Initiative for Democracy Building: Education
about Voters and Civic Rights
Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
16-17 October 2007, Sindhuli
Report prepared by Tara Dahal, MA. Sociology and Anthropology,
Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nepal office organized a two-
day seminar on "Initiative for Democracy Building: Education
about Voters and Civic Rights" on October 16-17, 2007 at
Sindhuli District. Over 150 participants including Chief District
Officer, local chiefs of Police and Nepal Army, election officers,
lawyers, teachers, leaders of various political parties, civil
society, Dalits, ethnic and women's groups, etc took part in
the meeting. The overarching aim of the program is to educate
Nepali citizens on civic and voters rights, enable them to meaningfully
participate in the political process, particularly, on the upcoming
Constituent Assembly election and contribute to the formation
of a genuinely participant political culture. The program was
organized with the cooperation of German Foreign Ministry. Dev
Raj Dahal, Head of FES Nepal office explained his paper on "State-Building
and Social Transformation: An Overview of Contemporary Context,"
Kashi Raj Dahal, constitutional expert and former law secretary,
narrated the "Introductory Book on Constituent Assembly"
and both together introduced "Handouts on Democracy"
to the participants for discussion. All the participants and
even non-participants, local libraries and schools got copies
of each book and the paper. The discussion that followed was
very thought-provoking, critical and creative.
In the floor discussion participants wanted to know many issues--some
conceptual and other political and practical ones about the
multi-verse of democracy and even offered suggestion to improve
the current political conditions in Nepal. On state building
they asked how central government can maintain control over
entire territory by controlling armed groups, militias and criminals.
They viewed that state's core capacity is central to exercise
sovereignty and maximize its ability to manage the forced movement
of population due to communal conflict in Tarai, violation of
human rights of internally displaced people, economic decline
and emerging social crisis. Lawyer Prem Chandra argued that
politics in the absence of state sovereignty will lead to a
state of anarchy. He expressed worry about the shift from state-building
to power-addictive tendency of political leaders and "me-only"
mentality. In a question asked by Min P. Ghimire about the concept
of nation, Dev Raj Dahal said," A nation is a people based
on national-self-determination. It also possesses a state and
its institutions." Krishna Hari Ghimire asked as to whether
the principles of human rights can be sincerely implemented
in a weak Nepali state where resources are limited and leadership
know no rule of law other than their self-interest thus incubated
a culture of impunity. He suggested that political leaders require
transformation of in mentality to value-based politics. Dahal
responded saying that a production-based economy and a redistributive
regime are central to improve human rights conditions in Nepal.
There is a weak linkage between human rights and public policy
in Nepal. Local political parties and civil society groups should
cultivate goal-seeking, accountable and enlightened leadership
in the long run.
Sabita Koirala felt the need to restructure party leadership
to make party structures gender and youth sensitive and inclusive
of social and cultural diversity. To this, D. R. Dahal said,
"Establishing a democratic political culture in a society
that has for decades been acculturated to a hukumi sashan
(rule by fiat) is difficult but not impossible. It requires
democratization of public life in various stages."
Deepak Mishra stressed on "de-criminalization" of
politics as a precondition to establish rule of law, civic education
for youth for transforming their parochial loyalties into the
nation-state and abolition of hereditary succession of leadership.
He also urged the role of intellectuals in preparing the road
map for the country's state-building, development and peace.
R. Devkota and Shanta Pathak stressed on the role of think tanks
to educate the party leaders about the solution oriented vision
of the nation. On the nature of the state, they asked the resource
persons to explain the viability as well as costs and benefits
of federalism, suitability of the nature of the Head of State
and legitimacy of the regime. On all these questions Dahal said,
"We have to evolve our own models on all these areas. Organic
intellectuals of society should bring the vision of people before
the experts for debates. The international community is willing
to support our initiative for democratic Nepal. But, the vision
should be based on shared values of all Nepalese people."
He said that 12-point accord, Comprehensive Peace Agreement
(CPA) and Interim Constitution have ideologically metamorphosed
all incumbent parties into change-oriented one. But now they
are indulged more on mutual recrimination than assuming mutual
accountability on the promises they have made. Their contesting
historical identities are reinforcing their current behavior
and political socialization. This has generated a contradiction
between their promise and action-coordination towards the values,
institutions and goals of peace, CA elections and development.
The delay in the implementation of peace agreement and holding
Constituent Assembly elections mainly spring from this fact.
There is an urgency of trust-building in order to maintain conductive
atmosphere to prevent state failure and concert position on
CA elections in the future.
Janak Bahadur asked as to which approach-- class, ethnic, gender,
and caste-- will end Nepal's socially-embedded discriminatory
practices and create an equity-based political system. To this,
Dahal replied "Our nationhood should be based on civic
nationality. Adoption of the concept of civic citizenship and
humanitarian principles will make our state modern and liberate
the people from their primordial inclinations. But human rights
approach must involve four key phases--liberation of entire
people including Kamaiya (bonded labor), entitlement to rights
of various historically disenfranchised sections of society
including Dalits and women, social opportunities for workers,
poor and indigenous people and establishment of good governance.
"Obviously," argued Shanta Pathak, "democracy
requires democratically virtuous citizens."
There are good provisions in the interim constitution, such
as social justice, social security, right to work, education,
health, information, culture etc. This constitution has also
sought to extend the concept of citizenship from political to
social, economic and cultural spheres. But, ironically, the
state does not have sufficient capacity and resources to realize
these rights. This has contributed to a chasm between moral
commitment and political reality and the intensification of
identity politics. In this context, capacity-building of the
state is very important so that it can maintain a balance between
civic order and deliver key good governance functions. An effective
state reflects society's genuine will, interests and aspirations
including the reflection of local sentiments and political culture.
The Nepalese political parties and civil society need to communicate
properly to the public about their rights and duties and enlist
their participation in the democratization process. They should
allow them to learn, understand and make use of their rights
Chief District Officer Rishi Kesh Niraula opined that management
of political transition in Nepal requires numerous sequences
and also a caution on the part of state leaders, political parties
and non-state actors. "Civic education," he said,
"should build public consciousness, a collective understanding
about the state and its functionaries such as civil administration
and judiciary. A weak state cannot serve the public, therefore,
civil administration must be strengthened so that it can contribute
to the timely holding of free and fair CA election." Ujjwal
Baral articulated the need to invent alternative means to end
the current political deadlock in the country and discover common
ground formula for the common program of ruling parties until
the holding of CA elections. This is essential to link democratic
process to peaceful resolution of conflict.
Constitutional expert Kashi Raj Dahal explained various traditions
of constitution-drafting process in the world and argued that
the constitution drafted by Constituent Assembly (CA) is the
most participatory process. He explained three modes of election-
majoritarian, proportional and mixed one and highlighted the
merits and demerits of all these systems. One participant asked:
Does fully proportional election system as demanded by many
ethnic groups and CPN (Maoist) undermine individual sovereignty
and freedom? K. R. Dahal answered that a lot of things depend
on constitutional safeguards, political culture and roles of
various institutional culture of society. Many women participants
demanded that women candidates should be given more positions
in first-past-the-post election system than the proportional
one so that they can become competitive in the future political
development of the nation. Similarly, laws regarding abolition
of patriarchy must be enforced in earnest so that it enables
attitude change of the holders of power and leads to social
equality. Civic education on the basis of social equality should
be imparted from the childhood age up to graduate levels. This
will provide citizens cognitive, effective and evaluative orientation
towards civic virtues and rule of law.
Local Development Officer posed that as civil servants are
posted in various places they do not have option to cast their
votes to the candidates of their liking. The same problem applies
to many young people working in the Gulf countries as they do
not have any opportunity to cast in the place they work. One
dilemma posed by a worker was this: The constitution promises
to give rights to them as per law but laws are never formulated.
To this Kashi Raj Dahal replied, "Workers should build
coalition for action in this matter and lobby for the realization
of their rights granted by the constitution." Participants
wanted to know when court decision is based on majority formula
how it can guarantee fair justice where every judge agrees.
He reminded the participants of Nepali aphorism: "Justice
should not be based on a platform for thief and death sentence
for a saint." Rule of law should be based on reason, rationality
and ethics. Legal ethics defines the boundaries of rights and
duties of citizens. He expressed optimism that Nepal's archaic
tradition is undergoing change due to pressures of the affected
parties, growth of a cosmopolitan civic society and the influence
of humanitarian laws.
Constant voters and civic education program and democratization
of society can contribute to the formation of a rational public
which is essential for democratic stability, justice and peace.
A political culture based on human rights tries to balance between
individual rights and collective interests. Participants also
raised a number of questions regarding the roles of political
parties, civil society and people's institution in the continuous
education. They also made comparison with political education
imparted by the educational institutions of the state and indoctrination
by political parties and demanded that intellectuals should
formulate a compulsory and regular civic course to all the stakeholders
of society so that they do not deviate from constitutional principles
while exercising their fundamental and human rights. Democratic
stability works best if it is buttressed by a coherence between
law and politics and maintains an equilibrium between popular
aspirations, power and legitimacy.
Shanta Pathak asked whether the market-driven globalization
can be reshaped to the political interest of people. Both the
resource persons answered: global democratization processes,
ecological universalism, humanitarian principles, the movement
of global civil society, proliferation of social forums and
social charters are trying to overcome the democratic deficit
arising out of the current form of economic globalization and
problems faced by people and nation-states, specially those
nation-states of third world including Nepal. Global stability
requires the promotion of mutual interest of both the rich and
poor nations and formulation of common policies for the future.
Some participants were concerned not only about national political
developments but also the implications of external events and
sought answers about them. For example, why Constituent Assembly
in Cambodia could not bring political stability there? Why CA
drafted constitution in India has to frequently resort to presidential
rule in Assam, Bodo and other states? Why the voices of political
minorities remain unheard and unheeded in various countries
including Nepal? Can CA election solve the present crisis of
Burma? What lesions can Nepal earn from the experiences of other
countries in constructing democratic political regime? K. R.
Dahal answered all these questioned and argued that in order
to make CA meaningful political leadership must be clear on
four core issues-form of the head of state, structure and framework
of the state, nature of democratic polity and protection of
the interest of special areas and people which are historically
dispossessed and are completely left in the backwaters of human
The participants of Sindhuli appeared concerned about the crisis
of Nepali state, inability of seven-party government to create
security environment conducive to hold CA elections and activities
of various armed groups in the country's southern parts and
suggested that FES should organize solution-oriented seminar
in Kathmandu with key actors and engage with them in the formulation
of concrete policy ideas. They were also concerned about the
leadership and vision of the nation and preferred to abolish
all forms of violence, create a democratic society based on
human rights and participatory institutions and redesign the
state based on shared interest of all Nepalese people. Only
then, political actors and institutions, who are deviating from
the path trodden by the constitution can be restored and people
will have ownership on them.
In the evaluation of the program participants at Sindhuli district
appreciated the inclusive nature of the seminar for the first
time and observed that it has helped to improve the level of
their understanding about political issues of the nation. They
also promised that they will act as multipliers of knowledge
at the grassroots level and within the communities they represent.
But, they requested that in the future similar types of activities
should be organizes on themes such as constitutional issues,
peace building and development at Sindhuli district.