A Citizen's Roadmap for Nepal's Democracy
KESHAV PRASAD BHATTARAI suggests a citizen's roadmap for Nepal's democracy.
For decades we as a nation have not been able to lead and represent peoples' strength, enthusiasm, courage and honor. This, we think, has limited our collective strength and ability to earn a life of dignity.
Promotion of human dignity by means of freedom, peace, democracy and respect to nature and right to development should be the ultimate aim of each and every human being. But we cannot achieve them by chance but by design and a competent and committed democratic leadership. Only better-motivated people supported and inspired by a true order of democratic governance up to the grassroots level help to realize this.
Many hope that the Constituent Assembly will effectively address all the challenges Nepal is facing these days: particularly the need for a stable peace, democracy and development.
But after the Constituent Assembly Election, it increasingly appears that people in power are betraying the people and taking pride on shattering their dreams. It looks like again Nepal's democracy will be forced to commit suicide and people will suffer the worst.
Often the question before us is this-- what is wrong with us as Nepalis? Each time we bring change, why do we fail to own it and shape it to suit our national interest? Why do our national goal and identity seem to us so blurred? Why we, the Nepalis, with such an industrious and heroic population, a nation with such an exemplary cultural and natural diversity, and geography with such abundance of natural wealth and unbroken long and proud history of its people have failed so many times? Why we, a nation between the greatest civilizations of all the ages, befriended by friendly international community, are living with this most unpleasant destiny?
Democracy, in its own, is symbolism of citizens' supremacy and their values. It represents a state system, which is an end in itself. Similarly to that effect, it is a means as well, because it supports people to promote and protect their core human values of freedom, justice and dignity of life.
Democracy is not only the issue of state responsibility but also the political, social and moral responsibility of citizens themselves. Therefore every citizen should put an effort for social, political and moral responsibility towards democracy. If citizens ignore this, they would be deprived of its fruits.
We are a democracy without democrats. This I think is the crux of our problem. It basically is a rule of law. It represents peoples' voices and choices in government and ensures state accountability to the people. If we follow this standard, democracy to us would not be an alien culture. It existed among us in the Vedic and Epic ages. Long ago, people of Mithila, Vaishali and Lichhavi era had developed an advanced democratic system. Historians have written that the great Prithivi Narayan Shah would send his officials to every household and collect peoples' opinions if he had to appoint some high level state official or to make a new decision. Even today, among different communities of people such as Newars, Sherpa, Tamang, Gurung, Tharu, Thakalis, we can see a democratic system in practice their family and community.
In every part of the world successful democracy is rooted in their own cultures and belief systems. If it is built and developed on their own soil or if it has become a part of their social fabric, it has achieved miracles for people. If democracy is copied from others, if we miss to grow it to suit our geography of thought and belief system and learn its true values and spirit, we are easily pushed to anarchy and chaos in the name of democracy.
No doubt, only democracy means to ensure everyone's participatory contribution, to provide everyone's access to the available resources in the country and to establish everyone's equal rights to benefit the country. Only with such arrangements everyone's rights, dignity and responsibility can fostered. Only these will provide powerful motivations to people to respect the law so that their appropriate structures can be developed.
Human Happiness and Prosperity
There cannot be an alternative to democracy in providing security to the citizens from political, social and economic catastrophes. As Al Smith says, it is true that all the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy (not less).
Similarly, only democracy can accelerate and sustain development. More importantly, only democracy that truly represents all classes and groups of the society is the best and the only treatment of all forms of social and political violence, terror and anarchy. Democracy itself is a diagnosis of all forms of wars. Neither violence nor terrors have set foundations in a fully democratic society, nor do we have any instance of warfare between two fully democratic countries.
Democracy is not only management of governance to secure the citizens' right, freedom and respect but it is also a symbol of the rulers' right, respect and dignity. In the process of governance, democracy keeps the regime away from cruel and authoritarian measures and ensures the state's moral power, valor and security.
Similarly, democracy develops not only a nation's economic prosperity but also cultural, moral and social assets for building human happiness.
With reference to above, we can consider that democracy has mainly two pillars: First, citizens' effective control over the state's decisions and, second, certain level of equality among the citizens in such control and ownership. Some norms such as participation, authorization, representation, accountability, transparency, responsiveness and unity are accepted as indivisible for creation of the above pillars of democracy.
Every state and society should create and develop democracy and every state, society and government should have roadmap for the strengthening of democracy. More or less, the constitution and the law provide this direction. The political parties also work with the state and government through their statutes and manifestoes under the nation's constitution and legal framework.
Every citizen should have a roadmap of democracy. Every social and professional organisation should have it. They can prepare a civic declaration independently or in collaboration with others. They can develop programs to strengthen democracy and to make it effective.
Without our strong and determined group efforts, the history of modern Nepal cannot be written. When in writing the nations’ history, the presence and participation of every citizen cannot be ignored.
Only better-motivated people supported and inspired by a true order of democratic governance at all levels of society can change the impossible into possible. Then only a national economy where all sections of society can have their justifiable share, better education to their children, state provision of social protection to the needy people, and most important of all, greater freedoms for humanity could help ensure certain level of development.
In a globalized society if people and nations do not build their ability through competent structures , best suited to protect their interests and make best use of their assets, their survival as nations and cultures can become vulnerable.
For long, we have been dreaming for a new world with all basic needs of all people fulfilled. Now only we have begun to learn that not just natural resources but strong knowledge base, political will, substantive freedom and rights of people with strong institutional policy and structural support matters much in creating prosperity for nations and people. Similarly, we have recently learned that geography is not a barrier to development, it is democracy and rule of law that accelerates development and builds prosperity despite the odds. Otherwise Michael Gorbachev may ring true for us that democracy may be truth some where, but falsehood for us everywhere.
The Leadership Question
When combined together, appropriate goal-oriented institutions and their accountability help make democracy work for common people. It also helps to effectively against corruption and abuse of power which, if goes unchecked, makes a mockery of democracy and brings havoc in state and society. No doubt, the world's future belongs to democracy and rule of law at all levels of governance. Our ability in advancing ethical, legal and political values based on rule of law ultimately reflects into global peace and development.
Institutionalizing democracy, development and rule of law is the greatest challenge for humanity these days.
Our leadership must internalize these values. Unless a democracy (by means of rule of law) is competent enough to make public officials accountable and to distribute economic and political power more evenly, such a democracy cannot sustain and it will only bring about political instability. We are an example of this and are suffering much of it.
Strong knowledge bases, political will, substantive freedom and rights of people with strong institutional policy and structural support are needed in creating prosperity for nations and people. We also need to invest in education and heritage. These are equally important in accelerating development and building prosperity.
Thus if people themselves internalize the values that democracy always strives for progress, reinforces and nurtures democratic cultures no power in world can go against democracy.
The National Self
The customary character of Nepali politics couldn't represent the country's economy, power and capacity as well as the national scruples built up by devotion, toil, enthusiasm and courage. Nepali citizens, therefore, are deprived of the achievement that could be gained through appropriate social, economical, diplomatic effort, commitment and mobilisation of total power and capacity of Nepal.
The popular political system initiated in 1950 has not been able to give Nepal a clear destination yet. Citizens' poor consciousnesses, low level of confidence, injustice and revulsion against authoritarianism from all quarters have created political abuses and vulgarities for immoral and apolitical power craze. Consequently, even after the implementation of development plans for half of the century, almost half of the country's population has not been able to receive state protection, such as in the form of basic human welfare and security.
As a result, our democracy has become the hostage of such a situation, and we have lost the national will power in favour of national democracy, development and prosperity. Besides, not only the state policies were lacking in the effort of country's economic, social and humanitarian development but even the concept of civil rights, justice, peoples' enthusiasm, their security of welfare were not incorporated into those efforts.
Despite the CA Election and our preparation for new initiatives for a new Nepal, we have failed to make a strong bid to fight the present situation, infused with unbound but corrupt moral practices and hypocrisy that we developed in our personal, social and political norms and practice. There is very little to be satisfied with.
Nation's Power and Legitimacy
Many nations have secured enormous prosperity, stability and dignity with the great strength and power gained from the peoples' freedom, democratization of state and society. They have secured opportunity of justice and equality for all.
Our leadership is not trying to understand this reality and is attempting to limit the state authority as tools and means for the limited few in power rather than empowering citizens and safeguarding their rights, dignity and security. The civic power hasn't been transformed into state power. As a result, our state system has become so weak and submissive in its goals.
The political character pursued by the state determines the basis of state power and capacity. It has become a notion of politics to transform every individual's power into immense state power. If we evaluate the main characters of politics and its origin, growth, destination, decision and all the working procedures, this cannot be otherwise but democratic. Undemocratic system of governance means that it is both anti-national and illegitimate.
Globalization is the greatest reality of our day. Our future will undoubtedly be more uncertain and painful if we are not able to tap the opportunities and ensure security it provides to people in all aspects of their national life. The only option available to us is to face the challenges posed by globalization and make the best choices on available options.
People Power and Leadership
Democracy doesn't keep waiting for any incarnation to be tested and applied to the needs of a society. Every Nepali should therefore experiment with democracy by themselves. It can be realized (at least the birth of it) by creating fair politics, transparency and effectiveness in national life and by creating meaningful and effective role for every person, class and group in political practices.
Under the participatory political culture, a nation can achieve its goals and earn respect and prosperity for itself by establishing everyone's access to freedom, equality, justice and security and by encouraging every citizen to decide their own future. Politics, development and economy have no goal and shape without everyone's ownership.
Structural effort should be made for developing qualified and capable leadership among the Nepali citizens. For providing such leadership, we have to build courage among citizens to do the rightful things for better options and opportunities. By doing this, we can uncover tremendous energy, power and capacity inherent in Nepali citizens. We need to create hope, confidence, motivation and determination among them.
Learning from Others
Adequate national, social and economic power and capacity for achieving peace, development, prosperity, security and stability can be developed only by linking every Nepali with the success of this effort by developing continuous chain of successes, encouragement and the optimum level of commitment. By its extensive socialization a good democratic order can be established. For this, there's also the need of civic training to systematize their demands and expectations through the extensive debate and discussion in the civil society about the jurisdiction and power of the state and social organization.
Institutionalizing democracy and leading people in realizing their dreams means designing and re-designing democratic institutions in representing the shifting power balance among political actors. This institutionalizing cannot be attained in a political and economic vacuum but with strong and even divergent agendas of socio-political and economic visions of individuals and groups. Similarly, broadening democratic spaces for every group and people intertwining all social and cultural discourses can lead to a peaceful co-existence and cooperation between them.
No doubt, writing a constitution is not a difficult job. But representing all sections of society in reflecting their aspiration and building state capacity with minute technical details in fulfilling that aspiration is even more challenging. And here again the whole nation is to be united.
Most critical part of our job is that no institution can be perfect. According to Sunil Bastian and Robin Luckham, global political and economic contexts of any democratization and conflict management can not be undermined but externally driven conflict resolution and democratization have important dangers and limits tending to back-fire its initiators. This means that we can learn from the experiences from others, combine them with our own experiences and build the necessary strategies.
Such initiators or leaders must also consider the famous quotation of Churchill that victory has thousands of fathers while failures are orphans. To conclude with Sunil and Robin, good strategies to neutralize non-democratic politics are as essential as strategies to foster democratic politics with all the spaces open for institutional innovation through democratic politics and through responsiveness to civil and political society.
The author is president of Teachers' Union of Nepal (TUN)
• Bastian Sunil and Luckham Robin (edited) Can Democracy Be Designed?, Zed Books,2003
• Beetham David, Bracking Sarah, Iain Kearton and Stuart Weir, International IDEA Handbook on Democracy Assessment. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001.
• Comfort Nicholas, The Politics Book, Research Press, 2006.
• Dahl Robert, On Democracy, East West Press, New Delhi, 1998
• Human Development Report, UNDP, 2002
• Policy Declarations of Nepal Teachers’ Association's (NTA) Fifth National Congress (2005)
Posted by Editor on July 8, 2008 2:40 PM