Heather Ashley Hager
Ending the political stalemate and making headway on Nepal’s new constitution is proving to be a Herculean task for the Maoists and coalition of parties in the current government. One of the main reasons for the lack of forward momentum is the predominance of a “winner-take-all” mentality in which the slightest compromise is viewed as the equivalent of defeat.
America’s founding fathers, who wrote the United States constitution and heralded the world’s first successful experiment with democracy, were successful only because they understood the necessity of compromise – agreeing to table the issue of slavery, for example, and creating a system of checks and balances to maintain an equal distribution of power between the states and federal government to assuage those who were suspicious of a strong central government. To move forward, Nepal’s political leaders must view the constitution-writing process with a drastically different mindset. They must jettison the ‘winner-take-all” model and approach the challenges from a “win-win” perspective.
The “win-win” solution is an approach developed by Roger Fisher, Professor Emeritus of Harvard Law School; author of Getting to Yes, the best selling book on negotiation; and a world renowned international mediator who, among other things, negotiated a peaceful settlement of the Columbia/Peru conflict using his “win-win” approach. “Win-win” means meeting the essential interests of each party in a dispute or conflict. It is contrary to the zero-sum game of “win-lose.” The idea is that both parties can achieve their essential interests if they brainstorm together on solutions that reflect both party’s primary concerns. In a “win-win” scenario, there is no clear winner or loser, as both parties can claim credit for accomplishing their main objectives.
The recent passage of the health care reform package by the US Senate provides an example of the “win-win” approach in action. The liberals agreed to give up the so-called “public-option”, which would have provided US citizens with the option of a government-sponsored insurance plan, and the conservatives agreed to offer private insurance company packages on a competitive basis. The result was that both liberals and conservatives can now claim credit for passing the first comprehensive health reform legislation in over 20 years—a significant accomplishment from any perspective.
To move forward, Nepal’s political leaders must view the constitution-writing process with a drastically different mindset. They must jettison the ‘winner-take-all” model and approach the challenges from a “win-win” perspective. Teachers from Takshashila Academy participated in a training developed by Teacher Training Initiative-Nepal (TTI-Nepal) to promote critical thinking and problem solving in the classroom. As part of an exercise in viewing an issue from a range of different perspectives, teachers agreed to take on the task of resuscitating the constitution-making process using the “win-win” approach. Their proposal, which involves painful compromise on both sides, provides a necessary alterative to the current scenario of endless ultimatums and intransigence on all fronts.
Teachers identified the following steps as necessary preconditions for establishing a national consensus government and writing the new constitution:
The Constituent Assembly (CA) agrees to dissolve the current government and select a new prime minister (PM) using the rules of law outlined in the interim constitution.
This action takes into account both the Maoist‘s desire to re-enter the government and have a shot at re-claiming the PM position and the government’s commitment to creating a consensus government using the rule of law as opposed to force and intimidation.
All parties agree to dissolve their youth forces including the CPN-UML’s Youth Force the Nepali Congress’s Tarun Dal, and the Maoists’ Youth Communist League and to confiscate all youth force weapons.
This approach requires simultaneous action from all parties rather than a quid-pro-quo scenario which leaves one party looking like the loser in the situation.
Integrate all UN-qualified Maoists’ Peoples Liberation Army combatants into different sectors of the Nepal Army including the industrial security force, the border security force, the security force that protects the parks and the national natural resources as well as the general armed force.
This resolves the issue of what to do with former Maoist combatants and, because Maoists are integrated into all sectors of the national security force, addresses the government’s concern regarding a Maoist-dominated army.
After forming a new government, establish a timeframe for fulfilling all former agreements outlined in the 12-Point Agreement. The timeframe would be determined by consensus of all political parties.
Insisting on compliance of the 12-Point Agreement as a precondition for forming a new government has proven to be a formula for inaction. Requiring mutual compromise, on the other hand, by asking the government to temporarily table the 12-Point Agreement and asking Maoists to reaffirm their commitment to fulfilling former promises, enables both parties to move forward without losing face. This move recognizes the government’s primary concern to draft a new constitution using a democratic process and the Maoists top-most desire to participate in the government and regain the popularity of the people in anticipation of the next election.
This teacher-inspired plan deserves serious consideration by the upper echelon of policy makers as it is based on a shared aspiration for peace and political stability and addresses the primary, often conflicting, concerns of interested parties. What makes this plan unique is the give and take required from all sides so that every party can claim success and no party loses credibility with its constituents.
From a pedagogical perspective, this consensus building activity embodied the higher levels of critical thinking and problem solving that should be taking place in Nepal’s classrooms. If democracy is to ultimately succeed in this country, the people must learn how to actively participate in the democratic process. This means suggesting new solutions to Nepal’s plethora of problems and holding leaders accountable for their election promises using the ballot box rather than the banda. The responsibility of ushering in a new generation of innovative, visionary leaders falls on the shoulders of Nepal’s teachers. They must teach future generations how to think for themselves rather than passively depend on the government or on foreign NGOs to solve their problems.
The high levels of critical, forward-looking thinking demonstrated by teachers during this simulated activity to end the political gridlock proves that using a “win-win” approach to finding middle ground in the current crisis is possible if only Nepal’s ‘top brass” were similarly willing to think outside the box.
(Writer is Director of Teacher Training Initiative-Nepal, a project to promote critical, creative thinking and problem solving in Nepal’s schools.)
(This article was originally published on 2010-06-02 01:35:39 in My Republica)