. The flight of skilled and unskilled youths towards foreign nations,
3. Their repulsion towards agriculture labour and profession,
4. HIV/AIDS, criminal activities,
5. Lack of leadership capacity and self-confidence,
6. Lack of technical and practical education,
7. Economic insecurity,
8. Social disintegration,
9. Social-economic anomalies
10. Lack of regular sports and cultural programmes

There is no dearth of policies and programmes on part of the state and the political parties but the implementation side is very weak. In order to solve the problems of the youths, the democratic constitution, rule of law, decentralization of powers, youths' participation in the decision-making level, restructuring of education, the guarantee of the right to education, health and food sovereignty, job opportunities, equality in the economic opportunities, unemployment benefits and eradication of social crimes are necessary. The youths have following role to play:

  • They should be active to create an environment to frame a youth-friendly constitution,
  • The political instability and the lack of periodic election have negative effects on the development of youth leadership. Therefore, the elections in the campuses and youth organizations should be held to break the pessimism of the youths,
  • There are many youths, who have joined politics as their profession. They need training on the leadership development and administrative issues. The state and the political parties should play their effective role to ensure the role and participation of the youth in every organ of the state,
  • To end the problem of unemployment, the water resources, tourism and agriculture should be developed and foreign investment should be brought in so that the decreasing the number of youth going abroad for job. To increase the entrepreneurship of the youths, technical and vocational education should be made compulsory,
  • It is necessary to bring the youths to the mainstream. Their loyalty to the nation, nationality and the people must be increased. They need to be conscientized about the principle of equal and equitable distribution, constitutional supremacy, individual freedom, universal principle of human rights, loktantrik values and norms, protection of ethnicity, language and environment and co-existence. The government should introduce the result-oriented programmes by forming Youth Commission and Youth National Council,
  • Moral and civic education is necessary to make them loyal to the state and socially responsible citizens.

Comment by NC central committee member Jiwana Bade: It is necessary to implement the conclusions of the paper. The Nepalese youths have been playing their vital role in the political movements since 2007 BS. Now they should engage in institutionalizing the gains of the past revolutions. However, the prolonged transition has given rise to many anomalies. In the field of law and governance, entropy rules. There is virtually no rule of law with impunity remaining high. This situation has resulted owing the inter-party bickering. Money and muscle powers are in the ascendency. The parties in their manifestos made tall promises to lure the youths into casting votes for them during the polls. The country has its brighter future should the youths move ahead keeping the nation and Loktantra at the centre. They should unite for this collective goal.

Conclusions

Youths are comparatively more progressive then the old generation leaders,

The entry of many youths into the politics rekindles a ray of hope for the positive changes,

Over-dependency on the foreign assistance poses a threat to national sovereignty.

Parties have written rosy words in manifestos to lure the youths into voting the former,

Youths inside/outside the CA need to coalesce together to frame a youth friendly statute,

Moral/civic education necessary to make them loyal to the state and responsible citizens.

They need to be conscientized about the fundamentals of politics,

Necessary to discourage individualistic thinking,

Universal tenets of democracy should be compatible with the local tradition and culture,

The water resources, tourism and agriculture should be developed to increase jobs,

The youths have been marginalized in every party,

Politics a service, a sacrifice and a commitment, not a means to earn money illegally,

 
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