Nepali Times
Guest Column
Dangers of cohabitation


Now that the peace process is almost complete, the Constituent Assembly is about to start carrying out its main task of writing the new constitution.

Reading the Nepali press every day it appears that two main issues remain to be sorted out among the political parties in this difficult exercise which will affect the country for several decades to come: the form of governance and the nature of federalism.

Any constitution of any country must be adapted to suit the prevailing conditions. At the moment when they sit down to discuss the draft constitution, the members of the Constituent Assembly should keep in mind that Nepal is the oldest nation state in South Asia, and made up of more than 100 ethnic groups which have succeeded in living together throughout the long history of independence that the Nepali people are legitimately proud of. It is a model for many countries torn apart by ethno-separatism, but this model is fragile. The national unity that served Nepal so well, and took so long to build, can be destroyed in a moment.

The parties are trying to decide whether to go for a presidential system or keep the parliamentary one. The compromise is the so-called 'French model' in which the president is directly elected by the people and holds the bulk of executive power, appointing and dismissing the prime minister at will, and dissolving parliament if he wants. This is why the president in France is often referred to as a 'republican monarch'.

The presidential form of governance has its pros and cons, but I am not sure it suits Nepal. In France a candidate for the presidency is simply French. In Nepal, any candidate besides being a Nepali citizen, will also belong to a particular ethnic group and a particular caste. The danger then is that electoral competition will oppose not only two or more men but also, willingly or unwillingly, two or more ethnic groups or castes.

Victory will then be the victory of one group and defeat for the others. If one wants to protect the unity of Nepal, the parliamentary form of governance seems to me a much better option. This is the system which was in force during the period of the constitutional monarchy from 1991 and it worked reasonably well. The only difference, now that the monarchy is abolished, lies in the election of a ceremonial president by parliament who embodies the unity of Nepal and the Nepalis in all their diversity.

The second point of contention is federalism, which in itself is a positive form of governance. It gives the people the possibility of finding local and better adapted solutions to the problems they are confronted with. It takes the administration much closer to the citizens when the central government is too often far away and tends to be oblivious of their daily needs.

Despite these benefits, however, there are difficulties. To be effective, federal states or provinces have to recruit good and skilled staff capable of running the day-to-day administration. Also defining federal units by ethnicity is very risky for Nepal, and can lead to splitting the country. A few ethnicities may be satisfied but many others, too small to get their own province, will resent the new administrative divisions as not responding to their needs and aspirations. The best form of federalism for Nepal should be based on economic criteria by regrouping regions where different ethnic groups could work together to lift their populations out of poverty in cooperation with neighbouring regions.

Michel Lummaux served as the ambassador of France to Nepal between 1996 and 2000. The views in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the French government's position.

1. Raju
You are right as an outsider having not-in-depth knowledge of Nepalese society and history of governance in the country. Are you aware of that a few caste (brahman and chhetris) has ruled the country for centuries. Most other ethnic groups, aborigines, lower castes have been marginalized and deprived of the social and economic services as yet. That is why they demand such type of federalism which could protect their rights, and they could participate in all activities as a first-class citizen, not remain as second -class citizen as in the past

2. Nirmal
The danger lies when so called academician like you present us the stuff as simplistic and vacuous as this, over alarming and the appeasement to the politics of your colour --the right--.

For nepali people who have so long cohabitated in the caste system, it represents few more efforts to digest(read it as to be used to) the new dominating caste and creed. Before ,and still there are, few bahun men reigning the country, in future there will be other few men of some particular caste. This is not France, your excellency, this is Nepal where a govt is highly symbolic (far from people-s reach) and local governments the spots to recruite party activists, of corruption and misuse of power.

But there are some similarities, no matter where you come from: that the rightists know nothing more than the language of fears and disintegration. That is somehow very genetic amongst you people. You people always have your kind of simplistic generalisation to serve and appease your people, hey?

3. nepali cheli
"Only fools learn from their own experiences/mistakes ó the wise learn from the experiences/mistakes of others."†

I think this quote suits us very well. We refuse to learn from the experiences of other people and other countries. We have to try out everything by ourselves, make tons of mistakes and in hind sight we put our hands on our foreheads and say 'laa thulo bhul bhayecha'.†

We experimented with absolute monarchy, then we tried constitutional monarchy for 16 years, then we experimented with Maoists for the next 6 years. Why not give ethnic federalism a chance. 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Money won't be a problem coz NGOs and INGOs will willingly pour in money into the country in the name of Naya Nepal. More goondas can expect to get rich while Nepalis on the bottom of the ladder will remain in more or less the same position. And then maybe in 2040 we will get tired of all this hoha, have Jana-andolan III, create Naya Nepal (version 2.0) and set out to learn from our 'wide experiences and mistakes' all over again.†

4. Nirmal
And one point in which we both coincide: Nepal will move forward with the parliamentary system. Not because parliamentary system have strong points in comparison to the presidential or mixed system, but because after nearly two decades, we know where the holes are and we know what are the things inexcusable that cannot be repeated. What we do not have is another two decades for a new experiment. More time for experiments means more fraustrations and backwardness for Nepal.

Your excellency all systems are pretty goods if engineered by good people, however the doubts arise when we know that the same brand of politicians who could not stop instabilities, corruption, criminal activities are now promising that they will, altogether, transform this situation of prevading gloominess and disenchantment of  decade when the new system come into effect with dynamic, firm and clear political actions. Either I-ll have to be overly optimistic to believe them or I-ve to be cautious and move on with critical mindset.

5. BB

If directly elected all-powerful President, then what's the difference really from monarchy? Better to have 'hereditary monarch' than 'republican monarch'.

..anyway, no matter what the new constitution eventually looks like, 1990 constitutional monarchy was the best system for Nepal. Nepali parties and people were foolish to throw it away.

6. Binu
This guy is fearing split of Nepal. This is not the case here. Shut off your mouth.

7. Anon

#6 Binu: and what if it does split? In fact, it doesn't have to. It could just lead to life being more difficult for Nepali people; people not getting along well with each other etc. What if that happens? Shutting your mouth then won't help.

Better to speak up now and prevent a disaster happenning.

8. Krishna S.

" This is the system which was in force during the period of the constitutional monarchy from 1991 and it worked reasonably well"

Excusez-moi, monsieur l'ambassadeur! But didn't they have seventeen or eighteen sittings on the parliament before they could choose a prime mininister? And how many Prime Ministers have ruled since 1990? What about the Horse Trading that our parties practice everytime they have to choose a PM. Do we as citizens have any control over these events?

We are talking about "Directly Elected Executive Ruler" system. Why are you elitists having big problem with it? Cannot trust the virdict of the poor and ignorant Nepali people? Somebody gve me a better reason!

9. Joaquin
Se trata de encontrar un equilibrio entre el poder central y los poderes cedidos a las regiones.

10. Sophia
The french model doesnot work for FRANCE muslim youngsters develop intorno serial killers, the problema of society, race, religion are only oppresse by dominance of blue marine means neo fascist local root putsch right Wind liberale to make France into anti immigrant country, but watt about REAL INHABITANTS THEY ARE MUSLIM, CHRISTAN! JEWISH, FRENCH? Then to Nepal low castes are discriminated.
Similar you help they do black magic Why? Maybe not HAPPY.
Is best to pamper future potential terroristi, Netherlands gas a hall sucessful policy of POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION. means help more Who needs not chiarito but susta inabile development. Amen.

11. yanpras
(This is the system which was in force during the period of the constitutional monarchy from 1991 and it worked reasonably well)

Not agreed with the author. Moiast came to light because of this fudeal system which has so many loophole in  buying and selling this corrupt MPS... There should be a way  to have kind of dictatorial from someone choosen by people to control these corrupt animals....We want simply strong leadership who was chosen by people. weak leadership can to deliver the progress what we want. 

12. Rajaram
Present leaders are of feudal  mindset.
They call themselves communist
They are Bigreka Bahuns.( Self-alinated ones).
Neither good Bahuns,nor good Christians,nor good Muslims.
They hate their own culture ,tradition or dharma.
Gharka na ghatka;Dhobi ka kukur hun.
 Youths of the country must take over and rule with law and order democratically.
Campaign for No Vote To The Incumbents  in the coming elections.
Punish them That is what they deserve.

13. who cares
nepalgunj should be declared islamic state and send a clear message to southern devil: if we are going down cause of you, we will take you down with us.

if there is islamic state, dhoti bhai haru ko sato jancha. 

is bejing preventing sherpa state?

there has got to be kochila state too.

14. B2B

Your Excellency,

Your precious advice concerning the drafting of new constitution of Nepal is most welcome. As you know how much France suffered during the 4th Republic under the parliamentarian system thanks to the instability of government changing every 6th month the prime minister because the alliances changed according to the whim of the members of parliament. Which is why in 1958 General Charles de Gaulle had to impose the 5th Republic with a presidential election which at last brought about stability by establishing a parliament with two poles: executive and the opposition. And this model still works very well in France.

Whereas Nepal is a country which was so far ruled by some of the upper castes Bahuns, Chhetris and Newars with no motive other than to enrich themselves without morphing country's face of a begging bowl into a prosperous one by plundering the exchequer leaving aside a bigger chunk of populace never allowing to participate in different governments whatsoever.

As of now, everybody wants his share of the pie. The invisible part of Nepalese of other castes such as Tamang, Rai, Sherpa, Limbu, Magar, Gurung Tharu etc have enough to be taken for the citizens of the second zone let alone the inhabitants of terai.

Federalism by itself is a very nice solution, but it takes time to give shape to different states without pointing out ethnic disparities. Federalism based on economic viability shall be OK but there are so many illuminated individuals who are pushing hard the federalism based on ethnicity. This is to my mind is the prelude to disintegration of fragile Nepal.

Recently, Congress has proposed 7 provinces based entirely on the economic viability of the country. I adhere to this proposition. If all parties agree upon this new model things will calm down bringing in at the same time peace and harmony in the country.

Encore, mille remerciements pour votre pr√©cieux conseil. J'habite France depuis il y a belle lurette. Quel merveilleux pays! Je vie la d√©mocratie chaque jour que dieu a fait. La D√©mocratie marche trŤs bien en France. (Plus, bunch of thanks for your precious advice. I dwell in France for quite a moment. Democracy functions perfectly well in France, therefore why France is a model.)

15. G G
Nepalese will surely rue the day, should the country adopt the federalism based on ethnicity. It is an open invitation for an internal conflict and disitegration, the system simply just wont work.. GUARANTEED...sorry! May be not immedeatly, just give it few years. The ethnic people want it, simply because they have been brimming with grudges for centuries against bahuns. Surely! Limbu, Rai or Gurungs will begin to have claims of their  moral rights to rule and be the 1st ministers and the rest of it, what happens to the rest? other than to resort to ... you know what...

16. cohabitor
What's with the headline? Doesn't cohabitation mean living as a couple outside of marriage? Is this a mistake or does co-habitation have another meaning? 

17. Nepali Keto
The comments on this article are ridiculous. Ok, fine, you don't like his arguments. Do you have a solution? No. So what's with the hate? And his proposal holds water. 

Listen folks, Nepal is obviously divided along ethnic lines. Caste system still holds but lets not forget that everyone practices it. The kings may have institutionalized the caste system but now that things are different, everyone still practices it.

The non bahuns and non chettris still don't marrt outside of their castes so lets not point fingers at each other. We're all guilty. 

And btw, the Maoist cadre is filled with non-bahuns and non-chettris- especially since the leaders themselves do not profess to any particular caste or religion. 

So if there's a problem, it's us. You and I. If our goal is to have a society where ethnicity and castes are not values how will "ethnic federalism" be successful to achieve that goal? 

The author is right. With well over 100 groups, only one will win in an election. In a democracy, the people as a whole need to be represented, not any particular ethnic group. 

If you're from an ethnic group which has historically been pushed aside, you're just as guilty as the upper castes if you want a federal state along ethnic lines.

So that brings us back to the main point- is an French style democracy good? Clearly not as the author mentions. The logic holds. He doesn't have to be a Nepali to understand Nepal's core problems. Clearly, us as Nepalis haven't understood the problem as understanding leads to action and since our actions are nowhere to be seen, we can't claim any understanding ourselves.

A parliamentary style democracy will work provided there's no more than a 100 or so MPs in the lower house. even that is too much. 50-60 is enough. We can start by reducing head count.

18. Colin Cooper
STOP PRESS: Nepali Times Comments Section in Denounce-The-Perfectly-Reasonable-Views-of-Reputable-"Outsider"-Shockah!!!

19. Wiki
don't know why commentators like #16 above want to exhibit their ignorance about political vocbulary:

Cohabitation in government occurs in semi-presidential systems, such as France's system, when the President is from a different political party than the majority of the members of parliament. It occurs because such a system forces the president to name a premier (prime minister) that will be acceptable to the majority party within parliament. Thus, cohabitation occurs because of the duality of the executive: an independently elected President and a prime minister who must be acceptable both to this president and to the legislature.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)