Published in The Nepaltelegraph.com on 31 Dec. 2014 ::
Nepal’s past politics recalled
The media generally reports news about political debates in the Parliament in summary and legislative information is available to citizens and the media. As the Parliament is the most effective avenue for citizens to be heard and heeded, parliamentarians’ role in political education is very effective. The Speaker of the House opines that in the parliamentary system, if political parties do not function as a teacher, all the sectors of the nation reflect incapacity. He has further noted that Nepalese MPs lack both legislative knowledge and skill. But, the government of the majority party often decides policies and the majority in parliament endorses them. The communication process between the majority party and their parliamentarians is significant not only to shape and control policy options but also to influence public opinion. Although the coalition partners dominate the parliamentary process in Nepal, present and pass the bills they like, the role of opposition in terms of critical debates cannot be neglected because it is the opposition that has pressed for justification and inspired for the amendment of the bill, whether it is the Tanakpur Agreement, or the Mahakali Treaty. Still, given the current size of the cabinet of ministers (Written long time ago: Ed). , the ability of MPs to influence the decision- making process has been greatly diminished. There are several aspects that provide some insights into how the legislature in Nepal contributes to the political education of citizens.
Parliamentary committee meetings of each party, and among the parties, offer a basis for resolving problems. The committee systems are increasingly being accepted in Parliament as a way to promote the policy-making process. In Nepal, however, except the Account Committee, all committees are ceremonial in function and are not able to serve as a counterweight to the power of the executive. Human Rights and Foreign Affairs Committees of the Parliament have hardly contributed anything to the democratization process in Nepal.
- MPs regularly organize meetings with various sections of the society such as journalists and intellectuals to get policy input from them on specialized areas and provide information to the intellectuals. This has provided access to groups and interests outside the legislature. Legislative policy-making in Nepal is, however, weakened by a lack of sufficient resources to conduct research on policy questions, develop plans, analyze data, and draft laws. One critic calls it “legislative failure in Nepal.”
- Press conferences organized by the parliamentary political parties have some effect on political communication to reach the makers of public policy. But independent citizens these days increasingly feel that MPs refuse to acknowledge their accountability to their respective political parties and the electorates. This explains why they have even disobeyed the party whip in the parliamentary voting.
- The legislative support research document provided by the Parliamentary Service Internship Program (PSIP), a tripartite venture of the Parliament Secretariat, Central Department of Political Science and the Asia Foundation continues to make the public aware of the bills originated, debated, passed and amended in the parliament. But, this program is going to cease very soon.
In the development cooperation of Nepal, democracy and human rights have figured quite recently, only after the restoration of democracy. In the downfall of the Panchayat regime, international support played a substantial role. The growth of a critical mass of intellectuals, such as professional groups, students, human rights activists, etc served as a catalyst for political change in Nepal. This mass was vital in the transition of Nepal to multi-party democracy. International cooperation seems to be there in almost all areas of democracy and development in Nepal. A number of international organizations are involved in Nepal in the democratization process. Yet, consistent with statist preferences, most of the donor approaches seem to be top-down, with little genuine participation, empowerment, and self-reliance of the people.
USAID until recently had been supporting a number of organizations under the democracy project. USAID and Asia Foundation have been helping the Nepalese NGOs in conducting public opinion surveys, helping in the protection of human rights, women and development, public sector reforms, protection of minority rights and economic and legal reforms. The training of legislators in parliamentary procedures, policy formulation and the formation of a democratic political culture had also been the goal of Asia Foundation until recently. But, except economic reforms and gender projects, many of the Asia Foundation and USAID programs have ceased now, due to the shortage of funds. Similarly, the Ford Foundation is involved in the field of media and democratization in Nepal. It also appears interested in supporting initiatives for sub-regional cooperation.
DANIDA is mainly involved in electoral reforms, such as the introduction of voters’ Identity Cards, decentralization and local self- government, establishment of resource training centers in Kathmandu, Nepalgunj and Biratnagar to train Nepalese journalists, modernization of higher secondary education and training of public and police officials through seminars on human rights and democracy. Reforming the police also includes their training in professional areas as well as educating them on human rights and citizen rights. Besides, DANIDA has also been supporting the parliamentary secretariat in equipping the Parliament with modern audio and visual technology, to organize workshops and training programs on the roles and responsibilities of the parliamentarians, legislative procedures, and many technical matters of parliamentary interest. FINIDA has recently begun to take interest through the Institute for Human Development (IHD) to organize “How to Be Good Parliamentarians” involving the parliamentarians of all the political parties, minister for parliamentary affairs and the speaker.
Efficiency and accountability of public institutions seem to be the goals of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. One the one hand, these institutions are involved in reforming the higher education system in Nepal and, on the other, they seem to be oriented towards improving the climate for business, financial management and women and development. The World Bank, in particular, is also involved in the poverty alleviation scheme in Nepal. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has also been involved in poverty alleviation, sustainable development, good governance, local self-government, decentralization and gender issues. Its democratization components involve: political accountability and legitimacy, an independent judicial system, bureaucracy accountability, freedom of information and expression, effective and efficient public sector management and cooperation with NGOs and civil society organizations.
The German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) is primarily involved in rural development through self-help promotion, urban development through local efforts, environment management and promotion of small scale industries with the guiding principles of people’s participation, target group orientation, implementation of pluralism, transparency and accountability, decentralization, sustainability, innovation, women’s participation, local skills and conservation, program management and environment conservation. The recipients of German cooperation have to fulfill at least five preconditions: human rights, democracy, rule of law, market-oriented economic policy and development-orientation of state. The political foundation of Germany like Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), and Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FNS) are focusing on decentralization and development in Nepal.
Particularly, FES has been active in the field of trade union education, media, parliamentary reporting, regional cooperation, civil society and NGOs. Its key consideration are: democratization of the political structure and political culture and supporting its partner organizations in initiating open dialogues on educational, social, political, economic, and environmental issues in Nepal. Besides, there are more than 80 International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) in Nepal involved in different areas such as political awareness, social reforms, welfare of indigenous people especially of Badi, Chepang and Tharu communities, child welfare, health, community development, education, sustainable development, etc. Their contribution to the democratization process of Nepal is indirect.
What can be done?
- Political education program in Nepal must involve two fundamental tasks: first, citizen’s loyalty to democracy must override ethnic, linguistic, caste, and cultural loyalties; and second, it should contain the social integration potential. A secular policy priority is needed to increase the legitimacy of the political leadership which should, in the long-run, minimize parochial loyalties.
- Political education in Nepal is necessary for the Nepalese citizens to develop a habit of loyalty towards democracy and human rights and concert their actions toward strengthening the democratic polity. The Nepalese polity has not been able to achieve this mission because major political parties have not been able to establish a common identity with democratic values and demonstrate consensus when the need arises. This is why there is a gap between authority and legitimacy in Nepal. There is a potential in political education to bridge this gap. This is a serious gap, because of the country’s underdeveloped status, and one that could seriously jeopardize the credibility of authority if serious work is not initiated in this direction. This is particularly so where legitimacy rests on the satisfactory performance of the government, at least in fulfilling the basic minimum needs of the masses. Without this, Nepalese democracy cannot achieve the tasks of developing, sustaining, and justifying its legitimacy. And if people do not find anything in common between themselves and the polity, an absence of political education, both at the leadership level and the people’s level, governance and democracy too can sever ties that might be there.
- Political education plays a vital role in convincing the people that government respects their opinions and their participation in the political system makes the government transparent and accountable. Competence of the citizens always rests on the edge of their political consciousness, in the learning and experience about political life. The increased awareness about democracy and human rights would likely increase civic competence of the citizens and help to protect their interests.
- Activation of passive segments of the population and building their civic competence are a must to strengthen the foundation of democracy in Nepal. Political education is the only agent that can act as a catalyst here.
- Political education in Nepal should also involve literacy classes. As a majority of the citizens are illiterate and lack learning and reading habits, their ability to make decision for themselves, to vote and to participate in the political process is possible only if they are confident in their capacity to transform that reality.
- Political education also tries to help in initiating dialogues with the masses and holding the idea that education is a two-way process, educating the citizens as well as also learning from them. The more conscious and committed citizens are, the better they understand their role in the political process and the more confident they can become to take risks in their jobs.
- The political acculturation process has begun to incorporate the elite in the democratic value system and the ability of smaller parties have also increased in the communicative function with larger parties as a result of the democratization process in Nepal. Support to the multiparty polity in Nepal by the major political parties is an indication of a stable political order, one apt to manage conflicts within the bounds of political institutions. But, system support, i.e. support for a stable political order, does not guarantee democracy at all. Support for democracy in Nepal has to be seen in terms of beliefs in the system of political participation and the formation of a democratic political culture which, at the moment, does not seem encouraging. For example, ethnic and female participation in politics is declining. If the efficacy of political education lies in evoking the interest of citizens towards public life, it must be utilized in socializing, mobilizing and involving them in the political system.
- Lack of political education has compounded the confusion between democracy and economic efficiency in Nepal as the political system promises to equalize the citizens (one man one vote) while the economic system justifies inequality providing economic power to a privileged few.
The role of political education lies here, in revitalizing the vision of a good society nurtured by social mobilization in which power and wealth are decentralized, social and cultural cooperation among the citizens are voluntary and mediated, and society is run through self-governing institutions.
- The process of political education demands an ever increasing degree of political commitments to the ideals of democracy. The responsibility of political educators is to facilitate the transformation of an incipient political community into a civil society that has a sense of competence and is dedicated to the democratization of the state, polity and society.
Thanks POLSAN, Nepali Political Science & Politics, Vol. 5, 1996.