CONFERENCE UPDATE: A success, say one and all

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Oct 15, 2009 – “I hope I’m not alone in believing that it has been a successful one,” said Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley at the closing of the three-day democracy conference in Paro yesterday.

International participants, who spoke to Kuensel at the end of the conference, said the event had succeeded. “It struck a chord,” said a panelist participant of the conference, Chulani Kodikara, especially with her country just emerging after a 30-year civil war. Kodikara, a researcher for the international centre for ethnic studies in Sri Lanka, said, “I don’t believe we have peace yet, we’re at a stage when it’s very difficult to talk about the conflict and our experience of and how to deepen democracy in Sri Lanka.”

Dr Nitasha Kaul, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, said it was encouraging to see politicians, government officials, the media, and even students in attendance, and learning from one another’s experiences with democracy. Dr Kaul, a researcher at the university of Westminster, said it was also wonderful to see how serious Bhutan’s effort at democracy is and the positive reaction by Bhutanese towards it.

Another keynote speaker at the conference, Henry S Richardson, a philosophy professor at George Washington university, said he was inspired and fascinated by the effort to integrate gross national happiness (GNH) with democracy.

“I’m glad to learn that, in the GNH approach, good governance is an element of happiness and that people will have a hand in making policy.” Richardson also added that it was inspiring to know that Asian countries were finding their own approaches towards achieving good governance through democracy.

“This conference was unique in that it was for the first time we had such a complete mix of government representatives, parliamentarians, academics and thinks, civil society protagonists, media persons and interested individuals,” said the prime minister. “What was particularly noteworthy was the frank, uninhibited and most cordial manner in which prolonged deliberations took place, both within the confines of this room and outside in the hallways and at the dining tables, and perhaps, in some of the local bars.”

“Yet we continue to be perplexed and challenged, both conceptually and in practice, by what it really means and how best it can serve societal interests,” said the prime minister. Many other Bhutanese participants of the conference also reflected the prime minister’s observation that some of the concepts and ideas discussed at the conference were confusing for a citizenry only one year into democracy.

Some topics discussed at the conference included whether the system is an end in itself or a means to a higher goal, and whether the practice of democracy could be different, depending on the context of a country.

“What we all seem to agree is that democracy everywhere is at risk and that it’s an ongoing process along perilous paths, giving reasons for some to choose more alternative, ‘predictable options’,” said the prime minister. “There isn’t a perfect democracy and probably will never be, at least, not of the kind that we can all accept as the perfect model,” added the prime minister, “to each its own, is what we generally must accept, it seems.”

Holding such conferences is a way to battle threats to democracy, said the prime minister. “It’s through common endeavours like this that we, as actors in our respective fields, can contribute to making our individual democracies function a little better.” The prime minister then announced that the international conference would continue next year in the Maldives. Referring to the vice president of the Maldives, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who also attended the conference, the prime minister, said, “He has given us assurances that, unlike the cabinet session, which is being held under water this week, our meeting will be held on the firm surface of one of its many coral islands.”

“We’re going to be taking quite a lot back,” said deputy country director for UNDP in Nepal, Jorn Sorensen. The UNDP representative said that Nepal is preparing for elections next year along with its constitution. “The Nepali delegation may be able to adopt some of the best practices discussed here at the conference,” said Sorensen. “Much appreciated,” he added, “by both the UN in Nepal and the Nepali delegation.”

The conference was held in Bhutan on the occasion of its peaceful transition to democracy.

Source: Kuensel Online

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