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Leadership building for social democracy

One-day seminar organised by BP Thought Academy (BPTA)

13 April 2015, Kathmandu

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi


For a democracy to be robust and functional, it requires committed democrats, observes Dr Thomas Meyer, a noted theoretician of social democracy of our time. This saying, however, applies to the success of any socio-political ism. Social democracy, an antidote to market fundamentalists and hardliner communist, has emerged as a balanced socio-economic and political theory with inherent superior moral elements. Its validity and relevance grows every year as the neo-liberalism, driven by the corporate-led capitalism and globalization, faces crisis frequently. The economic globalization is spreading its impacts with a mixed bag of downsides and upsides. But, its discontents have exceeded its positive attributes, particularly in those nations that have not found their feet even after witnessing the political upheavals or ending their gruesome transitional phase.

The fight and rivalry between social democracy and neo-liberalism goes on. Social democracy is now an answer to the maladies and failures of neo-liberalism that insists on the stateless market and role-less government. As above said, social democracy that is, in other words, is a deepening and refinement of democracy, demands confident and competent leaders to implements its cherished goals, values and ideals. The people, who are imbued with social democracy principles and consciousness, have the moral guts and organizational ability to take it to the grassroots. Honing leadership qualities in the prospective leaders is vital to the success of social democracy. Taking this mission into account the BP Thought Academy and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal office joined their hands for a series of national seminars to groom future youth leaders by enlightening them about the nitty-gritty of social democracy to which all major political forces have switched in Nepal. The one-day seminar entitled 'the leadership building for social democracy' was the part of nationwide campaign. It drew a variety of participants disposed to learn and share their views on the very theme. Scholars and politicians delivered their candid views before the seminar entered into the serious discussions on the associated topics such as neo-liberalism, social democracy, globalization and the national interests. It was divided into an opening and technical sessions.

Opening Session

Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Mahesh Acharya put forth his views in his capacity of chief guest speaker. His opinions as follows:

The leadership should have commitment to ideology and act in accordance with it. Social democracy, as propounded by BP Koirala, is oriented towards socialism with due focus on political and economic equality and social inclusion. For economic equality, there should be production. To generate capital, we need entrepreneurs that take risk of investing money in the production. The social democracy model varies according to the status of the countries. Growth model continues to change in every 10 years. Economic growth is not only mechanical process and the human dimension was also linked to it economic growth was not a mechanical process and the human dimension was also linked to it. The issue of inclusion took a centre stage as many people have not their access to resources. The means of production should be optimally harnessed. All elements have equal role in production - capital, labour and technology. In order to build capital and introduce new technology, we should encourage the private sector. Without sufficient production, we cannot ensure redistributive justice.

Nepal's attempts to achieve economic growth through privatization and neo-liberalization policies could not yield the desired outcomes in the absence of effective institutions to monitor and regulate the market and private sector. Actually, we didn't have the institutions to supervise them. Nepal is not in a position to stay off the framework of the global financial regime, but there was sufficient scope for it to advocate its priorities and interests. The government should build environment conducive for the private sector to invest in areas such as industry, trade and tourism, but it should not leave the essential areas such as health and education to others and strive to make optimal use of its resources for the development of these sectors.

Haribol Bhattarai, chairman, the BP Thought Academy

There is the need for giving emphasis on the ethical dimension of politics to usher in an era of social democracy. Our cultural norm is based on the motto of Bahujan hitay bahujan sukhay (welfare and happiness of majority of the people). Our eastern civilization is rich in knowledge, wisdom and shastras (classics). We no longer need to copy the western world. What we should do is to harness and contextualize them.

As BP put it, social democracy is the future wave of the world. Socialism began right since the Vedic era. Capitalism and communism are two extremes. Humans possess both elements- good and bad. What we should is to cultivate positive thinking to promote good. Knowledge, feeling and culture are above the laws. It is necessary to open up the inner knowledge to take the society towards right direction. This also requires motivation. In social democracy, human welfare is considered to be sacrosanct. The government must invest in areas such as education, health and roads so as to provide basic services to the citizens.

Dev Raj Dahal
, Head of FES, Nepal office

There are three kinds of leaders- statesmen, leaders and bosses with distinct qualities, character and political culture of their own. Leadership quality is very important, especially now to synthesize the contesting perspective of diverse Nepali citizens, political parties and groups into national vision and promulgate the new constitution. Nepali leaders require an enlightened vision and means and acquire the quality to act like statesmen capable of implementing the Directive Principles and Policies of the State underlined in the interim constitution.

The leaders need to inspire people and mobilize resource to bridge several tendencies such as new status quo, status quo ante and revolutionary and various gaps: vision gap between the changing Spirit of the Age and indigenous contesting idea of democracy; development and peace; power gap between juridical international status and actual political capacity of the state for internal cohesion and system integration; development gap between unequal social classes of society causing structural injustice and multi-level conflict; and governance gap between the ability of leaders to govern and their capacity to fulfill popular aspirations for liberty, property, justice, peace and identity. Social democracy seeks to transform unequal people into equal citizen and this requires transformational leadership, not the transactional one.

Social democratic leaders espouse universal and enlightened values of freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace; prevent the de-commodification of nature, culture, security, law, health and education considering them public good; promote political regulation of market and pro-active role of intermediary institutions and civil society in mediation of public policies; foster integrated ecological, social, gender and intergenerational justice at multi-level governance by setting up rule of law based on public reason and public accountability and optimize interests, ideologies and identities in the middle path and resolve conflict through the peaceful compromise of legitimate interests.

Social democracy is an open-access political order that supports specific laws pertaining to labour, women, indigenous people, Dalits, minorities and disabled, thereby, increasing their access to the institutional resources of the state. Nepal's historical tradition of justice, middle path and endorsement to major human rights instruments, labour laws, Kyoto protocol and CEDAW confirm its future path to social justice, the lynchpin of social democracy.

Shedding light the objective of the seminar, academy secretary Suraj Raj Kalfle said that it planned to acquaint the participants with the major trends of neo-liberal and social democracy at home and abroad. The Washington Consensus forced the developing and poor nations to adopt market economy without any foundation. Nepal needs to pursue sustainable development policies in line with the spirit of social democracy.

Technical Session

The seminar saw four working papers presented by different experts.

Ganesh Adhikari presented his working paper 'Neo-liberalism hindering social democracy in Nepal', Pradeep Koirala and Suraj Raj Kafle jointly presented 'Retrospect and prospect of Nepalese political economy', Achyut Wagle 'Globalisation and social democracy in Nepal' and Santosh Pariyar 'National interest and democracy.'

The gist of Adhikari's paper - 'Neo-liberalism hindering social democracy in Nepal'

Profit-oriented capitalism and the service-oriented socialism are mostly opposing schools of thought in both the economics and politics. The capitalism versus socialism debate is concerned with the role of government in choosing the system of either private ownership or public ownership of the means of production. My dissertation discusses two global political movements- neo-liberalism and social democracy from policy perspective. Neo-liberalists focus on somewhat stateless market economy and public-private partnership for managing public affairs. On the other hand, social democrats focus on social welfare and inclusiveness under mixed economy. Globalization of neo-liberalism led by the international financial institutions seems more functional to developed countries and less to the developing nations like Nepal, particularly for improving social security system of the country. All of the major political parties in Nepal focused on improving social security system in their manifestos. However, their implementation part seems ineffective mainly because of being obedient to external development partners, who promote neo-liberal system rather than social security. It is imperative for the Nepalese government to give higher priority to social security and reduce the role of private sector in the social affairs. The responsibilities of running schools, colleges and hospitals could be given to municipalities so as to increase their revenues for spending in social security programs. Globalization had spurred economic growth in various countries but it had also increased inequalities.

As a concept, 'democratic socialism' is an anti-capitalist movement or evolutionary socialism that aims to attain socialist state through democratic means. On the other hand, 'social democracy' is a mixed economy in which both public and private enterprises exist at a time. These two concepts are frequently used interchangeably. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the government of Nepal committed to providing free education up to the secondary level. Now policies have been formulated to enhance the role of cooperatives and NGOs in nation-building. The government tried to uplift the languages of marginalized communities through mass media. It has provided nominal cash allowances to senior citizens, single women, the disabled, orphans and street children. The conflict-victim children started to get free education up to class ten and the Dalit children up to class 12.

For the effective implementation of social security programs, the government should distribute social security cards to each citizen. It may be highly useful to get development assistance from ILO, UN and Nordic nations for preparing and implementing the programs. As neo-liberal policies and globalization are not propitious for the poor country like Nepal, there is the need for social control over the surplus product for funding social welfare system.

Commenting Adhikari's paper, professor Yagya Adhikari said that they failed to do justice to BP Koirala as there has not been enough research on his works and philosophy. The principles of social democracy cannot be implemented in a mechanical manner. We should be realistic. China has adopted state-led economy with neoliberal policies. To the contrary, the US, a capitalist nation, had bailed out banks, which went bankruptcy. Social democratic tenets need to be applied according to our level. Our country does not invest much in education sector and state-enterprises become a breeding ground for corruption. State becomes gaunt while the individuals fattens. We need good governance and have to fix the role of state. Let's talk pragmatically.

The gist of Wagle's paper- 'Globalisation and social democracy in Nepal'

Social democracy and globalization are not necessarily anti-thesis. But, the co-existence of both of these 'projects' needs common space to adjust jostling elbows from both sides. Both of these are expansive concepts with apparently inexhaustible array of arguments and literature. And not to forget, there are very useful complementary platforms both of these grand worldviews can offer for their own co-existence and, more importantly, for the betterment of our posterity.

Politically, the social democracy, at least in theory, promised to extend the roots of democracy to the society. It made the trade unions main vehicle for extending 'right-based' democracy to the grassroots. Advocating a gradual reform in place of abrupt revolution, this ideology assigns a greater role to the government virtually in all aspects of economic and social operations- production and distribution of goods and services and welfare with egalitarian approaches and ensured trade union rights.

Apparently, globalization has two distinct faces. First is the constructive face that has spontaneously taken its shape with growing interconnectivity and interdependence among the countries in multitude of dimensions and fields. The mesmerizing growth of information technology, real time communication networks, global e-commerce, transport connectivity, movement of people across continents in unprecedented scale in history, rapid diffusion of knowledge and technology, homogenization on foods and fashions, increased interactions between the people of far-off locations and many other similar dimensions have presented the world with immense opportunities. Global comparisons of the political and civic rights enjoyed by the populace of one country with other have surely helped to uplift the socio-political conditions of the hither to marginalized masses, by replicable examples of infusions, positive discrimination and other forms of affirmative actions. The future of social democracy, by definition, is dependent on the depth and width of social deepening of democracy, in a sense by making democracy a way of life to the lowest possible layer of the social pyramid. But, Nepal's reality is that the democratic practices within the so-called democratic parties are also alarmingly inadequate. The knowledge and understanding of democracy among the party functionaries that equip them for critical and creative thinking are virtually non-existent.

Nepal has no alternative but to co-opt into some irreversible tenets of globalization, both in market and politics. If we look for larger space to wield our muscles, only way out to that objective is to build our own internal strength in political decision-making and economic profit generation. An open, democratic and inclusive society is the necessary precondition to create dynamic economy, ensure better social security and institutionalize lasting democracy. In turn, only bigger pie of the economy we create will make sense of inclusion and all right-based approaches. In all, social democracy is social property.

Ram Prasad Gyawali's comment on Wagle's paper: What Wagle spoke in the seminar is not related to his working paper. Therefore, I will concentrate only on his paper. The theoretical paper elaborately discusses social democracy but it is sad that the writer fails to mention Nepali version of social democracy and its exponents. Social democracy has become relevant today even more than in the past. It has brighter future ahead. There is the need for creating mechanisms to regulate globalisation. When the capitalist nations are ready to intervene in the economic sector, it is imperative for the social democratic nation to follow suit for the larger interests of the people. The government should be involved in delivering social good and services such as education, health, road and arms.

The gist of Koirala's and Kafle paper- 'Retrospect and prospect of Nepalese political economy'

Despite the high hope surrounding 1990 movement and movement of 2062-2063 and also ouster of kingship and establishment of Republic, there has not been clear break from the past. Instead democracy came under the continued influence of traditional elites. The holding of free election and unfettered operation of political parties were welcome advances along the road towards democratic Nepal but they alone do not constitute genuine democratisation. Democracy requires democratisation of economic order and corresponding measures of social justice. It also demands the development of local level participatory democracy which will draw the politically marginalised in the decision making process. Democracy in Nepal has failed to cater the distribution of power and wealth in favour of majority of Nepalese, who are poor.

Democracy has been most successful in those societies in which political competition and development and institutionalisation of parties precede the adoption of a democratic election system. But, Nepali society faces double challenges. Not only has it to institutionalise the democratic system of government but the political parties themselves have had to be institutionalised. All political parties are immature and unstable. Their ideological position is confused and competing factions within themselves threaten to tear them apart. The failure of leadership has been immensely damaging Nepal's democratic prospects. Consensual, pragmatic and accommodating leadership is vital to the survival of democratic system. Although there is some debate over the relationship between the level of economic development and the success of democratic systems, in the case of Nepal, there can be little question that economic failure will ultimately undermine the functioning of democratic government.

Nepal's democracy emerged at a time when the ideology of right had been established as a global truth. State intervention in the economy was anathema to those preaching the benefits of economic liberalism. Given the compromise nature of Nepali transition and the country's abject poverty, extensive state intervention was not only ideologically unacceptable but it was difficult to implement. Yet, ironically, the transition to democracy in classical western models was not accompanied by economic liberalism but was characterised increasing state intervention in social welfare provision. This gave the newly enfranchised masses a stake in the system and fosters a belief that democracy meant greater individual prosperity and not simply commitment to abstract principles. Poverty stricken Nepali democracy, by contrast, has been incapable of providing such reward to its citizens. The sustainability of our democracy depends upon the pragmatic and people- centred economic and social policy of the political parties and the government in future taking into account Nepal's sluggish growth, mass poverty, inequality, low level of saving and investment and its need for regional and global connectivity.

The comments of Tika Pokhrel on their joint paper- The experiences have shown that the political stability is not only a catalytic factor to spur economic growth. Political changes take place all of sudden but economic and social changes happen gradually. First condition to ensure economic development is to put a system in place. We did not have monitoring and regulating mechanism to check the freewheeling market. We did not have also leaders with personality. While taking major decisions related to the fate of country and the people, the general public was not consulted. When the country was declared a secular state, the people were not solicited.

The gist of Santosh Pariyar's paper- 'National interest and democracy'

Surprisingly, the post cold war world has mostly been dominated by the single political ideology called democracy. Democracy, a massively acclaimed universally accepted governing ideology, has hitherto not been criticised much. As a nation-state, Nepal's appetite for democracy is greedy but placed in very strategic land. Nepal's step towards democracy is inevitable. Many recent discussions on democracy and national interest smell of antagonistic elements. On one hand, democracy merely has become the compulsion for the government to govern the people. On the other hand, democracy, particularly driven by western philosophy, undermines the local values and practices which embody the national interests. It upholds the universal values of the governing system, whereas local practise and values sometime and somehow do not care about the universality because former may always not fit into the format of locality. The history of each state varies from other states and one context differentiates from another and this makes a state unique with history and life. Democracy is a core concern of the international community, whereas national interest has been central to the state policies since ancient time. We live in an unequal world. The differences among nations are ubiquitous and their national interest is realised with their differences. No political thinking and action can get its validity until and unless it incorporates the basic premises of democracy.

In the history of state crafting, the national interest has always been at the centre and the foreign policy of the state massively dominated by the same. It is too tough to study democracy and the national interests in a single box. The former needs the latter and vice versa. Now the concept of majority rule, based on numerical strength, has been stripped of. Perhaps, democracy has now become the ultimate tool to incorporate aspirations of the minorities. In both national and local sense, democracy is the best of bottom-up unlike bureaucracy from top-down which perhaps put forward the national feelings from bottom to top. To protect Nepal's vital interest such as safeguarding the national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it is not enough to be democratic country itself. For that there must have respect for democracy in the neighboring countries as well. Democracy serves as an instrumental tool to shape and save national interests. It helps formulate the short-term and long-term plans to meet the national interests based on consensus. At present, Nepal is going through very pessimistic process. In such a chaotic situation, Nepal needs more vibrant democratic culture to have common sense on some of its core national interests. The discourse on the national interests has hardly been debated in the public sphere. It has always been confined to the well furnished office inside the Singh Durbar with the so-called big headed people. Now this trend should be changed and the issue must be taken to public space for the lively debate so as to make it more democratic and transparent. Democracy and sincere national interest serve the people better than any other system because the people are at central of entire governing system in democratic set-up.

Shovakar Parajuli and Manohar Parajuli's comments on Pariyar's paper: The alternative to democracy is better democracy. Truth is relative. The new constitution should incorporate universal values of democracy. Democracy and national interest are completely two different concepts. Diplomacy is a better weapon for the small nations to advance their cause.

 
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