On August 25 and 26, the Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS) organized multiparty discussion workshops with support from DIPD, inspired by the Danish political culture of collaboration on issues of common concern.
Report by Shrishti Rana, DIPD Representative in Nepal
On August 25 and 26, the Joint Mechanism for Political Party Strengthening (JOMPOPS) organized multiparty discussion workshops with support from DIPD, Inspired by the Danish political culture of collaboration on issues of common concern, the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS decided to organize multiparty dialogues on important issues of the ongoing constitution-making process. These multiparty discussion programmes were decided by JOMPOPS members during the action planning session at the end of the study tour in June 2014 in Copenhagen.
The Nepali context
An election to the Constituent Assembly was conducted in April 2008 in Nepal to formulate a new Constitution. However, the Assembly got dissolved without finalizing the new Constitution due to lack of agreement among major political parties on restructuring of the state mainly involving issues of federalism, forms of governance and the election system.
In November 2013, an election to the Constitution Assembly was held once again in order to sort out contentious issues and finalize a new Constitution for Nepal. Nevertheless, even after nearly nine months of election of this body, major political parties have not been able to agree on major issues related to restructuring of the state.
During the study tour in Denmark this June 2014, the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS, who are mostly influential leaders and important position holders inside major political parties of Nepal, were inspired by the Danish political culture of cross-party dialogues and their tradition of political collaboration on issues of common concerns. Accordingly, JOMPOPS members decided to organize multiparty workshops with an objective to explore proposals for agreement on major contentious issues in the new constitution-making process of Nepal.
JOMPOPS members were also inspired by multiparty practices of Danish democracy such as members from competing parties presenting jointly on common issues, observed by Nepalese leaders during the study tour in Denmark. Drawing on such practices, JOMPOPS members decided to also organize joint presentations of representatives of two or three competing parties on some of the issues to be presented in the workshops. Tis practice of multiparty collaboration is quite uncommon in Nepal and carries a great symbolic message for nurturing the culture of multiparty collaboration.
So far JOMPOPS members have organized activities on issues of common agreement such as strengthening multiparty democracy, local party units and promoting women in politics; all JOMPOPS members agreed on these themes and were committed to them. By deciding to organize workshops on issues that JOMPOPS members disagreed significantly with each other, JOMPOPS had subjected itself to a huge risk. And challenges were many.
To start with, it was difficult to reach any agreements on both the methodology and content of these workshops among JOMPOPS members. The position of each JOMPOPS member on these issues was different and was almost contradictory. During the preparation meeting on 15-16 August, passionate discussions surfaced among JOMPOPS members continuing till late night. At times, it seemed that no agreement would be reached among the members and the whole concept of conducting workshops on contentious issues was too ambitious for a platform like JOMPOPS.
Unexpectedly, in the end, JOMPOPS members were able to come together and reach an agreement on the planned workshops. It was possible when they realized that they have to rise above their respective party position to explore a new space for agreement. As one of the JOMPOPS members Dinanath Sharma from the Maoist party argued:
“We have to break our party position to create a new space for agreement among major political parties.”
Around 50 senior political leaders including Members of Parliament actively participated in two-day multiparty discussion workshops. The representatives of the Embassy of Denmark and representatives of the new Governance Facility also observed the programmes. The Chief Election Commissioner also attended the workshop on a special invitation from JOMPOPS.
The first day of the workshops started with presentations on federalism, forms of government, and the local government by two experts – CK Lal and Prof. Krishna Khanal. Both Lal and Khanal are well respected by political parties and their facilitative role among parties on such difficult contentious issues was well appreciated by the participants. Each presentation was followed by comments from the Steering Committee members of JOMPOPS which was also their attempt to present possible proposals for agreement. Then, participants were divided into three groups according to the three aforementioned themes. Each group worked out new proposals on contentious issues to reach a common agreement.
The second day started with remarks from Hon. Neel Kantha Uprety, the Chief Election Commissioner, on the contentious issues relating to the election system proposed in the new Constitution. His remarks were followed by a thorough presentation by an election expert Bhojraj Pokharel who was also the former Chief Election Commissioner. Pokharel explained the issues of disagreements relating to the new election system to be proposed in the new Constitution and presented a few alternatives for a common agreement. His presentation was followed by open discussions in which participants discussed on possible proposals for common agreement on the election system among major political parties.
Workshops on both days were chaired by Hon. Jeetendra Narayan Dev, the JOMPOPS Chairperson. Binod Bhattarai, JOMPOPS Vice-Chairperson also facilitated the sessions as necessary. During the opening remarks, the chairperson emphasized that the workshops have been conducted with a commitment to rise above partisan interest and to create an open mind for multiparty discussions necessary to reach a common agreement among major political parties.
The agreed proposals of these two workshops on four contentious issues will be summarized by the concerned experts and shared with the Steering Committee. Accordingly, SC members will suggest changes as necessary and the final version will be submitted to the Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly by the JOMPOPS Chairperson. Moreover, the summary report will also be submitted to the Chairperson of concerned committee inside the Constituent Assembly. In addition, SC members will also inform their respective party leaders about the possible proposals for agreement.
One of the findings of the workshop was that political parties have not contemplated on the issue of local government adequately in the new Constitution. Therefore, participants suggested to organize more discussions on this topic as local government is the heart of any successful democracy.
Overall, these two workshops may not settle differences on critical issues of Nepal’s new Constitution but these multiparty discussions can be considered as a step forward towards that direction because it created a space for open multiparty discussions which is vital to reach an agreement on any issues.