Nepal is famous in international arena for its bountiful nature, impeccable character of its citizens, diversified culture, religious tolerance, the Mount Everest, the Lord Buddha, and the legacies of Gurkhas and Nepali Army; but the country is also infamous for its high level of poverty, rise of terrorism, impunity, outward mass exodus of its youths, underdevelopment, criminalization of politics, continued instability and rampant corruption.
Above all, erosion of political value system, crises of confidence in political leadership and political mismanagement have generated widespread disenchantment amongst Nepali people, both within and outside Nepal, in urban as well as rural areas; particularly following the failure of the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft a new constitution. It seems that our democracy is being failed by our own leadership.
PHOTO: COUNCIL OF EUROPE/J.DENIER
Recently, the Council of Europe (CoE), the common organization of 47 European countries, had invited around 1,500 delegates and 200 experts from 120 countries to the World Forum for Democracy (WFD), including this columnist from Nepal. The world forum organized in the beautiful city of Strasbourg in France at Palaise De’ la Europe, the seat of the Council of Europe and the headquarters of the European Parliament, was the largest gathering ever to exclusively contemplate on issues and challenges of democracy in the 21st century. The forum allowed discussions and exchange of experiences between politicians, global leaders and members of civil society with the goal of identifying answers to pressing challenges in modern societies.
The presence of several Heads of State, Heads of Government and ministers, and chairpersons of political parties, leaders of civil resistance movements and civil rights defenders as well as, world famous writers/artists/journalists from various countries of Central America, Central Africa, West Africa, Arab States, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Pacific Rim and South Asia, including Nepal and Pakistan, made the gathering one of its kind.
On the occasion, the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Ms Tawakkol Karman from the Republic of Yemen emphasized that ‘citizens are above all’ and the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said that there is a pressing thirst for dignity amongst citizens throughout the world.
The discussions at the first-ever World Forum for Democracy was focused on politically vulnerable states like Syria, Guinea, Tunisia, Morocco, Albania and Nepal, particularly on issues concerning violations of democratic principles, restriction of civil liberties and political rights, abuse of human rights, lack of Rule of Law and rampant corruption.
The international group of anti-corruption expert panelists cited Nepal, “as the most corrupt country in the world” in terms of corruptions by political leaders and parties during the deliberation participated by renowned world personalities. Dr Srirak Plipat of Asia Pacific Transparency International and Dr Tinatin Ninua, Transparency International’s Political Corruption Program Coordinator came down heavily on Nepal’s political sector.
Moroccan PM Abdelilah Benkirane, who is alleged of restricting civic liberties in his country, showed his displeasure at the role of civil society and some European countries in the Moroccan affair. Likewise, the Chief of Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto, the son of late PM Benazir Bhotto and the president of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, stood against all odds, to shed lights about democratization process in his country.
However, it was baffling why former prime minister and UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was also invited to the event, choose to speak in a small closed-group gathering in Brussels, than to deliberate at the world forum participated by key international figures and personalities.
The session on ‘Money and Democracy’ underscored the importance of bringing political parties inside the tax-bracket, mandatory public disclosure through legal framework and holding of periodic elections to ‘recharge’ representation, some of the effective measures to strengthen democracy, especially in emerging democracies and countries passing through post-conflict transition. The conference also observed that though the civil society and media are capable of altering this state of affairs, they have been timid to confront the political sector.
The brinkmanship of Nepali political leaders, bad governance and the failure of the historic Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft a new constitution, has started to echo in the voices of external donors as well as Nepali citizens taking part in international forums and deliberations. After all, Nepal has already spent over Rs 146 billion on peace and constitution-making processes.
The world forum was an important event for Nepal because the role and support of member countries of the Council of Europe, both on moral and financial grounds, have immense value for Nepal’s peace and political process.
The 2006 People’s Movement brought Nepalis of all castes and creeds together for the common political purpose (freedom from monarchy), however, it failed to glue all Nepalis together for economic and social purposes. The then Interim Legislature Parliament’s successfully voted to replace the universally accepted parliamentary system with a hybrid political dispensation. But so far the new system has failed to bind Nepalis together.
The worst-case scenario would be that we, the ordinary citizens, would lose our collective voice which can shape the future roadmap of Nepal following the failure of the historic Constituent Assembly. Thus, today, we Nepalis face extraordinary chaos, fear and uncertainty whereas, elsewhere, the true ethos of democracy like ‘citizens above all’ and ‘dignified citizenry’ are taking root. It is disheartening that during this transition the leaders and their coterie have continued to thrive at the expense of the common citizens.
The author is President, MIREST Nepal, a media organization focused on, among other things, constitution making