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Understanding Nepal's Transition: From Constitution Writing to Nation Building

September 04, 2008 // 10:00am11:30am
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Panelists
Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, Former State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Central Member of Nepali Congress, National Planning Commission Member, Member of High Level Committee for the Resolution of Maoist Insurgency

Honorable Mrs. Kiran Yadav, Member of the Constituent Assembly; Central Member of Nepal Women's Association; and has worked to raise profile of Terai women at the national and local levels. Mrs. Yadav is the niece of the president of Nepal.

Mr. Dilli Bahadur Chaudhary, President and founder of the Backward Society Education (BASE), one of the largest grassroots educational movements in Nepal, with over 35,000 members; former Ashoka Fellow; Reebok Foundation Human Rights Award recipient

Moderators:
Hom Raj Acharya, Education Policy Analyst, Executive Office of the Mayor of Washington, D.C; Nepali community leader

Saji Prelis, Executive Director, Center for Peace Building International; Associate Director, Peacebuilding & Development Institute at American University

The end of Nepal's recent civil war between the government and a violent Maoist insurgency, lasting from 1996 to 2006, has heralded a rapid political shift towards democracy. By May 2008, Nepal had rejected monarchy rule, passed an interim constitution, formed its first interim parliament, and declared the state to be democratic federal republic. Now, in the post-conflict era, national and local leadership face many challenges to maintaining political stability and upholding democratic principles throughout Nepal. The panelists each discussed their personal experiences and involvement in the political process, and identified certain obstacles that remain.

Saji Prelis introduced the panelists, as well as the five other present Nepali delegates, all participating in the Center for Peace Building International's professional exchange program, intended to help them gain exposure to the American political process and meet with representatives of the US Department of State, USAID, and other organs of the American government. Prelis also introduced Hom Raj Acharya, a Nepali community leader and grassroots activist based in Washington.

Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat focused on the evolution of the peace process in Nepal and addressed what he perceived to be the main future challenges to the process. He began by explaining that the King Gyanendra's decision to become an absolute monarch as part of the greater effort against the Maoist insurgency actually became a major factor in uniting the Maoists and the democrats. There was an unparalleled outpouring of sentiment on both sides against the monarchy, resulting in widespread but peaceful demonstrations and an eventual peace accord between the democrats and the Maoists. Political agreements underlined the necessary transition of the Maoist party from a violent separatist group to a fully participatory and normal political party. Fortunately, Mahat said, the Royal Army has quickly transitioned to be the National Army, despite the anticipated and much-feared ambiguity of where their new allegiance would fall.

The parliamentary election, observed by the Carter Center, was relatively transparent and peaceful, with the Maoist party securing 29% of the vote, the largest current majority in Nepal's proportionally representative system. This win for the Maoists calls into question whether they will now remain democratically oriented, or revert to one-party rule. Mahat also pointed out the Maoists still command a private army of roughly 19,000 troops, whose reintegration has not yet been discussed in depth. Mahat believes this issue contributes to the common feeling of youth being generally detrimental in this context, acting as a sort of paramilitary, tax-levying police force. The federal character of the state is also tenuous, due to its vast ethnic diversity, with 62 indigenous groups in 72 electoral districts, making the task of addressing political demands daunting. Mahat finally said that he hoped that the Nepalese people would be inspired and enlightened by the workings of the international community, and believes that Nepal's future will be a democratic one.

The Honorable Mrs. Kiran Yadav, speaking in Nepalese, translated by Acharya, focused on issues pertaining to the women of the Terai Maithali indigenous ethnic group. She mentioned that of the 605 members of the Nepalese Constituent Assembly, 195 are women. Yadav, advocating specifically for Maithali women, identified lack of education, lack of political voice as widespread realities, and that more money and resources are needed for positive change. Yadav also mentioned that Nepali men have an important role to play in helping Nepali women to reach this goal. Cultural barriers to women's political participation are often even more ingrained in the mountainous, rural areas, where the challenge of changing ideas and reaching people with educational services is also greater. She also mentioned that there are similarities between Maithali women and ethnic Muslim women in Nepal, saying that the latter group is similarly oppressed, and enjoys very little participation in politics or otherwise. Yadav said that education is a key factor to be strengthened, especially for young girls, if women are to take a more participatory role in their own lives and the livelihood of their nation. Still, she said, the current level of women in congress is truly encouraging and that equal gender opportunity legislation could help the trend of women in politics continue.

Mr. Dilli Bahadur Chaudhary's remarks were centered on the problems caused by lack of education, the role and importance of youth engagement, and traditional perceptions of conflict, and how these factors influence or hinder stability. Chaudhary said that one of the biggest challenges is a psychological one; that the Nepalese just finished a conflict, but now it seems that they are entering another. One challenge is the Maoist party's continued use of youth members to physically assert their influence. Youth need to find a positive and peaceful outlet for their energy and charisma for political activities, or they will continue to be a disruptive force, according to Chaudhary. Chaudhary also said that education for children is important to Nepal's development, and that currently there is a large problem with child labor and exploitation, resulting from people's displacement and the disorder caused by war. Many children have become orphans, and many families fled violence and now do whatever is within their means to survive. Finally, he stated that integration of indigenous people is critical, but that their traditional culture can be an obstacle, sometimes favoring violence over negotiation to see that their demands are addressed. Since 75 percent of the population resides in rural areas, stability and development must find solid ground there.

Pawan Roy, Chairperson of Youth League Nepal, and one of the delegates present, also commented on youth, saying that his group has helped involve youth of different political preferences in peaceful advocacy. Since the Youth League Nepal doesn't represent any specific party, Roy believes that its activities help to strengthen democratic values among politically active youth.

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