The Impact of Political Transition on Citizens: Case Study of Nepal

Shiva Prasad Tiwari

(Student, Semester IV, M.A (IR), South Asian University, New Delhi, India)

State and the Citizenship

Citizenship is membership of a state or a relationship between the individual and the state based on reciprocal rights and responsibilities (Heywood 2010: 446).The status of being a citizen is usually determined by law. In the democratic tradition qualifications for citizenship are associated with particular rights and duties of citizens (Reeve 2009:76). In general qualifications for citizenship reflect a conception of the purpose of the political community and a view about which persons are able to contribute to or enjoy the benefits of the common good or the freedom of the state.( Reeve 2009:76)

The state can most simply be defined as political association that establishes sovereign jurisdiction within defined territorial borders and exercises authority through a set of permanent institutions.(Heywood 2000:39). The state exercises two kinds of sovereignty: internal and external. Internal sovereignty means the fact that within the boundaries of the state, there are no authorities higher than the state. The state has the right to make binding decisions upon its citizens and upon those who enter its territory.(Das 2012:174) External sovereignty of the states refers to the recognition that other states accord to a particular state and the acceptance that state can speak for its citizens in international affairs.(Das 2012: 175)

The relationship between state and its citizen can be explained by social contract theory. In classic form social contract theory means that there is undeclared agreement between an individual and the state in which individual has to oblige as a citizen to respect and obey the state ultimately in gratitude for the stability and security that only a system of political rule can provide.(Heywood 2010: 93)So, according to social contract theory , it becomes duty of the state to provide security to its citizen. The security here should be seen in broader perspective not only security from threat of external attack.

State and Security

Security is an essentially contested concept and it can have no consensus to the understanding and definition of this. At an abstract level most scholars within the International relations work with a definition that involves the alleviation of threats to cherished values (Williams 2008:1). There have been debate in security studies about what should the referent object of security be. Some tie security to state and see it as the activity directed to protection of national interest. Whereas there are others such as Barry Buzan who like to widen the concept of security to include not only military sense as is generally understood but also political, social, economic, and environmental dimension to it(Williams 2008:4). Whether it is tied to state or individual security is for ‘real people’.

If security is understood as for the citizens in the modern world of ‘Westphalian notion’, then security of aliens, refugees and stateless persons also becomes of natural concern. Refugees and stateless people are thought to be weakness of Westphalian nation states. But they are also real people and provision of security (personal, social, political, economic and cultural) has to be looked for them as well. There have been various international conventions regarding security of immigrants, refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. Most of the states of modern world are signatory to such international conventions. Therefore besides its own citizen it becomes responsibility of the state to look after them in whatever way it can on humanitarian grounds.

Even within the state there may be minorities and marginalized communities who have not been able to enjoy equal rights and status entitled by the citizenship to them because of many repressive structures formed on the basis of race, sex, class, religion etc. These are the challenges to modern states.


Political Transition and Citizen

Transition can be from dictatorship to democracy, violent conflict to peaceful condition and sometimes the other way. It is the time when established norms, values and institutions have to undergo constant changes. Old institutions have to be dismantled and new institutions have to be established. States are generally weak or fragile during transition and it needs vision, patience, understanding among leadership and long term plans and maintenance of stable situation which can be difficult during such phase. Transition itself is not a monolithic process. So transition in different conditions has to take different course. So during transition security and other services to be provided by state to its citizen, as envisioned in social contract theory may be compromised, curtailed and not available easily.

Ghani et al (2005, 2006a, 2006b) identify ten features of statehood that have to be in order to overcome fragility and guarantee state ability during transition. These are:  a legitimate monopoly on the means of violence,  administrative control,  sound management of public finances, investment in human capital,  the creation of citizenship rights and duties, provision of infrastructure,  Market formation, Management of assets of state,  effective public borrowing and Maintenance of rule of law.(Boege et. al  n.d.:3-4)

If it is the case transition from armed struggle to post conflict situation transition process has to encompass some more extra features. The main objectives of post conflict war to peace transition management have to be rebuilding local social relations, building and strengthen mutual trusts , ensure justice ,revitalise  social capital and entail emergence ,promotion and strengthening of local association, community participation, collective accountability, enable collective censure of violence ,promote feeling of security and common identity and reduce fear. This strategy has to consider immediate, midterm and long term engagement at both national and local level. (Uprety 2009:376)

Besides the ideas discussed above security sector reform and transitional justice arrangement are important factors that may be of great necessity during transition. Security of internally displaced people and refugees are also delicate issues that can have effect during transition.

Security sector reform must be understood as a broad concept which also concerns a more efficient use of scarce resources to improve security, democratic and civilian control over security forces in crucial for provision of security in the interest of population. (Wulf n.d.:338)

Security sector reform is necessary especially for smooth transition. Notions of democratizing societies, good governance with transparency and accountability, peaceful transformation of societies, human security and poverty reductions programmes have recently made inroads in security thinking.(Wulf n.d.:338)

The concept of transitional justice at first referred to the judicial process of addressing human rights violations committed by dictatorial or repressive regimes in the course of democratic transition.  But its meaning has been extended so at present, it covers the establishment of tribunals, truth commissions, and political and social initiatives devoted to fact finding, reconciliation and cultures of remembrance.(Fischer n.d.:407)

Nepal’s Political transition

Nepal has undergone two popular uprisings during a short span of sixteen years. The first popular movement of 1990 overthrew the king led undemocratic Panchayati system and reinstated parliamentary democracy which had been abrogated by king in 1960. The second movement of 2006 caused the end of kingship, the unitary system of government and parliamentary constitution of 1990(Tiwari 2009:1). The period in between the two popular movements was marked by political instability and turbulences and the insurgency (people’s war) launched by the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (CPN-M). This resulted in painful and prolonged political transition.

After the advent of democracy in 1990 the people had hoped that nation would move towards a bright future. But because of interparty conflict and intraparty feud and the powerful ambitious king democracy could not consolidate in Nepal. Moreover patrimony, clientalism and rent seeking behaviour of political leaders did not let democracy take roots in Nepali society. Armed struggle started by Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) further complicated the fluid politics of Nepal. Though Maoists came to peace process in 2006 transition has not been smooth again due to interparty conflict and deep polarization. Because of this peace process in Nepal has not been able to reach an agreed conclusion and constitution writing process which is the backbone of future of Nepal has not been complete. The term of Constituent Assembly (CA) has already been extended for three times due to its inability to write constitution in given time. If CA cannot write constitution, Nepal is sure to land in another political turmoil which can even lead to some anarchic situation. Constitution writing is the most important thing to be done during this political transition. It will determine the future polity and structure of Nepal. But due to disagreements, and polarization common people and analysts alike have started doubting about whether constitution will be written or not.

Nepali state is being treated by the international community as soft, fragile and weak because of its inability to hold legitimate monopoly on power, control competitive violence and perform “core state functions” and successfully handle important post conflict issues and needs and problems confronting the Nepalese society.(Dahal 2008:3)

Nepal is weak because it lacks financial resources to undertake a self-sufficient state building process financed by its own tax revenues and reshape conflict moderating structures and policies. It is the least institutionalised with respect to its presence in huge rural society as a result, the task of stabilization of national politics in Nepal at present has been both transitional and unstable.(Dahal 2008:3)

Taking this as an opportunity many ethnic and marginalized groups have been demanding their rights in the future federal Nepal. Many indigenous people from hilly areas belonging to castes such as Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Sherpa, Limbu, Rai etc want ‘appropriate’ rights in future Nepal. They accuse that Nepal under monarchy suppressed their identity and did not let them be established in various mainstreams of social and political life. Madhesis, people in southern plain of Terai region of Nepal feel that they have been marginalized by the state which most of the time represented the people of hilly region of Nepal. Future federal democratic Nepal has to respond to the voices of all these communities.

Nepal was a feudal, centralized, unitary and exclusionary monarchist nation for centuries with widespread discrimination based on sex, caste, ethnicity and religion. If future Nepal is to be democratic, prosperous and inclusive in true sense that can be achieved only when citizens of Nepal are engaged in democratic practices, state protects human rights of its citizens, ensure social justice and promote harmony. (Uprety 2009:381)

Other challenges confronting Nepal are good governance corruption. Political commitment towards good governance and control of corruption is missing. As a result, rule of law has deteriorated, public service delivery and operation of administration have been compromised (TIN: 2009/10:1)

Impact on Citizens

This long span of uncertain transition has hit the lives of citizens directly. It had had effect on the development of basic infrastructure such as road, schools, colleges and other industries. At present Nepali people are living under a lot of hardship. Nepal which has capacity of producing more than forty thousand megawatt of hydroelectricity at present produces around 600 megawatt only. Nepalese are facing power cut of about 12 hours per day due to lack of electricity production. Unemployment remains very high. Youths are forced go to Middle East, Western countries and India for job. Though Nepal has abundant natural resources they have not been exploited for the benefit of common people. Protracted political transition and violent conflict has also hit once very vibrant tourism industry of Nepal as well. Many people engaged in this sector had to leave their job or quit the business. People die from simple health problems such as cholera and respiratory infections. Maternal and child mortality rates are high. Nepali state has not been able to provide the basic services of health and education to its citizens.

Even during such difficult times Nepal hosted about ninety thousands refugees mainly from Bhutan, and Tibet until January 2011. (UNHCR-Nepal 2012:1). Several hundred asylum seekers mainly from some African countries also make Nepal a transit to try to go to western countries.

The constitution of Nepal did not make any distinction between citizens and aliens in regard to certain basic rights. Under the Nepal’s law refugees enjoyed many basic rights enjoyed by aliens such as right to freedom, right to criminal justice, right against preventive detention, right to education, right to culture and religion, right to privacy, right to constitutional remedy and right against exploitation among others. (Kharat 2003:1)According to UNHCR Refugee Convention of 1951 refugees should be given  above mentioned rights  by the contracting states. (UNHCR 2012:16-17),

By now most of the Bhutanese refugees have been to many western countries for third country settlement. In case of Tibetan refugees also Nepal has been permitting them refuge, and helping in getting identity cards and travel documents in accordance with international norm in spite of some pressure from powerful northern neighbour China.

There are also stateless people in Nepal especially in southern Terai region of Nepal. According to UNHCR Nepal statistics there are eight hundred thousand such people (UNHCR-Nepal: 2012). Among them some may be genuine cases who are denied citizenship by the state. But because of porous border with India many people want to take citizenship of both sides. Many analysts in Nepal argue that providing citizenship to all of them without proper investigation may be a great security threat to Nepal. But the state should give citizenship and full rights to such ‘stateless’ people if they are qualified for citizenship according to Nepal’s rule.


Most of the third world states are not able to provide security and other services to its citizens as conceptualized in social contract theory even during relatively peaceful and stable periods. Transitions add to these weaknesses and states can become very ineffective in their fulfilling their responsibilities towards their citizens. Transition if it is long, uncertain and unmanaged can directly have negative impacts even in livelihoods of the people. Marginalised, minorities, women, children, immigrants, refugees and stateless people also cannot remain unaffected by the negative impact of protracted and painful transitions.

N.B: The write up has been submitted as term paper.


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