Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nepal is 40th in Civic Engagement

Nepal ranked 40th among 130 countries which commit itself maximum to the of its community. This came anfter a survey conducted by a US-based company 'Gallup Organization' conducted a survey in 2009 and 2010. The survey measured individuals’ likelihood to volunteer their time and assistance to others.
Sri Lanka has become the leader in Asia for standing by its citizen. Sri Lanka is on the 8th place out of 130 countries. India is on the 48th and Pakistan on the 27th in the Gallup Poll of civic engagement.
The United States topped with 60 percent followed by Ireland with the same score and Australia in the third place with 59 percent.
In general, the Gallup poll showed people with high civic engagement are positive about the communities where they live and actively give back to them. Data from 130 countries show that, in general, adults in developed countries are much more likely to be civically engaged than those in the developing world, the noted US public opinion research agency said.
Respondents, it said were asked whether they have done any of the following in the past month: donated money to a charity, volunteered time to an organization, or helped a stranger or someone they didn't know who needed help.
People are much more likely to either say they have helped a stranger in need or donated money in the past month than they are to say they volunteered their time to an organization, the poll found.
While the most civically engaged countries are primarily in the developed world, the level of participation in each activity the index measures varies significantly among countries, it said.
For example, 83 percent of Thais say they donated money to charity in the past month, among the highest levels in the world. However, 16 percent say they volunteered their time.
Conversely, Americans are much less likely than Thais to say they donated money, but Americans are among the most likely in the world to say they volunteered their time.

(2011 January 18)

Freedom in the world 2011

On January 13, 2011, Freedom House released its findings from the latest edition of Freedom in the World, the annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties. According to the survey’s findings, 2010 was the fifth consecutive year in which global freedom suffered a decline—the longest period of setbacks for freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.

These declines threaten gains dating to the post–Cold War era in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet bloc. The latest survey hightlights the increasing truculence of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes, which has coincided with a growing inability or unwillingness on the part of the world’s democracies to meet the authoritarian challenge.

In ASEAN, Singapore is ranked as Partly Free along with Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Some other countries also ranked Partly Free include Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

ASEAN countries ranked Not Free are Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and, of course, Burma.

Only one country in ASEAN is Free, and that is Indonesia.

ASIAN countries that are Free are Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India and Mongolia.

Click here for full report.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reporting for All: Challenges for the media in Nepal's Democratic Transition

The 16-page report entitled "Reporting for All: Challenges for the media in Nepal's Democratic Transition" presents the findings of a multi-approach study on Nepal's media in the last few years of post-conflict situation. The document produced by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in collaboration with the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) says journalists and media organizations continue to face challenges. The following is the background of the report, followed by a link to the original document:

After 10 years of civil conflict, the peace agreed with the Maoist insurgency movement in 2006 was followed by the institution in 2008 of a Constituent Assembly (CA) to oversee Nepal's political transition. The ceasefire of 2006 and the aftermath of the 2008 elections, were seen by the country's journalists as an opportune moment to put in place a legal framework equipped to promote the healthy growth of the media, on firm foundations of the public interest and the right to free speech. Nepal's journalists and their organisations played a central role in resisting the repression that was unleashed during the years of royal absolutism and turning back the tide, creating a popular movement for the restoration of democracy. Since the ceasefire, the journalists' community has secured legally protected rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Journalists moreover, were key participants in lobbying for and successfully securing the passage of a right to information law.

There have been worries since, that the momentum for positive change is being lost. Nepal's journalists and their organisations have in the circumstances, been consolidating their unity and solidarity as a means of defending a free media and seeking to develop and entrench a media culture that serves peace, reconciliation and the public good. However, journalists in Nepal still face enormous challenges, not the least of them being security. Though formally ended, the Maoist insurgency has, in certain perceptions, implanted a cult of violence and spawned numerous emulative militant groups, which are smaller, uncoordinated and hence more dangerous. State nstitutions and authorities have at the same time shown a limited ability to protect lives and assure people of a secure environment. Maoist elements that are keen to enter the political mainstream and participate constructively in democratic politics feel betrayed that there is no sense of accountability for the years of royal absolutism and its structural and often hidden violence against the poor and the underprivileged.

This failure is seen in some circles to feed into a renewed cycle of violence. Since the 2006 peace agreement, a pattern of violence is evident in relation to the grievances of minority and marginalised groups, notably in the southern plains bordering India, or the Terai. A failure to implement many of the peace accord provisions and to respond adequately to minority group grievances is undermining the peace process. The situation is made more volatile by serious economic difficulties, exacerbated by natural disasters in 2008. Fresh political turbulence arose in May 2009 with a long simmering dispute between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahaland the Chief of Staff of the Nepali Army (NA), General Rukmangad Katawal becoming public. Prime Minister Dahal, known alternately by the nom de guerre of Prachanda from his days as leader of the Maoist insurgents, was seeking to make the transition to a civilian persona after emerging unexpected winner in the April 2008 national elections. But in evident frustration at the complexity of the transition, he resigned soon afterwards, with important partners in the coalition he had put together openly opposing his effort to dismiss the army chief. Another coalition arrangement came into being, headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from the third largest party in the national parliament - the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), known most often as the UML or as the Ma-Lay in local parlance. But this arrangement looked tenuous from the outset, and the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Nepal in June 2010, following a nationwide general strike orchestrated by the Maoists in May, has resulted in a prolonged political stalemate, with the national parliament failing in several sittings afterwards, to agree on any form of successor government.

Attacks and threats against journalists reportedly decreased amid initial peace-making efforts, but violence targeting the media has been on the rise again amid new tensions and insecurities. Journalists continue to confront intimidation and psychological pressures. Editors are pressured through discriminatory allocation of advertising revenues. And journalists face the constant threat of dismissal for their work, The FNJwith media proprietors being altogether too susceptible to political demands.

Anger in the southern plains (or Terai), the western regions and elsewhere is increasingly directed against journalists and media outlets for their coverage (or lack of coverage) of events and issues related to the political transition and minority interests. In 2008, newspapers in some districts were forced to close temporarily as a result of violence arising from frustration among some groups about information transmitted via news reports. It seemed that the veracity of the information was not the issue so much as what the news broadcasts said about political power and identity interests. Much of the anger and mistrust that targets the media is misdirected and misinformed. However it is also the case that a good deal of media output is aligned with political interests and does not pay due heed to the needs, views and sensitivities of all groups in Nepali society. In the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, certain media outlets in Nepal, were found to be engaged in partisanship and the denial of opposing voices. In extreme cases, some were found to be actively engaged in disseminating false information about political opponents.1

Senior journalists and journalists' organisations are worried that personnel in the many media establishments that have sprung up across the country lack sufficient awareness of and training in the principles of responsible journalism and the positive role of an independent media in a peaceful and democratic society. They worry that a failure by poorly trained media workers and others to understand and recognise the human rights of minorities can become a base for serving special interests, leading to renewed conflict. Integral to this concern is the limited availability of highquality professional training focused on the principles of ethical and inclusive journalism.2These concerns are framed by the rapid expansion of Nepal's media sector in recent years, notably the increase in FM radio stations from under 50 in 2004 to over 300 in 2007. As well, the number of licensed television stations rose to nine in 2007 from four in 2004, while about 2,600 registered daily, weekly and fortnightly newspapers were operating in 2007.3

Click here to read the full text of the report.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The latest report by the Brussels-based ICG says Nepal's debate on federalism is extremely politicized.

The report released on Jan 13, 2011 says: "Backtracking on federalism is politically impossible... Activists are getting frustrated and the mood is becoming more militant... The structure emerging from the Constituent Assembly, federal but with a strong centre, offers a feasible compromise..."

The following is the Executive Summary of the 33-page report:
Federal restructuring of the state has emerged as a major demand of ethnic and regional activists in Nepal. The debate about it is extremely politicised. Federalism is not simply the decentralisation of political power; it has become a powerful symbol for a wider agenda of inclusion, which encompasses other institutional reforms to guarantee ethnic proportional representation and a redefinition of Nepali nationalism to recognise the country's ethnic and cultural diversity.

Activists demand the introduction of reservations to guarantee proportional representation of marginalised groups in government and administration. They want provinces to be named after the most numerous ethnic and regional groups and boundaries drawn to make them dominant minorities. Some claim to be indigenous to these regions and demand preferential rights to natural resources and agradhikar - priority entitlement to political leadership positions in the future provinces.

Ethnic and regional demands were important parts of the Maoist agenda during the civil war; in eastern Nepal, much of their support depended on it. State restructuring became a central component of the 2006 peace deal. After violent protests in the Tarai in 2007, federalism was included in the interim constitution as a binding principle for the Constituent Assembly.
But of the three major parties, the Maoists are the only one to give full-throated support to federalism and the establishment of ethnic provinces. Identity politics may sit uneasily with their class-based ideological framework but federalism is of great importance for them. Now that the former Hindu kingdom is a secular republic, it is the most important point left on their short-term transformative agenda. Much grassroots support, the loyalty of ethnic and regionalist activists within the party and their wider credibility as a force for change depend on them following through.

Both the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), UML, have accepted federal restructuring. They have actively participated in drafting a federal model in the Constituent Assembly. There is agreement on most institutional arrangements including the division of powers between provinces and centre. But this process has been driven by longstanding proponents of federalism within both parties, none of them very influential. It is unclear whether there is a wider consensus. Both parties have agreed to federalism in the spirit of bargaining; neither of them owns the agenda. Behind the official positions there is significant resistance to it.

Backtracking on federalism is politically impossible. Both the NC and UML are already struggling to retain cadres and leaders from minority backgrounds. But deferring crucial decisions, or stalling the constitutional process altogether, could be tempting for those opposed to change. The assumption that the Maoists have both the most to gain and the most to lose from the constitutional process could lend wider appeal to the idea.

The risks are hard to calculate. Ethnic and regionalist groups, already suspicious of the major parties' commitment to federalism, threaten protests and ultimately violent resistance should it not come. Their eyes are on the 28 May 2011 deadline for the promulgation of the new constitution. Popular support is most widespread among Madhesis in the central and eastern Tarai and members of ethnic groups in the eastern hills. Many Madhesis are disillusioned with their leadership, but feel reforms are incomplete. The organisational landscape of ethnic activists in the eastern hills may be fragmented for now, but underneath lie strong personal and political networks. Activists are getting frustrated and the mood is becoming more militant. With an issue to rally around they are likely to coalesce; a politicised population would easily be mobilised for protest movements, should federalism not come.

Not all want federalism. Popular opposition to ethnic federalism in particular is substantial, by virtue of its association with identity politics. Many Brahmins and Chhetris, the dominant caste groups, fear they will lose out from the introduction of ethnic quotas and federal restructuring. But organised resistance is limited and fragmented. Open opposition only comes from a fringe of the political left which fears Nepal's unity. Several Chhetri organisations are not against federalism itself but want to defend their group's interests in the restructuring process. Pro-monarchy groups and the Hindu right are less concerned with federalism than with the republic and secularism. But given the common uneasiness with the redefinition of Nepali nationalism, a broader conservative alliance is a distinct possibility.

The structure emerging from the Constituent Assembly, federal but with a strong centre, offers a feasible compromise. If the NC overcomes its aversion to provinces named after ethnic and regional groups, the new constitution will offer important symbolic recognition of Nepal's cultural diversity. In combination with the language rights and proportional representation in administration and government envisaged, this would go a long way towards meeting popular aspirations among ethnic and regional groups. The fact that the draft offers little scope for preferential rights beyond proportional representation as well as strong individual rights provisions should allay Brahmin and Chhetri fears of future discrimination. Not promulgating the constitution in time or deferring a decision on federalism, however, could spark serious unrest.

(International Crisis Group, 13 Jan 2011)