Seminar Report on Initiative for Democracy
Building Education about Voters and Civic Rights
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
Dharan (06-07 Dec) and Dhankuta (08 -09 Dec)
By Chandra D Bhatta
Introducing the Programme
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) - a German
Political Foundation has organised training-cum- seminar on
'Democracy Building: Education about Voters and Civic Rights'
in Dharan and Dhankuta districts. The German Foreign Ministry
supported the programme. The main objective of the programme
is to educate Nepali citizens on civic and voters rights to
enable them to participate in the political process, particularly,
on the upcoming Constituent Assembly election significantly.
The programme was attended, among others,
by political leaders of all political parties (including Maoist),
academicians, teachers, NGO personnel, and members of civil
society, student leaders, government officials, youths, representative
of trade unions and other stakeholders of society.
In Dharan, the programme was attended by more
than 200 participants, in Dhankuta 100 plus participants showed
up. In Dhankuta, all the judges of the District Court, Deputy
Superintendent of Police (DSP), Election Officer, District Education
Officer and other high-ranking government officials attended
the programme. While in Dharan academicians, local political
activists, members of the ethnic community, among others, were
Head of FES in Nepal - Mr. Dev Raj Dahal discussed
about the current state of political affairs in the country.
He recalled on the fact that mismatch between (people's) expectations
and dispensation of political justice is slowly dashing away
high hopes held on April showdown of 2006. The central thrust
of Mr Dev Raj Dahal's presentation was that Nepali state should
endeavour to strike a balance between different factors such
as freedom, rights, duties, demand(s) and as well as challenges
brought about by the new found political changes in the country.
Failing to do so, he argued, will exasperate people's faith
on political leaders and subsequently on (cyclic) political
movements. Our attempt should focus to build civil state rather
than a state based on class and clan, said Mr Dahal. Mr Dahal
further argued that political settlement through democratic
exercise is always peaceful. Peaceful situation is always considered
to be conducive to strengthen values in a given society. He
emphasized on the fact that we should develop a mechanism to
strike a balance between majority and minority and equally important
is that the intellectuals and political leaders should work
together for the welfare of the nation. Intellectuals should
provide ideas/opinions to the political leaders.
Equally important is to strike a balance between
written and unwritten constitution of the state. Mr Kashi Raj
Dahal - the constitutional expert has said that unless political
parties come out with clear political agendas on different issues
such as state restructuring, the future model of governance
- the proposed election to CA will not yield much result. He
maintained that none of the political parties so far have clear
scientific agenda on various issues which perhaps will become
major cause of further conflict in the country or that Nepal
might lose much hyped achievement of People's Movement (the
agenda of utopian New Nepal). Similarly Chandra D. Bhatta introduced
hands-out on democracy. The central theme of hands-out was to
promote democracy based on rule of law and introduces civic
education at different layers of society, which will help to
construct civic citizenship based on civic nationalism. The
overarching aim of this session first, was to promote democratic
political culture in the country and second to balance existing
political bias in the country.
Majority of the questions were thrown-out
on federalism, state-restructuring, ethnic federalism, model
of governance, nature of political parties in both districts.
This was obvious, because the region host majority of ethnic
communities and some of them are hell-bent to make ethnic state
(Limbuwan-Khumbuwan). Question was also asked on right to self-determination.
Kashi Raj Dahal clarified that right to self-determination (of
1648) does not necessarily provide legal basis for secessionist
(state disintegration) right. By contrast, the whole idea of
right to self-determination is to provide opportunities (freedom)
within the federation for the economic development and alike
of the people living within that federation.
In Dhankuta the Dr. Gopal Bhattari (left intellectuals)
raised questions on American hegemony, Indian expansionism and
enquired how tiny state like Nepal can overcome from this perceived
security dilemma. Anand Santosi Rai (member of Nepali Congress)
asked question about ethnic state. He said that today the identity
political has come into fore and the concept that ethnicity
is state and state is ethnicity has developed. He maintained
that the modern state has to be built on the basis of consensus
and there is a need to strike a balance between this concept.
Likewise, one participant (Bantawa Rai) asked which comes first,
nation-building or constitution making. He was of the view that
the process of nation-building can only take place when we write
constitution through proportional electoral system. Questions
were also raised on the declaration of Republic through parliament.
What will happen to our voting right if parliament declares
Nepal as a republic without even going to the public? This will,
for sure, usurped up our sovereign right and is in no way democratic.
Many participants wanted to know how do we
civilise the state and society, for the matter politics and
political actors. What type of education system will help to
get rid of from this dilemma of anarchy and order. Will the
civic education resolve problem. How can we introduce civic
education at different layers of society?
What can be drawn from the proceeding of the
seminars is that FES seems to have fulfilled its objective of
advocating civic education and social democracy, which are very
much needed in Nepali society. The programme was well received
and succeeded to fulfill its goals in all three districts. The
debate in all places generated very valid questions which need
immediate collective attention. A critical mass is forming in
every domain and this mass wants to have equal share in every
aspect of governance. The worry expressed at the rural areas
on the national politics and their de-serious faith on democracy
is noteworthy. Equally, important is their ability to differentiate
chaff from the wheat (between bad leaders, bad policies, good
leaders and good polices). Perhaps programmes like this needs
to be further extended in other parts of the country.