Address to the Oxford Union by Prime Minister of Nepal Right Honourable Mr. K P Sharma Oli on ‘Peace, Democracy and Development’
London, United Kingdom, 10 June 2019
Thank you for your kind words of introduction.
Distinguished Guests, and
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you, Mr. President, for the kind invitation to speak at this debating society.
It is indeed a rare and distinct honour to speak from this podium to such an august gathering.
It is a special privilege to join the many renowned and influential world figures that this hall has hosted over the years, and extend my best wishes to you all.
Known as it is for the distinguished service to humanity through generation and dissemination of knowledge; contribution the Oxford University has made over the centuries to the world of education is matchless.
Oxford is much more than a physical place for teaching and learning. It is an epitome of human pursuit of knowledge right from the medieval times. It is a center of knowledge and research where learning is nobler and superior.
I equally admire the contributions of the Oxford Union to generation of knowledge by promoting free exchange of ideas and debate.
As a person who spent over five decades of his life in struggles for democratic rights and faced severe punishment of fourteen long years of imprisonment including four years of solitary confinement, I know how important the access to education and freedom of speech are for people and society to grow, develop and prosper.
Today, I will talk about the broader topic of ‘Peace, Democracy and Development’. Speaking on a theme in the land that developed ‘Magna Carta’, the first charter of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the mother of all such instruments, is equally pleasing.
First, I will dwell on the general linkages between peace, democracy and development in the context of current world realities. Then, I will share with you some insights into Nepal’s journey of political struggles, and quest for democracy and development.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The world today is characterized by both optimism and anguish; by achievements and setbacks; and by prospects and problems.
Notwithstanding the prosperity the world has achieved, it is not yet entirely free from poverty, inequality, conflict, climate change, and terrorism, among others.
Amidst these challenges, the tendencies of populism, protectionism and inward-looking thinking have become more pronounced.
Growing tussle between and among the world’s largest economies has raised doubt over the future of multilateral trading system and overshadowed the prospect for global development.
The fourth industrial revolution along with ‘disruptive technologies’ has led the world towards greater prosperity. However, its benefits are not judiciously shared. Inequality persists. The existence of poverty is against the values of human civilization and our conscience.
This is where lie the roots of the problems. And, no one is spared from these problems as they transcend boundaries and borders of a society, nation and region.
Peace, democracy and development are intrinsically link to each other. Democracy and development are contingent upon peace and peace cannot be achieved and sustained in the absence of development. And, it is only the democratic system that paves the way for lasting peace and development.
Understanding the complex relationship between peace, democracy and development would warrant an in-depth knowledge of root causes of conflict.
Peace is much more than the absence of war. It is an idea, a condition, a culture and a way of society and nation.
As an idea, it is a vision aimed at greater good of society. Values such as harmony, tolerance, coexistence and unity are essential catalysts for peace.
As a condition, it is the desired state of political, social and economic realities. It is about enjoyment of all rights by individuals without any discrimination and securing equal access to economic resources.
As a culture and a way of society and nation, peace must be understood in casual relationship with democracy and development. Peaceful environment enables societies and nations to achieve progress and prosperity.
Like creativity and innovation, the roots of conflict and violence are also inherent in human minds. These roots are nurtured by ignorance, greed and intolerance. So, the foundation of peace must be built in human minds themselves.
As a staunch fighter for democracy throughout my life, I believe the alternative to democracy is ‘more democracy’.
This corresponds to the ‘Comprehensive democracy’. It embraces democratic rights including at the political, economic, social, cultural and technological levels to empower people.
At the political level, what we need is a fine balance between freedom and responsibility. Democracy is about civic rights. It is also about civilized way of behaviour.
At the economic level, it is about empowering people with means, resources and choices. It is about ending poverty, inequality and backwardness.
At the social and cultural levels, democracy must address the problems related to power dynamics and promote a sense of belongingness, inclusivity and justice.
At the technological level, new means of disruptive technologies must be used for the sake of empowering people. After all, it was not technologies that created democracy; it was democracy that created technologies.
Let me also touch upon the need of comprehensive democracy at the international level.
No matter what the name suggests, the world order is far from being representative. Democratic deficit characterizes the world order.
On economic front too, systemic inequality still persists. Though globalization has not benefitted all equally, its very foundation is being challenged by its own proponents.
Comprehensive democracy demands a world order that is democratic, inclusive, just, fair and seeks a balance between enjoyment of rights and fulfillment of obligations in good faith. Its foundation is the principle of sovereign equality.
And, democracies cannot sustain within the borders of nations, if the broader global ecosystem is undemocratic.
The realization of SDGs by all will help translate the vision of comprehensive democracy into practice. For me, the notion of comprehensive democracy finds its eloquent expression in the SDGs’ underlying philosophy of ‘leaving no one behind’.
There are certain universally accepted democratic values and norms that all must adhere to. In essence, democracy must embrace equal rights, equal opportunities, equal protection of security and equal respect as its key pillars. This is the core of comprehensive democracy.
We confront the most difficult task ahead: how to ensure the security of mankind and the planet and hand over the habitable planet to future generations. The growing phenomenon of climate change poses a serious existential threat to humanity. It jeopardizes the health of both mankind and planet. So, we must rise above the parochial national interest to galvanize our efforts for the survival of humanity.
It is unfortunate that the countries like Nepal which emit negligibly and contribute substantially to the maintenance of global ecological order are ironically bearing the brunt of disproportionate impact of climate change. This is simply unacceptable.
Our Himalayas and forests contribute to the recharging system of the earth and also keep the environment clean and cool. This is an extraordinary contribution. This must be recognized and climate justice should be upheld as an essential component of comprehensive democracy at the global level.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since I am talking about peace, democracy and development, I wish to speak about how Nepal attained the present state of peace and stability with particular focus on our peace process.
Our journey to peace and political stability has been full of struggles, movements and sacrifices. Some of them have been truly transformative of historic proportions.
Major milestones were the political transformations of 1951, 1990 and 2006.
The autocratic Rana Regime that perpetuated the family rule was overthrown on the strength of people’s movement in 1951.
This paved the democratic journey of Nepal.
The absolute monarchy was brought to the constitutional fold through a sustained political movement in 1990.
This established constitutional supremacy and restricted the King’s power as constitutional head of the state.
The institution of hereditary monarchy, based on the principle of ‘supremacy by birth’, was finally abolished, two years after the successful People’s Movement in 2006.
In the intervening period, we witnessed a decade-long armed conflict that began in 1996 with a huge cost upon the peace-loving Nepali people.
However, its contribution to Nepal’s political movement for establishing people’s sovereignty and rights has been significant.
Our peace process began with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006 that formally ended the armed conflict.
The period between 2008 and 2015 was marked by intense debate, consultations, accommodation and compromises on the nature, scope and contents of the new constitution. This was essential to address multiple problems that Nepali society faced due to its diverse nature.
After years of hard work the constitution was promulgated by an inclusive Constituent Assembly in September 2015.
We accomplished this historic responsibility in a peaceful way, keeping the vital national interest uppermost.
In all these transformative developments and movements the Nepal Communist Party played a decisive role.
The promulgation of the Constitution marked the conclusion of peace process and institutionalized the democratic gains made by the people.
Political pluralism, periodic elections, inclusion and proportional representation, fundamental freedoms and human rights, rule of law, independent judiciary, separation of powers and checks and balances, and people’s sovereignty are the major features of our Constitution.
The Constitution guarantees 33 percent representation of women in the Federal Parliament and Provincial Assemblies and 40 percent at the Local Level. Today, their overall representation in the elected bodies has reached 41 percent. Minorities and disadvantaged communities are also guaranteed their proportional representation.
The historic elections held in 2017 have produced a strong and stable government with a robust mandate to Nepal Communist Party.
This has effectively ended the cycle of political uncertainty and frequent change of governments.
With federal system in place, 753 Local, 7 Provincial and 1 Federal Government are functional.
Nepal has ushered in an era of peace, stability and prosperity. Democracy has been consolidated and it has reached the grassroots level.
Nepal’s experience with peace-making and peace-building has been an eminently endogenous process, with many salient features that are unique to our special circumstances. It could present a unique case study of conflict resolution and peace building.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With political issues settled, our fight is now directed against poverty, underdevelopment, inequality, illiteracy and backwardness.
Our vision is guided by the long-term aspiration of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Prosperity alone cannot ensure happiness, as it is contingent upon a wide range of material and spiritual factors. So we aim to achieve both prosperity and happiness for lasting peace and stability.
We want to become a middle-income country as well as realize the SDGs by 2030. We have crafted a long-term vision for development and periodic plans to guide our economic journey.
Social justice remains at the core of our polity. Unity in diversity is our strength. We have established the foundation of a non-discriminatory, inclusive and participatory democracy to bring everyone onboard for socio-economic transformation. Our demographic dividend and huge national resources offer enormous possibilities for development.
Our model of development aims at ensuring basic services such as food security, shelter and clothing, education, and health and security for all. Our priority is not only about building and sustaining a political system but also about achieving overall social transformation. Sarwajan Hitaya Sarwajan Sukhaya (welfare and happiness for all) is at the heart of our efforts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s world has witnessed the popular disappointment with democracy. It seems that democracy has been facing a crisis of confidence.
It may be because democracy has failed to promote equality, justice, employment, freedom, and deliver tangible outcomes to bring about the changes in the living standards of people. Democracy has tended at times to become a formality and rhetoric, not substantive and people-centered.
But, the question is- whether it is the problem of the very essence of democracy as such or the dilemma has been created by ourselves, through our commissions or through our omissions?
The understanding of democracy has often been limited, with an outlook emanating from the binary boxes.
Unfortunately, democracy has been compartmentalized in the pigeonholes.
Look around. The challengers of democracy today are in the both sides of political spectrum. The assaults are coming from the extremist elements in the Left as well as the Right. The dichotomy of the Left and the Right fails to work here.
Prescriptive approach developed on the basis of binary opposites, which is not mindful of the local context, does no justice to democracy itself.
We must admit that there is no single formula of democracy and no fixed model of development.
The political system of a particular country may inherit its historical background and socio-cultural features, thus making the system unique. We should accept and respect the local reality.
In Nepal’s context, the democratic values and pluralism are inherent in our own culture and they are born out of our own conscience and conviction. We have been practicing them as Nepali way of life.
All democratic efforts must keep people at the centre. Democracy must serve them, and make them happy. Democracy must help common people explore and develop their own potentials.
Democratic government must be responsible and accountable to the people. It should be transparent as well. The most important task of the democratic government is to ensure the basic rights of the people so that ‘no one is left hungry and no one dies of hunger’. Right to life is the most important of all human rights.
Furthermore, people themselves are the custodians of peace. They are the defenders of democracy and champions of human rights. Therefore, democracy and its ‘bidirectional’ outcomes- peace and development- must aim at serving the people.
Also, it is the people who must lead the opinions in democracy. People must not be misled. Leaders must listen to them. They should refrain themselves from catering to the populist impulse of the electorate.
The defense of democracy should indeed be built in the minds of people –in their values, in their way of life.
Culture of enlightened discourse rather than an irresponsible anarchy of mob are the ultimate guard of democracy.
To conclude, peace and democracy are never the ‘things’ done. They are always in the process of ‘becoming’. We must believe in them and work at them. Such work may be gradual and quiet but it should be sustainable. And, sustainable efforts are those, which take into account the local realities, and keep people at the centre with a view to empowering them.
I thank you all for this wonderful opportunity.