Fast-track the amendment

  • The Federal Alliance has been flexible, and the government needs to hold up its part of the deal
- Dipendra Jha
It remains to be seen how the ruling parties will muster the two-thirds majority needed for the Constitution Amendment Bill to pass through Parliament

Apr 24, 2017-The unification of the six constituents of the United Democratic Madhesi Front into a new party, the Rastriya Janata Party, has got hopes up in Madhes. Furthermore, the Federal Alliance (FA), which includes Madhes-based parties, seems to have agreed to accept the proposed Constitution Amendment Bill with some revisions and dropped its demand, for now, to redraw the provincial boundaries. This augurs well for the country as it means that they will participate in the local elections slated for May 14. The agreement made between the government and the FA on the Constitution Amendment Bill on April 21 relates to language, citizenship, Article 274 of the constitution and the number of local units. 

Broadening acceptance

As per the latest accord, a multi-lingual policy will be ensured by the centre. Similarly, the Legislature-Parliament will be allowed to redelineate the boundaries of the provinces. This is a big departure from the existing rigid provision which says that a majority of the provinces have to agree to redraw the boundaries of any province. The two sides have agreed to form a Federal Structure Review Commission which could be created on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion. The FA has said that the commission should take into account the report of the erstwhile State Restructuring Commission and the past agreements signed between the government and Madhesi and Janajati forces. The accord also states that the ruling parties will pledge to revise the provincial boundaries before provincial and parliamentary elections are held.

It remains to be seen how the ruling parties will muster the two-thirds majority needed for the Constitution Amendment Bill to pass through Parliament. Will they seek the support of the CPN-UML? If not, they need to get the support of many independent Members of Parliament and fringe parties including the Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Bijay Gachhadar-led Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Democratic. We should not forget that the new constitution still remains a contested document. An amendment was made to it in January 2016, but it did not address the issues raised by Madhesi and Janajati forces. Therefore, Madhes-based parties have kept demanding further amendments to the constitution. If the proposed amendment is passed, it will increase Madhesi ownership of the constitution. So the major parties should not miss this opportunity to broaden the acceptance of the new constitution. 

Moreover, the Cabinet needs to make a number of technical changes to increase the number of local bodies in Provinces 1, 2 and 5 so that local units in the Tarai make up at least 45 percent of the total. Voters in the Tarai should be given at least 10 days to register their names as Madhesi bodies were against the election, and a large number of their supporters did not enroll themselves in the electoral roll. Because of this unfinished business, it is important to give a month’s time in the Tarai districts before holding the second phase of local polls. 

Bringing all parties on board

It is a good sign that the government and the FA have agreed to hold elections in Provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 on June 14. Holding local elections in two phases should not bother us. The important thing is how we are going to conduct them and whether we will be able to bring Madhesi parties and the Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti Party, Nepal on board. Holding elections in two phases is not a problem, what is important is that all the agitating Madhesi and Janajati parties join the election.

What the ruling alliance needs to understand is that the latest agreement is a face-saving formula for the FA and a big victory for the government. The new understanding has boosted the image of Prime Minister Prachanda who is going to hold local elections by bringing all sides on board. So there should not be any dishonesty from the government’s side in the proper implementation of this new deal. Enough pressure needs to be put on the main opposition party, the UML. Efforts should be made to bring the main opposition party on board so that it will not obstruct the deal.

All stakeholders need to put pressure on the political parties so that the amendment proposal is passed through a fast track process. If this is not done even after the compromise and flexibility shown by the Madhesi parties to drop their main demand to redraw the state boundaries, it can create another kind of frustration in the Madhesi community, and it will be difficult for the FA and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) to explain why they dropped their main demand, even though it is temporary. The FA and the UDMF took a risk to give an outlet to the current political problems, and they need to be protected. Now the ball is in the ruling parties’ court, and they have to implement the understanding that has been reached.    


Jha is a practising lawyer 

Published: 24-04-2017 07:59

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