6-12 June 2014 #710

Constitutional déjà vu

Two opposing formulae for federalism and two opposing ways to decide which one to go for
Damakant Jayshi
The Constituent Assembly-II doesn’t look similar to Constituent Assembly-I when it comes to relative strengths of the political parties. But the issues that divide them are the same as last time.

The NC-UML ruling coalition wants to decide contentious issues like state restructuring through majority vote if consensus cannot be reached, while the Maoist opposition is insisting on a consensus-only approach.

There’s one notable difference in the second CA: the NC, UML, RPP, and other parties likely to vote with them on federalism command a comfortable two-thirds majority that is enough to pass every single provision of the new constitution. The Maoist-Madhesi coalition in the last CA lacked these numbers.

Towards the end of the last CA in May 2012, sharp differences had surfaced on the criteria for carving out states, their names, number of states, delineation of boundaries. The parties had avoided discussions on these issues until the very last moment. They kept extending the CA despite growing public dismay and frustration and the Supreme Court’s conditional approval of the extensions. The differences over federalism remain, and if anything are even more entrenched.  And it is not just about state restructuring, differences also exist about the kind of electoral system and governance structure.

While the Maoist-Madhesi coalition would understandably want to downplay the mandate expressed by people through the election in November last year, the NC and the UML are playing along as if the election was a referendum on state restructuring. The Maoists campaigned for eight or more single identity-based provinces while their Madhesi allies brandished the slogan of One Madhes. Those espousing single ethnicity-based provinces and a single Madhes state were heavily trounced, even in their own strongholds. The leaders from these parties would do well to publicly accept this verdict.

But there are others as well who need to recognise what the results meant. While rejecting the idea of single ethnicity-based federalism, the people demonstrated that they were for meaningful decentralisation. Federalism is a reality, but Kamal Thapa and his party, RPP (Nepal) are still having none of it. Given the smart politician that Thapa is, it won’t be long before he adjusts to the reality. If not, he should be ready for the consequences in the next election.

Chitra Bahadur KC, chairman of Rastriya Jana Morcha (RJM) has come around to accepting federalism even though he has been one of the staunchest opponents of state restructuring into federal provinces.

Taking part in discussions in the CA committee this week, KC finally acknowledged the need for federalism. He said his party would be open to accepting the 7-state model proposed by the NC and the UML.

“The previous CA had to be dissolved because no one could agree on the federal model, and the differences still persist,” KC was quoted as saying. “If it will help a consensus, we are willing to agree to a seven-province model.”

KC was referring to Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s remarks in the committee the previous day in which he held out for a consensus. But reading between the lines of Dahal’s remarks indicates his party wants consensus only on its own formula for federalism. It’s like an office boss telling his colleagues he is all for democratic practices and open discussion so long as everyone agrees with him.

Consensus is an ideal approach in deciding issues of long-term implications for the country. But if it comes in the way of viable state restructuring, a requisite electoral system and governance structure, the issues can be put to a vote so as to finish writing the constitution in time.  Otherwise, this Constituent Assembly will meet the same fate as its predecessor.


Read also:

The architecture of democracy, Bihari K Shrestha

Misinformed, misunderstood, Anurag Acharya

Clearing the air, From the Nepali Press

Federalism by any other name, Editorial

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