We have been able to promulgate new federal republican constitution through the popularly mandated Constituent Assembly almost one and half years ago. This is a big achievement. However, at a time when the representative liberal democracy has been criticised for being very formal and procedural, have we really envisaged the provisions and designed the institutions in the new constitution that go beyond mere rhetoric of democracy?
In fact, we had had all the possibility to learn from the experiences on formal democracy of our own in the past. Moreover, there had been several lessons and experiences at our disposal to learn from the experiences and lessons of other countries in this respect. In those countries where liberal democracy is practiced a large number of people and common mass are found frustrated and disappointed.
The liberal representative model of democracy puts more emphasis on institutions than on civic participation and engagement. And citizenship is treated as a mere passive notion. The main form of citizen participation has been through elections. The rational discussion at public sphere is to be achieved through the elections of the representatives who would debate the crucial issues and subjects on behalf of the citizens.
In fact, democracy means little to ordinary citizens. Inability of the citizens to hold governments and political leaders to account for their use of power is another form of deficit. In order to address the problems and issues, several new innovative democratic provisions have been introduced in these countries at different levels to ensure that the people not only elect their representatives but also ensure that they are institutionally and functionally enabled to monitor their performance.
Moreover, people can participate in the day-to-day affairs of the state. Since 1990 we have practiced multiparty democracy and set up institutions and structures that supported to make the representative democracy alive and functional. However, much to our dismay and disappointment, we did witness all the deviant behaviours and anomalous tendencies wrecking the vitals of democratic institutions and practices.
The political leaders failed to act according to the rules of the democratic games and indulged themselves in serving their petty interests. They breached all the norms and ethos of democracy which largely disappointed and alienated the people. The people had become mere spectators of the recalcitrant political games and tricks since they were not able to do anything to intervene in the murkier water of politics and deter such activities effectively. The conflicts and manifestations of disenchantments that ensued and spread across the country in the guise of the Maoists’ armed insurgency can be said to be the result, among others, of the dysfunctional mismanagement of the representative parliamentary democracy.
We have been assessing that the provisions in the constitution promulgated in 1990 could not deliver because they failed to establish and ensure the participation of the people in the governing process of the country. The gap between the political government and citizens became very wide without any sincere and substantive attempts to bridge it.
However, one can take solace from the fact that the constitution of Nepal promulgated in September 2015 through the Constituent Assembly has accorded important place to the local government that is a significant cornerstone of participatory democracy. However, this is not sufficient.
The most important part is to set up institutions at the local level that provide democratic spaces to the citizens to participate in decision making process, oversee and monitor the actions of their representatives and the government as such. Obviously, without ownership and participation of the people in the governing affairs of the state, democracy makes no sense to the ordinary people.
Relevance of participatory democracy has been felt and being advocated these days to make democracy relevant and meaningful in the day-to-day life of the people through workshops deliberation forums, seminars and publications. The civil society organisations are especially at the fore front to promote and enhance discourse on participatory democracy through widening and deepening democracy.
One such forum created through the Action Aid Nepal and Institute for Governance and Development (IGD) collaboration that hit fifth year since its commencement in 2012 AD can be mentioned in this context. The collaboration is credited with an enviable record of four annual conferences and publications on different issues relevant to participatory democracy. The annual conferences drew an enthusiastic participation of perspective builders, scholars, advocates and practitioners of participatory democracy in consecutive years from within and abroad where experiences and practices were shared, cross-fertilised and even contested. The annual conferences did precede the regional conclaves as well.
But following the election to the Constituent Assembly in 2013, the participatory democracy conferences were designed more or less either to inform the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly to help generate inputs for democratic constitutional design without, however, losing sight on the practioners’ perceptions, lessons and experiences at the ground.
The annual conference on partcipatory democracy held in December 2015 offered to discuss different provisions of the newly enacted democratic federal republic constitution with references to the discontents of Madhes for its alleged failure to address some of their concerns and issues.
The AAN-IGD forum is organising the conference this year too, especially with a view to discuss the challenges of constitution implementation with special sight on the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs). It is expected that the deliberations would be useful and fruitful since experiences and challenges not only within the country but also outside are also critically assessed to enhance the democratisation of the state and society.