Civic Participation In Democracy
We have achieved a kind of ideological consensus or convergence among the political stakeholders in Nepal .The political parties whether they brand themselves as communists or democrats they have started to place their faith on democratic pluralism. No political groups except the few radical outfits refute the concept of power pluralism or multiparty polity in this country.
There was a time when the Maoists had spearheaded the armed struggle to establish what they called as the people's democracy – a notion invented to negate the multiparty democracy accusing it of being handmaid of the feudals and capitalists. They had vowed to replace it with the democracy of the proletariats which in the communist phraseology was called as the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The merger of the two big communist parties recently has witnessed the triumph of the democratic pluralism bidding adieu to the era when the communist forces tended to cling to the notion of one party communist system characterised by power monopoly. Puspakamal Dahal Prachanda – one of the principal architects and leader of the communist merger has observed in an interview recently that the democratic pluralism is the order of the day. But the concept of democratic pluralism is more or less synonymous with the notion of representative liberal democracy as widely understood in Nepal.
Though the convergence of political forces on democratic pluralism is a welcome development especially in terms of building value consensus and convergence, how would it fare to deliver the promises made to the people is yet to be tested. However, the establishment of liberal democratic institutions alone is not sufficient to cultivate democratic values and culture .In fact, 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 and concept.
The main form of citizen participation has been through the periodic elections only The discussion at public sphere was to be achieved through elections of the representatives who would debate the crucial issues and subjects on behalf of the citizens. In fact, democracy of this type would mean little to ordinary citizens in the underdeveloped societies like ours. The inability of citizens to hold governments and political leaders to account for their use of power is a form of democratic deficit.
In order to address the problems inherent in the liberal representative democracy several new innovative democratic provisions have to be introduced 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. 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 tendencies wrecking at 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 norms and ethos of democracy which largely disappointed and alienated the people. The people had become mere spectators of the recalcitrant and debauchery political games 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 can be said to be the result, among others, of the dysfunctional mismanagement of the representative parliamentary democracy. In fact the institutional provisions in the constitution promulgated in 1991 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 wide without any 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. In fact, without ownership and participation of the people in governing affairs of the state, democracy makes no sense to the ordinary people.
The relevance of participatory democracy has been felt and marginally advocated these days to make democracy relevant and meaningful in the day to day life of the people .through workshops deliberation forums and publications too. The civil society organisations are especially at the fore front to promote and enhance discourse on participatory democracy through widening and deepening democracy in the country.
These days, political parties have also started to find fault in the representative type democracy and therefore stress on making it more participatory and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the citizens. Among the parties, the Naya Shakti Party coordinated by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has especially laid greater emphasis on participatory democracy embracing it as one of the major planks of its programmatic thrusts.
Alongside prosperity (Samriddhi) and inclusion (Samabesi), Sahabhagita(participation) has been acknowledged as the most vital methodology to ensure participation of the citizens in the day to day affairs of the state and make development and democracy effective and meaningful to the life of ordinary populace. It has practiced direct democratic devices and tools in structuring the party apparatuses and committees to ensure that the participatory democracy is entrenched in the party organisation.
In fact, parties that are leader centric, authoritarian and patrimonial in their structures and character fail to imbibe into the values and ethos of democracy. There is therefore a need to democratising the representative democracy as postulated and espoused by Naya Shakti Party by creating democratic spaces at all levels of the government so that the citizens can be empowered as the subjects of the democracy.