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Essence and Challenges of Democracy in Nepal

One-day seminar organised by School of Democracy (SoD)

19 December 2015, Kathmandu

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi


There is no dispute over the virtues of democracy. Democracy holds potency to emancipate the humanity from all forms of socio-economic fetters. There is global unanimity that it is close to perfection. There are various forms of democracy but there is no alternative to true form of democratic system. Its only alternative is more refined, more inclusive and more participatory democracy. This is a reason why the word "democracy" has become a political pet term clung to the lips of the politicians of all stripes. Today no one dares to say that s/he dislikes it. It is not merely a political principle and catchphrase but also an integral part of human conduct, attitude and way of life. It is a vital indicator of the development of civilization. The more the society is democratic, the more it is rational, wise and just. A true embrace of democratic values makes the state stable, peaceful, affluent, tolerant and ethical. This will perhaps be an apogee of democratic state that many nations on globe are aspiring to reach. It is euphonious to muse over such an ideal democratic state. But, it requires Herculean efforts to live up to the essence of democracy. Sometime such efforts might end up in Sisyphean fate. Many societies and nations have floundered while trying to translate it into action. Only a few of them have grabbed the brass ring. Still, it is not a mirage. It is attainable given that the nations make sustained, genuine and diligent endeavours to this end.

Nepal's tryst with modern democracy began over half a century ago but it underwent intermittent experiments and confronted occasional hiccups. There were three revolutions plus other movements to restore and deepen democratic polity. Even the unbroken practice lasting two and a half decades was disastrous. With the democratic republic, institutionalized by the most inclusive constitution promulgated last year, Nepal's democratic journey looks moving at full throttle. But it is fraught with many vexing challenges. The parties that spearheaded the democratic movements have themselves suffered from serious democratic deficit. The dearth of democratic culture is another pervasive malaise. This has hindered overall democratization process. Notwithstanding, it has never been ceased to be a critical discourse. The democratic project goes long lasting, no matter what obstacles come in the way. The professed stakeholders as well as followers of democracy continue to do soul-searching to correct and catch the high road of democracy. There is an increased realization that only a robust internal democracy, genuine inclusiveness and broader participation can consolidate it in the post constitution phase. It was acknowledged at a seminar 'Essence and Challenges of Democracy in Nepal' jointly organised by the School of Democracy-Nepal and FES, Nepal Office in Kathamandu. Over 100 youths participated in the one-day seminar where the political leaders, particularly from Nepali Congress highlighted their vision of democracy and made their commitment to refine and bolster it. It was divided into inaugural and technical sessions dominated by the presence youth leaders.

Inaugural Session

Sher Bahadur Deuba, former prime minister and NC leader

Liberty is the primary element of democracy that enables the citizens to articulate their concerns in the society. Nepal's constitution is inclusive. No constitution is perfect. It is refined as per the need of the people and time. The agitating Madhesi parties should call off their border-based agitation and come to the negotiating table to find a solution through talks. Hurling petrol bombs and stones during the President's visit to the Janaki Temple was a shameful act. No one has right to infringe upon the people's religious freedom. Everybody has his/her rights to offer prayers in the temples. We visit different religious shrines in India to pay homage to the deities. It is heinous act to make fatal attack on the devotees in the premises of temple. The alleged culprits should be brought to book. The NC functionaries should work together to enhance internal democracy and institutionalize democracy.

Arjun Narsing KC on 'Current development of democratic practice'

Democracy is only system that is close to perfection. About 193 nations have embraced democratic system. It is not only a system but also a culture, process and attitude. In Nepal, parliament came into existence with the incessant struggles of political parties. The NC led three revolutions but ironically it could not mould itself into a true democratic force. The NC is devoid of internal democracy and has been running under the diktats of a handful of leaders. Its economic policy has never been socialist and the ethical politics always took a back seat. An ideological renaissance is necessary. Every decision should be based on democratic process. The party's upcoming 13th convention will be a battleground for restoring internal democracy.
Dr Shekhar Koirala on 'New Constitution: Strength and challenge of democracy'

No one should cast doubt on the nationalistic credentials of Madhesi people. Madhesis and Tharus are fighting for identity and access to resources and opportunities. There is need for intensive debates on the modality demarcation of provinces and finding a new definition of nationality. The new statute was promulgated by overcoming uphill challenges. It was brought through a fast-track. No matter how much better the statute is, its implementation aspect should be strong. It requires intense debate on the federalism. New provinces should be created without splitting the districts. The people have emotional attachment to the districts and if they are broken up, it triggers ethnic conflict.

CD Bhatta, FES Programme officer

Nepal is one of the oldest nations in the world but today it has become very weak. This demands that we should do some soul-searching as to how it became an enfeebled nation. It is necessary to balance between freedom and equality. We have to build economy to realise 31 kinds of rights spelt out in the new constitution. There is need for geopolitical understanding to comprehend the motives and factors behind the ongoing blockade. Many nations adopted multiparty democracy after 1990 but some of them failed to manage the internal and external conflict. As a result, their democratic exercise was not up to scratch.

Professor Dr Bijaya Datta on 'Terai-Madhes movement, federalism and need of nation'

Over three million children were deprived of their basic rights of education and health owing the Terai unrest and blockade. The state should assert itself to end impunity and anarchy. It must curb smuggling and black market that are thriving in the garb of agitation and economic embargo. There is a need for launching a live debate on federal structure to ensure cultural and political rights of the people. The positive contents of the new statute should be propagated among the people. The copies of statute should be sent to the villages. Blockade should be taken as lesson for economic development. The agitating forces should be ready for accord. The sister organizations of the political parties should be engaged in interactions with the people. The present government should be given a shape of national government so that the current political turmoil can be easily sorted out.

Yagya Adhikary on 'the challenges and opportunities in the exercise of internal democracy in Nepal.'

Since the political parties have to always work with the people, they should be strong enough to institutionalize the federal Loktantrik statute and values. Durable peace and good governance will be out of reach if the parties fail to promote inner party democracy. Healthy competition is the central element of Loktantra. The parties have to select their leadership on the basis of clean and healthy competition. Following points are necessary to bolster inner party democracy.

1. Clean competition for the leadership pick.
2. The participation of leaders and cadres in the deliberations and decision-making.
3. Institutional development of parties.
4. Proper management of internal conflict.
5. Balance between ideals and practice.
6. Adoption of decentralized thought and structures.
7. Transparency and responsibility.
8. Building inclusive structure.
9. Ending the tendency to stick lifelong to leadership.

School of Democracy (SD) chairman Nain Singh Mahar said that the people's basic rights such as food, shelter and clothes should be fulfilled to strengthen democracy. The SD has spread its network to different districts and many countries in Asia, Europe and the US.

Second Session

Govinda Bhattarai on 'democracy, its stability and role of leadership'

To preserve political gains looks more challenging than achieve them. Reactionaries and dictatorial forces are posing threat to democracy. Extreme lefts pose themselves as democrat when they get chance but show their real colour other moments. Until there is economic revolution, political stability remains a distant goal. Minorities groups are manipulated to weaken democracy. It is necessary to mobilize means and resources to mainstream the marginalized groups.

Meen Bishwakarma on 'meaning and essence of inclusion in Nepalese political phenomenon'

Efforts to ensure inclusion started in 1950 at the initiative of Nepali Congress but it has not yet been fully realized. It is the just distribution of available means, resources, opportunities and facilities among the classes, castes, genders, regions and religious groups, who were discriminated by the state. In Nepal, the concept of inclusion was first introduced in 20152 BS when Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government implemented compulsory education system with all girl students and those from Dalit and ethnic groups getting free secondary education. Reservation, affirmative action and positive discrimination are some important tools for inclusion. Reservation covers participation, empowerment and equality, dignity and coexistence. Equality is not alone guaranteed by the political philosophy, legal provision or social norms. Rather it is enforced by the pragmatic use of laws. Transforming unequal society into equal requires the application of unequal laws with a positive purpose.

Mahendra Yadav on 'social transformation, a measure of democracy'

Democracy is in itself is perfect term. It does not need any qualifier. Until it is taken to the grassroots and the people are educated about its essence, it cannot be institutionalized. Conflicts trigger transformation. There is democratic deficit in the NC. It is infested with nepotism, favoutism and patronage. How can the NC that is not democratic in itself democratize the society?
Bimalendra Nidhi on 'development of inclusion in Nepalese governance and political system'

Loktantra is not a vague topic. The rule that is based on the needs and aspirations of the people is Loktantra. We have to identity the areas and communities that are pushed outside the mainstream of development. The NC has led the campaign for inclusion. The party has guaranteed the participation of Madhesi, women, Dalit and Karnali representatives in its internal structures. There is need for guaranteeing the identity, representation and ownership of the marginalized groups to strengthen democracy, promote good governance and institutionalize the statute. The state should identify the diversity and bring the marginalized groups and communities to the political and governance system.

Khilanath Dahal

It is an uphill task to bring almost two million workers living below the poverty line to the economic mainstream. The political leadership should be strong and competent to implement economic agenda aimed at creating jobs and national wealth.

From the floor

Ram Chandra Yadav asked why the NC failed to include the issues mentioned in the interim statute in the new one. Sambhu Hajara said that the representation of Dalit from Terai in the party is paltry compared to the hill Dalits. Samjhana Khatri said that the party has to address the issues of youths. Politics is a service, not profession, she emphasized. Bishesh Joshi said that democracy failed to deepen in the absence of development. Kailash Nepal posed a question: Where is internal democracy in the NC? Sarada Lama underlined the need for increasing the representation of women from ethnic community in the party's structures. Prabesh Kumar Chaudhari said that Terai is burning. Although the NC led the promulgation of the new statute, it fell on the stony ground when it came to shortening the transition. Chakra Bahadur Joshi said that the students want to know and internalize the values of democracy.

Kiran Yadav

The NC has failed to properly disseminate the contents of the new statute among the people. If the party had heard the voices of its lawmakers, there would not have been the Madhesi agitation. It can be resolved by incorporating the provisions of interim statute in the new one. The NC should take the lead to resolve the crisis.

Third Session

Dr Dila Sangraula on 'progress and challenge of inclusion in political process of Nepal'

Multiparty system is based on inclusion. A certain elite class is taking the benefits from the reservation system. Inclusion should ensure reconciliation. In order to promote inclusive democracy, the state has to provide quality education to all citizens without any discrimination. There should be consistency between the thinking and practice. The marginalized classes and communities should have access to resources and opportunities. The distribution of posts should be guided by meritocracy, not by nepotism and favoritism.

Guru Raj Ghimire on 'the role of NC in strengthening democracy'

Nepal's democracy faces threat from communists. There is no alternative democratic party. Although the NC is democratic party that led several democratic revolutions, it is unable to institutionalize democratic culture. Entropy, arbitrariousness and feudal mindset have put a crimp in the democratic credentials of NC. The contemporary leaders have no capacity to bring prosperity to the nation.

Surendra Pandey

Diversity should be reflected in all organs of the state. The current crisis arose owing to the mistakes committed in the past. Of course, the CA is inclusive but its decision-making process did not reflect inclusiveness. The decisions-making process within the NC should be inclusive and democratic. While in power, the party could not lay the foundation of value-based politics.
NP Saud on 'socialization of democracy and role of youth organization'

The term 'socialisation' is akin to psychology. Democracy is based on meritocratic system. There was not fair distribution of rights and justice among the social groups. The new statute has accepted the essence of democracy but the parties are not holding their provincial conclaves. They should be restructured in line with the federal design. The youth leaders are more divided than their seniors. There is no alternative to social democracy.

Keshav Niraula

In the absence of democratic culture, the nation has failed to realize economic prosperity. Democracy should be used as a means to spur growth. The Nepalese have themselves resolved internal conflict and written the statute. The foreign meddling should be protested strongly.

Pushotam Dahal

Ideology should take precedence over the individual interests. The political terms need to be interpreted in a new way. 'Lok' means people and land, and 'tantra' means rule. Thus, Loktantra means the rule of the people. Our experiment with democracy was not successful in the past.

Pradeep Giri

In order to establish socialism, the socialist parties have to fight in more than seven fronts. To implement the values and policies of socialism is not like a cakewalk. It requires new political vision and economic policies to address the post-statute challenges.

 
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