Print Edition - 2015-03-03 | Oped
Past and present
- Ensuring inclusion of the marginalised communities in the new states will respect the mandate of both the revolution and elections
Mar 2, 2015-
The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has documented 75 political agreements made after the 12-point understanding between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and CPN (Maoist) on November 22, 2005 in New Delhi. This excludes political agreements forged after the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly (CA) in May 2012.
Thirty of the 75 agreements signed between the SPA and the Maoist party are mainly related to holding the CA elections, integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and contents of the new constitution. The remaining 45 agreements are between the different governments and various regional partiesoutfits and ethnic organisations.
The 12-point understanding and eight-point agreement between the SPA and Maoist party on June 16, 2006; the 14-point agreement between the SPA and Maoist party on November 8, 2006; the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA); and the Interim Constitution are vital agreements, all of which have some components related to federalism.
After the promulgation of the Interim Constitution, then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala signed a deal with Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) on February 28, 2008, adding another vital document related to federalism/ restructuring of the state. Now, Madhes-based parties are arguing that the country be federated on the basis of this very agreement. The ruling parties, on the other hand, want to federate the country on the basis of the electoral mandate. All the previous agreements, however, stipulate that there shall be a ‘progressive restructuring’ of the state without defining it.
The preamble of the 12-point agreement says that the progressive restructuring of the state should end all types of disparities that prevail on the basis of class, caste, gender and region. The eight-point agreement repeats the same with regards to contents of the new constitution.
The 14-point agreement states that the high-level state restructuring commission will take suggestions on state-restructuring but the CA will have the final say on the matter. This was the agreement which also stated that the fate of the monarchy would be decided by a simple majority in the first meeting of the CA. The UML had then registered a note of dissent, arguing that the fate
of the monarchy should be decided through a referendum and that a fully proportional-representation electoral system would be appropriate.
The CPA reiterates that the restructuring of the state shall be progressive, inclusive and democratic and will do away with the centralised structure of the state so as to end discrimination based on class, caste, language, gender, culture, religion and region. The document categorically commits itself to ending discrimination against women, Dalit, Adibasi, Janajati, Madhesi and other oppressed communities and minorities.
The agreement between the GP Koirala-led government and SLMM formally established the agenda of federalism in Nepal. The agreement states that “Nepal shall be the Federal Democratic Republican State accepting the people’s aspiration for federal republican structures, and meeting the aspirations of the Madhesi people for the autonomous Madhes province and the people of other regions for their
autonomous provinces.” The agreement mentions for the first time that the provinces shall be fully autonomous.
In the 2008 elections, the UCPN (Maoist) emerged as the largest party by securing 240 seats in the CA. The Maoist and Madhes-based parties dominated the Committee on State Restructuring and Allocation of State Power and suggested a 14-province model of federalism giving primacy to ethnic identity. States were structured on the basis of viability (potential for infrastructure development, natural resources, administrative feasibility and economic interrelationship) and identity (ethnicity/community, language, culture, and geographical and regional continuity).
The Committee also suggested autonomous provinces and special areas in the provinces. But the Congress and UML did not support the Maoist-Madhesi proposal. Later, a State Restructuring Commission was formed but its report landed in controversy. In 2013, the NC and UML went to the elections standing for not more than six or seven provinces. They, however, did propose identity and economic viability as the criteria for delienating states. As the two parties almost secured a two-thirds majority in the second CA elections, they argue that their victory is the endorsement of their agenda.
What has followed now is whether the political parties should follow the mandate of the revolution or the mandate of the second CA elections. No doubt, Nepalis endorsed the NC-UML agendas in the 2013 elections and this must be respected. Of late, even the UCPN (Maoist) Chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is trying to convince people that his party is not in favour of single-ethnic identity-based federal structures, and expressed readiness to accept six to seven provinces. But, the NC and UML cannot discard the mandate of the revolution while drafting the new constitution.
After a close study of the previous understandings and agreements signed after the revolution, we can conclude that the main purpose of federalism/state restructuring is to dismantle the unitary and centralised state mechanism and end inequality that prevails on the basis of class, caste, language, gender, religion and region. There should also be an increased representation of Dalits, Muslims, and other marginalised oppressed communities in the new setup.
The approach of the Maoists and Madhes-based parties, however, is flawed when it comes to raising the vague agenda of identity-based federalism. By doing so they are paying little attention to the electoral system. Only an inclusive electoral system can ensure the representation of
all marginalised communities in the central as well as provincial parliaments.
For an amicable compromise, the ruling parties should ensure the representation of wider sections of society in the state mechanism, in both lower and upper houses. The current electoral system proposed by the parties in government is not sufficient to address the aspirations of past agreements. The opposition, on the other hand, should not take rigid stances regarding the name and number of states.
The Madhes-based parties have already abandoned their ‘One Madhes, one province’ demand. So the best alternative would be to go for six or seven provinces, but without losing the focus on ending discrimination and oppression. The primary demand in the agreements signed with the Madhesis, Dalits, Muslims, Limbuwan, Janajatis, and other political outfits has been their proportional and inclusive representation, ensuring their identity and rights in the new setup. So, few federal provinces, which ensure inclusive representation of backward communities in both the centre and federal units, would respect both the mandate of the revolution and the 2013 elections.
Bhattarai is with the political desk at the Post
Published: 03-03-2015 09:24