Civic Education For Democracy

Mukti Rijal


We live in a democratic age. Multiparty democracy has become a globally accepted concept. A handful of states around the North Atlantic had been democracies till fifty year ago pursuant to the current definition of democracy . But today democracy has become a standard form of government. Rafique Zakaria in his famed work titled ‘The Future of Freedom’ makes an observation that monarchies are antique fascism and communism are utterly discredited . For the vast majority, democracy is the sole surviving source of political legitimacy. The renowned political analyst further adds in his book in a world that is increasingly democratic, the regimes that resist the democratisation trend produce dysfunctional societies which is the case in the Arab world. The people in Arab world sense and feel deprivation of liberty more strongly than ever before because they can see the alternatives and better situation in other parts through CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera and the other popular democratic mass media.
But newly democratic countries too often become a kind of sham democracies producing disenchantment, disarray, violence and new forms of despotism. Why this frustration with democracy occurs among the people in a growing way is a question that needs some dispassionate assessment. To answer this, eminent political scientist Samual P. Huntington in his monumental work titled ‘The Third Wave of Democracy’ makes some diagnostic observations noting that government produced by elections can turn to be inefficient, corrupt, short-sighted, irresponsible and dominated by special interests and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good".
Moreover, experiences and developments in our countries do indicate that. Democracy cannot function well only with the setting up of apex level democratic institutions like elected national legislature, independent judiciary and constitutional bodies such as elections commission, public service commission and so on. These are supply side institutions providing normative superstructures to democracy. However, demand side activities represented by civic initiatives and engagement are basic and important in making democracy functional and vibrant. It is said that civic vigilance is the price for democracy and liberty.
The preconditions for the successful working of democracy have been that people should be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Citizens should be enabled to actively engage to demand accountability and responsiveness to the state institutions. Moreover, civic participation and engagement can foster if civic inputs and feedback are effectively taken into consideration by public authorities. The authorities should have respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Similarly, rule of law, adherence to fundamental democratic principles, clear procedures and shared spaces for dialogue are vital to sustainable citizen participation and engagement.
Moreover, there should be recognition, protection and support for the role of civil society and its functions in advocacy and monitoring of public affairs. Civic participation should be promoted and enabled by fostering mutual respect between state and civil society .Gender equality and equal participation of all groups including those with particular interests and needs, such as young people, the elderly, people with disabilities or minorities need to be enhanced. Public authorities should plan and manage civil participation and clearly define the objectives, actors, process and timeline. They should provide up-to-date, comprehensive information about the decision-making process and procedures for participation. Empowerment of citizens and building their competence can be fostered through democracy and citizen education.
Education for political and social citizenship should be made an integral part of formal and informal education system. In fact, civic education for democracy has become the priority theme of many democratic nations. Some of the Asian and African countries have taken lead role in this. The move became effective especially when new democracies like Mongolia and Poland took lead role to promote democracy and civic education with a view to consolidate democratic institutions and make political leaders responsible and accountable to the people.
The United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution on education for democracy and citizenship in November 2012.The UN resolution on education for democracy and citizenship refers to the Charter of the UN and recognises the right to education which is enshrined in the international treaties and documents including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and so on. The UN resolution on education for democracy is linked meaningfully to other global initiatives has taken cognizance of the UN Declaration and commitments wherein the UN member states have emphasised efforts to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law as well as respect human rights and fundamental freedom including right to development.
The UN resolution calls upon member states to integrate education for democracy together with the national education framework. It further recognises the need to take into account innovative approaches and best practices in the field of education on democracy and citizenship to enhance civic empowerment and participation in political life at all levels.
Since Nepal has been a party to the UN resolution, the country should undertake various measures in promoting democracy and civic education to ensure that both political leaders and citizens are socialised into the core values and practices of rule of law, constitutional democracy and federalism. This can ensure that citizens have power to build pressure into political leadership to abide by and uphold democratic principles. Politicasl leaders should not bend their norms and values of rule of law to suit to their vested interests.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at [email protected]) 

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