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Political parties' role in deepening democracy

One day seminar jointly organised by Martyrs' Memorial Foundation (MMF) & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nepal Office.

12 April 2015 (Jitpur, Kapilvastu)

Prepared by MMF

Martyrs' Memorial Foundation (MMF) organized a seminar on "Political Parties' role in Deepening Democracy in Nepal" in Jitpur, Kapilvastu on April 12, 2015 with the support of FES. 200 plus politicians, civil society leaders, experts, trade unionist, local people participated in the seminar. Bikash Dahal program officer of MMF has coordinated the seminar.

Democracy is the lifestyle of people. Without democracy we could not achieve result. Nepal stands at the crossroads of bigger political changes at present. It is struggling to write constitution through the Constituent Assembly (CA), an overdue task of the politics since the past 65 years. Once the nation gets the statute from the CA, it will pass another milestone in deepening and consolidating democracy. Although, Nepal has come a long way since the restoration of democracy several decades ago, we are still facing many hindrances like coups, conflicts and inter-party confrontations from time to time.

Political parties are the vehicle of socio-economic transformations. The ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity gained wider currency with the evolution of parties in modern society. These concepts are the integral components of democracy. The parties bridge between the government and state. They renew their democratic credentials through periodic elections so as provide greater legitimacy to their acts, behaviours, rule and system. Democracy is constantly refined by the parties' rational yet relentless democratic exercises, people's active participation in them and the development of democratic institutions.

Political parties, civil society, media and other professional and constitutional bodies need to rise to the occasion to overcome the challenges of democracy during the transition. They require honouring and promoting the basic democratic values, norms and principles. To respect popular mandate, rule of law, create and strengthen democratic institutions and promote civic culture is necessary to enhance and rekindle the democratic spirit.

Opening Session

The chief guest of the program Mr. Taranath Ranabhat, former Speaker, House of Representatives, began by telling that the political parties and people have failed to give due attention to the consolidation of democracy right after the 1990 political change. Democratic values and norms are on constant decline. Owing to the blowing up of the ethnic agenda out of all proportion, the national unity is in tatters. Let's first unite the nation. All should press the leaders to tread a national path. The people's mandate is being insulted as the CA, an elected body, is held hostage of indecision.

Mr. Dhundi Raj Shastri, Chairperson and socialist thinker said that socialism is the dream of martyrs and it can be materialized only through a uniformed ideological movement in the country. Development works should start from the villages so that lower section of the society will benefit from democracy that is being captured by a handful capitalists and bourgeoisie. Richer are getting richer and the poor poorer. Socialism ensures economic balance, political rights and promotes social values. The citizens should have easy access to the health and education facilities provided by the government.

Mr. Chandra D Bhatta, Representative of FES, Nepal Office said that deepening democracy in society requires constant political education about enlightenment so that citizens know the ways to freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace and remove agencies of socialization that subordinates them. Deepening democracy entails the power separation not only between the state, market and civil society and legislative, executive and judicial powers but also across the social, economic and political powers. Deepening democracy requires continuous circulation of youths in political power through election. Deepening democracy demands not only the winner-takes-all game but also a respect to opposition, inclusion of minorities and unrepresented and political drop-out groups. It adheres to the ethos of compromise of legitimate interests and peacefully resolves interests, ideology and identity-based conflicts to the optimal satisfaction of all sides.

Mr. Khila Nath Dahal, General Secretary, MMF said that the martyrs had laid down their lives for freedom, justice and equality. It is high time the people pressed the political parties for focusing on the economic agenda in the new constitution. Over 3.5 million Nepalese youth are abroad and slaving away for the livelihood. He said that general people could not get expensive health facility easily. Poor people could not pay school fee for their child. He said that social justice and social security is essential to develop the country. He speech focused on decent work and said that Education, Health, Food security, Housing and Employment are the fundamental right of the people.

In inaugural session Mr. Dolak Ram Ghimire welcomed all, Ms. Guna Laxmi Gyawali, Mr. Narayan Prasad Banganga, Mr. Shankar Chaudhary, Mr. Bishnu Raj Acharya and Ms Sabina Poudel focused their views on democracy and social justice. Ms. Bimala Gaire was the master of ceremony for the program.

The paper writer for the first session was Mr. Tara Nath Ranabhat who presented on 'Democracy in crisis: A roadmap to its consolidation' in the first session. Mr. Ranabhat's paper is summarized below.

Since democracy is a system that represents people's respect, dignity, freedom and sovereignty, it is itself an end. There is no another effective political system better than democracy to transform the people's individual and collective capability, courage and huge force emanating from their wise consciousness into the capital of collective progress and prosperity, peace and unity. This is a reason why every Nepali strongly yearns for democracy for a long-time.

Nepal was unified seven years before the US was declared independence in 1776 and 10 years before the French Revolution happened. Napoleon introduced the uniformed civil code for Europe in 1804 but Jayasthiti Malla and Ram Shah had issued similar legal code 400 and 300 years ago respectively. The tradition of appointing the individuals, liked by the people, as the key government officers by soliciting people's opinions visiting door to door was already in practice some 240 years ago. The early years of Lichchhavi, Malla and Shah Rules offered the pictures of prosperity that Nepal earned due to its effective rule of law. It has everything.

Despite all this cherished history of independence and democracy, our democracy rings hollow. We are rich in history, culture, nature, resources, topography and climate but the country has been unable to lay the basic foundation of rule of law more than 65 years after it adopted the modern governance system. When the nation does not run as per constitution and law, the talks of democracy, civil rights and good governance merely turn into a futile imagination. The system in which an individual is above the law is dictatorial one. The system in which no one remains above law is democratic. Sadly, at the moment, the laws are serving those who exercise power or are in power. This condition amply denotes we have no democracy or loktantra or republic at all. The political parties are not working to rekindle people's faith and confidence. They seek devotion and loyalty from the people but are failing to prove their commitment and loyalty to the people.

Until democracy becomes the part of humanity's faith and culture, its success cannot be guaranteed. For this, the state, government and the political parties have to develop a regular and scientific system to solicit the opinions of people on their decisions and reform and rectify them accordingly. Good exercises of democracy can be embraced from anywhere but we should develop democracy according to our own context and culture. Success and failure of democracy largely hinges on the vision, image, leadership ability, character and conduct of the leaders.

Comments from the floor

Understanding of socio-economic and political system suitable of our country is necessary. We should also examine our responsibility for moral lapses in leaders. The country is visibly under threat from the move of slashing it into many ethnic states. With this there is the need for framing the policy in which the aspirations of all can be adjusted and accommodated. This sort of seminars and discussion should be held in the presence of politicians of all hues and stripes.

Senior journalist Yuvaraj Gautam paper entitled 'the question of the responsibility of parties in democracy,' highlights the role of political parties to strengthen nationalism, democracy and culture. The paper dwells on the world history with special focus on eastern philosophy, culture and politics.

The gist of Gautam's paper

Without a minute study of history, the study of politics remains incomplete. During the Paleolithic and neo-paleolithic periods, the human used stone weapons to protect themselves. Later, the people became conscious that they needed organizations and institutes to protect their thoughts. The oriental scholars do not believe that the western society has taught all arts of politics. In his famous book, 'People and Parliament', former speaker of Indian Loksabha Dr Balram Jakhad writes that the term 'sansad' (parliament) has been mentioned in the Rig Veda. In one Vedic verse, it is said that the people's approval is necessary to ensure stability and order in the society.

With over 3,500-year old written history, Nepal has been always an independent and sovereign nation. It is one of the oldest nations on the earth. If the politicians cannot study the issues relating to the national interests, it will invite undesirable consequences to the nation. If they fail to concentrate on the questions of national interests by anlaysing the main policies of nation, they cannot pay heed of nationality, democracy and the burning problems of the people. It is irony that the Nepalese leaders are not sensitive about the national interests. The political parties used to blame the palace for their weakness, stubbornness and failures from 1990 to 2006. With the nation ushering in republican set-up, they are no longer in a position to pin blame on the monarchy for their incompetence. Some blame the foreign power centres for the irresponsible behaviours of the parties and their leaders.

The parties are responsible for courting the foreign meddling one or another way. The political parties will not lose people's trust if they have become serious about the Mahakali Treaty, BIPPA agreement, the legal provisions granting the citizenship certificates to the hundreds of thousands of foreigners, the problems caused by the uncontrolled and unmanaged borders and the daily problems of the people.

After missing the self-imposed deadline of delivering the statute on January 22, 2015, the parties are all set to make another promise to give the state within four years. If they consider that there is no alternative to them, this will be a big stupidity. This is because if the parties become failure in democracy, there is possibility for the authoritarianism to rears its ugly head.

Comments from the floor

Mr. Bimal Raj Chhetri dedicated a song in the name of all the martyrs of Nepal.

Former lawmaker Hom Raj Dahal presented his working paper entitled 'the role of political parties in ensuring social justice' chaired by Dhundi Raj Shastri. Mr. Dahal's paper's sheds light on the conceptual framework and the international theories and practices of social justice. The views of Marx, Durkheim and Weber on social justice have been well summed up. It informs about the new ideas of social security that evolved in new millennium, the condition of social justice in the UK, US and Israel, the UN provisions and the role of the Nepalese political parties in realizing it.

The concept of social justice came into existence with the evolution of welfare state. Following the World War II, an opinion that the government has to work for the social justice and services to the people came strongly. Particularly, the state is supposed to provide health, education, employment, residential and other personal services to the citizens. It is the responsibility of a welfare state to deliver goods and services to the people. The western society has put effective welfare system in place for particularly two reasons. Firstly, the social security policies aimed at minimizing the conflicts of industrial society and keeping it in a balance. Secondly, as per the Marxist viewpoint, the social welfare scheme is way to sustain the capitalistic society as the citizens, who take benefits from the social welfare scheme under capitalism, will also accept it. With the measures of social security, the government gets legitimacy to control and discipline the citizens.

Nepal's constitution had also adopted a number of constitutional provisions to evolve it into a robust welfare state. The interim statute has guaranteed the rights to health, education and jobs. For the senior citizens and widows and widowers, the government has arranged monthly allowances it is a pittance. Likewise, it grants scholarships to the Dalit students and formulated the policies to raise the living standards of the people from Karnali zone, an economic backwater. The major and minor parties in the CA have promised to implement social security and justice provisions but they have failed to live up to their commitments as they reach power. The government needs to bring youth policy immediately to ensure employment opportunities to them. Civil society and NGOs have done commendable job in the social security areas. The conscious citizens should nudge the state to implement the social security provisions spelt out in the interim constitution.

The parties should be recalibrated in a way that enables them to build a common position on the issues of public interests such as the /hydropower and road construction. Nationalism is becoming weak. The nation has reached such a pass as the leaders have failed to catch the right path. The cadres of the oldest Democratic Party are not satisfied with the working style of the leaders. The intellectuals should also play their proactive role to deepen democracy.

Nepal is evolving into an amoral society- it is becoming more and more individualistic and sans esprit de corps- feelings of pride, care and support for each other, etc. that are shared by the members of a group. The people are guided by money, not by the democratic ideals. Even the educational curriculum has not included moral education. A mere word 'democracy' does not deliver anything. The state needs to fulfill the basic requirements of the people. It is necessary to bring all classes to the mainstream to ensure social justice for them. Politics is the master of all social sciences and it needs to be strong. One way to strengthen it is to promote moral education.

From the floor

Mr. Ram Krishna Panthi was concerned about some names omitted as martyrs. He further added that by promoting religious tourism and cultural tourism we can create employment. Likewise, Khuma Sharma Wagle was curious about Secular religion in Nepal. On the other hand, Mr. Ram Chaudhary posed a critical question to the paper writer as to why the constitution writing process had come to a halt.

In his concluding remarks, MMF general secretary Khila Nath Dahal said that the state has not been able to pay due attention to the woes of the family members of martyrs. The citizens have not felt that they are given the social justice in the term of economic benefits and opportunities. Democracy could not arrive in the poor people and workers. In this context we all have to focus them for sustainable democracy and people sovereignty. Mr. Dahal thanked to respected all stakeholders to succeed the program.

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