A difficult start

  • Numerical superiority is not an adequate basis for the drafting of a constitution
- Post Report, Kathmandu
A difficult start

Aug 10, 2015-

After a prolonged delay and discussion, the major political parties reached an agreement on the determination of constitutional boundaries on midnight Saturday. This development was a clear indication that in certain cases, public opinion can be an influential force upon the behaviour of political party leaders. The parties would not have agreed to include the details of the federal structure in the new constitution had it not been for the widespread opposition that arose through the media and in the public consultation process. It was this pressure that made the parties realise that they could be severely delegitimised if they promulgated a constitution that did not address the demand for the delineation of provinces. This is clear from the fact that the parties were initially extremely reluctant to work on determining the boundaries of the provinces. Even when the Supreme Court ruled against their decision, some of the top leaders went on to vilify the Court rather than following the order. 

The agreement on the federal structure, however, has led to discontent among sections of the population, especially among Madhesis and Tharus. The fact of the matter is: the agreement on federalism represents a compromise on the part of the UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik (MJF-L) and a victory for the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. The ruling parties had wanted as few provinces as possible. They compromised somewhat in the 16-point agreement to the UCPN (Maoist) by deciding that there would be eight provinces. Further, it should be noted that the most contentious issue around January was the placement of five districts: Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari in the east; and Kanchanpur and Kailali in the west. 

While the Maoists and Madhesi parties wanted these to be part of horizontally carved provinces where Madhesis and Tharus would be dominant, the NC and UML wanted them to be part of vertically carved provinces that included hill districts. This was largely because senior NC and UML leaders from these districts come from hill communities and felt that their constituencies will be endangered if they become part of horizontally carved provinces. In the end, the parties decided to include these five districts within vertical provinces including hill areas, even though the Maoist party and MJF-L have both registered a symbolic note of dissent. Perhaps the UCPN (Maoist) and MJF-L had no other option but to compromise, since the NC and UML enjoy overwhelming numerical superiority in the CA. 

However, it should be noted that numerical superiority alone is not an adequate basis for the drafting of a constitution. Numbers in the legislature can change, and a significant change can lead to such a constitution being undermined: only one Madhesi party has clearly owned up to the deal; all other parties and most civil society groups have warned that they will oppose it. Tharu groups too feel that the new structure will give them very little power in the provinces and are opposed to the deal. The grievances of these groups could simmer and explode. It would therefore be best for the major parties to engage these groups and seek to address their concerns over the federal structure. 

The brightest feature of the draft is its clear ownership of a federal state. Indeed various stakeholders continue to have differences over the nature of the current delineation but the fact that the delineation has preceded the constitution means that Nepal is now firmly on track to institutionalise federalism as a bedrock of its democracy.  

Published: 10-08-2015 13:22

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