Social mobilisation Empowering citizens and electorate

Nepalis should be motivated to demand a real say in the nation building process.

One of the positive contributions of Jana Andolan II is the agreement among all political actors, including the SPA, CPN-Maoist and civil actors, on having a new constitution drafted by the people through their representatives elected to the Constituent Assembly (CA).

Despite the confusing messages coming from the ongoing peace process, the government is trying to give the impression that it is preparing for CA polls by May/June 2007. But if untoward incidents do not occur in the days to come and the political actors behave sensibly and maturely, the country could have the CA polls between May/June and September/October 2007. The Nepalis, for the first time after the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951, may have an opportunity to participate in the constitution-making process.

In the context of the difference among rural and urban areas and members of different sections of society, especially the marginalised and the disadvantaged from the perspectives of various indices, one could imagine how far members of these sections and those in rural and far-flung areas realise the need for not missing the opportunity of participating in the CA polls. But the CA, although its composition and election process are still hazy, has become the buzzword in political discourse.

Nepal had tried democracies twice in the past — first time in the 1950s when the Rana oligarchy was overthrown and the next time after the overthrow of the three decade-old Panchayat system in 1990 — and failed to sustain it on both occasions. Once again Nepalis have a chance to devise a system that is sustainable and have the ownership of all the deprived and marginalised sections. This opportunity should not be lost. This is possible when all the sections of society understand the importance of participating in CA polls and in the entire constitution-making process.

The mere declaration by major political and civil actors to go for CA to frame a new constitution does not guarantee neither free and fair elections nor the participation of different sections such as women, caste/ethnic groups, and Dalits. The electorate has to be assured of free and fair elections for which necessary environment will have to be created. Further, they need to be made aware of the importance of the elections to this vital body and motivate them to participate in it. There is a need for social mobilisation of the citizens and electorate for the CA polls and in the constitution-making process.

No doubt a number of parties are trying to offer political education to their cadres which is insufficient. It is insufficient in the sense that party schools/training courses are guided by a feeling of informing and justifying their policies and programmes to attract voters, highlight the importance of a particular party and criticise others. This is but natural for the party concerned to win over the support of the citizens/electorate to one’s ideology.

Therefore, inculcation and promotion of citizenship values, of being responsible members of the state and civil society is equally important. So what is required is citizens/electorate’s empowerment, especially the marginalised and disadvantaged sections to encourage them to participate in the CA election process and to make their claims, demands and express aspirations that they want to be included in the new constitution freely and without the intimidation of any group/s. Women, Dalits, Janajatis and other ethnic minorities have to be made aware about their role, responsibilities and obligations in the CA polls. Furthermore, their optimum participation in the elections to this body and through this body in constitution-making process has to be encouraged. They need to be motivated to assert their rights and demand a real say in the nation building process and the right to participate in the political and public decision-making body during the constitution-making process.

In addition to political training by the political parties, a social mobilisation system through a NGO that is apolitical in terms of its affiliation to the ideology of a particular political party with a view to empower the people — specially the marginalised and disadvantaged ones in the CA polls and the making of the new constitution — needs to be established and launched. Towards the establishment and launching of such a system, there has to be a broad coalition and agreement between the major political actors and international community, if they want to have the optimum participation of the citizens/electorate in the process and contribute to devising and establishing a democratic system sustainable for at least 50 to 75 years as the country can no longer have the luxury of changing the constitution every decade or so.

Sooner the action is taken by these forces through a discussion with the NGOs that are apolitical, better would be the possibility of a successful handling of the constitution-making process.

Dhungel is executive director, IIDS