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South Asia Peace Initiative

Rethinking Democracy in Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal - The experiment with democracy in South Asia needs to be revisited. This was the consensus expressed at the 13th South Asia Peace Initiative (SAPI) conference held in Kathmandu on April 14 (New Year’s Day in Nepal). The theme was, “Achieving Meaningful Democracy in South Asia: Challenges and Prospects.”

Legal experts, women’s rights advocates, political leaders, educators, and students, totaling more than 140 participants, agreed that participatory government was a must.

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At the same time, however, the freedom needed for democracy to function seems to have unleashed a torrent of social ills that can no longer be ignored, including: corruption, violence against women, increased economic disparity, family breakdown, and rampant immorality.

Amb. K.V. Rajan, former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, said, “Democracy is more than free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power. To be meaningful it must be accompanied by good governance and inclusive development. This can be possible only if the competition for power is moderated by a spirit of selfless service and sacrifice for the greater good. Sadly this aspect—which is at the core of the Universal Peace Federation prescription for meaningful democracy—is missing in today’s democratic practice in the region.”

At the outset, Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, former Minister of Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, outlined the history of UPF's South Asia Peace Initiative. Starting in 2005, the first ten events were in Nepal and specifically designed to coach Nepalese leaders along their long trek to peace. The 11th and 12th peace initiatives were held in Afghanistan and India, respectively.

The chairman of Nepal’s Constitutional Committee (2009-12), Hon. Nilambar Acharya, emphasized the importance of leadership. Although democracy needs the rule of law, the separation of powers, and constitutional supremacy, without good leaders, good governance is simply impossible even if these other essentials are in place.

“Pluralism is a key element of democracy,” explained the President of Forum for Women, Law and Development and former Member of Parliament, Hon. Sapana Malla Pradhan. She then asked to audience to ask themselves, ‘What can we do practically to end disparity and gender discrimination in the structure of government?’

The second woman speaker, Dr. Meena Acharya, General Secretary of the Tanka Prasad Acharya Foundation, pointed out a “care crisis” in governments globally. She noted that inclusive and functional government needed freedom, yet this also seems to cause families to break down and leads to a lack of care especially for children.

Hon. Upendra Yadav, former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister and current President of a Madhesi People's Rights Forum party in Nepal, was straight-forward, “Nepal as transitioned from a monarchy to a democracy, but we have failed to realize our democratic ideals.” He said this was because Nepal still needed “economic democracy” and “social democracy.”

A leader of the largest political party in Nepal, UCPN – Maoist, Mr. Ram Karki, called for a “revolution of politics, not a revolution of violence.” He emphasized that socialism without democracy was “unthinkable.”

Dr. Robert S. Kittel, Education Director of UPF-Asia, quoted John Adams, the second President of the United States, who said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Dr. Kittel then highlighted the urgent need to identify a set of common, universal values.

Dr. Chung Sik Yong, a Korean national and the Regional Chair of UPF-Asia, was the last speaker. “On the one hand, the most important prospect that democracy offers us is the opportunity to be free,” he said, and then cautioned, “But unless people understand the nature and purpose of freedom, that same freedom can be destructive.”

The Closing Remarks were given by Dr. Suresh Raj Sharma, former Vice-Chancellor of Kathmandu University as well as former Chairman of UPF-Nepal. He asked Nepalese to endure a bit longer, saying, “We are on the road to democracy. It is a long process and requires patience.”

A lively question and answer session followed. Four television stations covered the event as well as the national print media. And to celebrate the Nepalese New Year, all the guests were invited to a “high tea” at the Yak and Yeti hotel, the conference venue.

The previous evening,  a consultative meeting was held with former Prime Minister H.E. Madhav K. Nepal. The following day delegates reported about the event to Nepal’s Vice President, Rt. Hon. Parmanand Jha.

SAPI is a project of the Universal Peace Federation of Nepal. UPF-Nepal has been the most active NGO supporting Nepal’s peace process.

NOTE: After a 10-month long political impasse, it was announced on March 14 that leaders from the four major political forces agreed to form an interim election government under the leadership of the sitting chief justice.

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