Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
The boundaries of federalism


As the Constituent Assembly gets down to figuring out what the new structure of the Nepali state should be, political parties and academics on Saturday debated the various models of federalism through a video-conference between Nepal and the United States.

While ethnic-based federal units were seen by some as the only way to address the identity of marginalised communities, there were also fears that given Nepal's complex ethnic, racial, linguistic and caste mosaic this would lead to fragmentation and conflict.

As a compromise, University of New Mexico professor Alok Bohara has put forward the alternative model of 'cooperative federalism'. Bohara outlined his proposal through video-conferencing on Saturday and his paper was commented on by a panel of six speakers. The session was moderated by retired UN assistant secretary general, Kul Chandra Gautam.

Bohara's paper proposes four cooperative federal states, 13 regions and 4,000 village/urban centres. Each federal state is allowed to have three to five ethnic enclaves known as regions which are along the line of the Maoists proposed ethnic structure. The Maoists have proposed 11 provinces/states and three sub-provinces/states which are majorly based on ethnicity and language.

Bohara proposes a structure with a four tier system: centre, state, region and village. The regions will send their representatives to form the state legislative assembly, whereas the governor can be elected directly.Under a state umbrella, a group of ethnic enclaves uses their comparative advantages and form a cooperative to harness their complementary resources-tourism, mining, hydropower cash crop potential, agriculture, industries ? for collective benefit.

The cooperative federal system can involve all of its member regions, who can band together to cope with natural disasters like famine, flooding and food shortages. An economically viable federated state rather than smaller ethnic regions are better suited to coordinate and cooperate to deal with these common problems.

He said the states are carefully created considering economic viability and natural resources and are named after river basins: Kosi, Gandaki, Bagmati and Kosi. But Bohara believes territorial federalism alone cannot address the ethnic, cultural and regional voices being raised.

However, the NC and UML have not proposed any alternative models. NC central committee member Gobinda Raj Joshi has prepared a concept paper, but he has been left out of his party's state restructuring committee under the chairmanship of Gopalman Shrestha. Similarly, Madhab Kumar Nepal of the UML heads the restructuring committee.

Janajati activist Balkrishna Mabuhang of the UML felt Bohara had overlooked the political background on why Nepal decided to go for federalism. "We cannot imagine any federalism without addressing the socio-political issue of ethnicity," he said.

Economist Shankar Sharma agreed that federal units should be economically viable, but pointed out that the ground reality of identity politics in Nepal at present needed to be addressed.

MJF leader Ratneshworlal Kayastha said the state should be structured on the basis of geographical viability. He argues the 1,000 km long lowland strip is administratively viable due to transportation. He believed the diverse identities of Madhesi and Pahadi culture should be taken into account.

The UML's Shanker Pokhrel pointed out the four bases of identity (ethnicity, language, culture and geography) and how federal units should reflect these. "We cannot imagine a state without any one of these components which have made our identity," he said.

He said the basis of structuring state should be economic viability, historical identity, administrative convenience and resources. He opposed the idea of four-tier system, and instead favoured a three tier system?centre, state/province and local government.

NC leader Minendra Rijal put forward the NC's bases for federalism: population, economic viability, geography, ethnicity, history and administrative viability. He asked if Bohara had overlooked how far identity politics had gone in Nepal. "You haven't taken into account that the demand for a federal structure has come up as a way to address regional and ethnic grievances," he said.

Maoists spokesperson Dinanath Sharam said unless ethnicity is addressed, the issues of identity would not be resolved. He claimed the Maoist proposal for federal states is not final. "Our proposal is not totally based on ethnicity but on inclusion and proportional representation," he said, adding, "but we are open for discussion."

However, Sharma reiterated that the Maoists are ready to give states the right to self determination. He also stressed that the constitution should have mentioned the provision on economy and resources. He said: "We should not import the model of federalism, ours should be one of its kind."

Advocate Chandra Kanta Gyawali, however, says the government should form a high level state restructuring commission first to study the model of federal structure. He told Nepali Times: "Ethnicity is important, but more important is to guarantee their representation and participation in policy making. Just creating states is not enough."

A presidential system for stability

Four reasons why an executive presidentship may be better for Nepal


There were totalitarian presidential systems in Latin America until 15 years ago. There were autocratic presidents in Pakistan and Maldives, but democratic movements forced them to step down. There is a feeling that presidential systems are not appropriate to developing countries because they tend to be autocratic. But it is not just presidentship per se, but other political aspects of the political structure and the development of democratic institutions that are the factors. These issues must be discussed in detail in the CA.

Nepali politicians and people are accustomed to the Indian and British Westminster system which is often considered the only democratic model. The NC and some parliamentary parties advocate for the continuity of the parliamentary system. Some hold the view that the PM should be elected directly through election, but no one has proposed a concrete plan so far.

Nepal practiced a parliamentary system for two decades in which we have identified its weaknesses. Therefore, instead of the Indian, Canadian or British models it is now timely and wise for us to adopt the improved presidential model in the US, France, Switzerland and South Africa.

In a presidential system, the executive power lies in the president. The president may form the council of ministers from outside parliament or from among members of parliament. Members resign from parliament once they are nominated for the cabinet. No matter how the government is formed, the president remains the head of state and the government. The president is accountable to all strategic and institutional changes, be it negative or positive. But the president, unlike the prime minister, cannot be removed through a one-third majority of parliament tabling a no confidence motion. Therefore, the president and its team can serve their term fully.

The presidential system has four major advantages:
* The president can appoint competent and honest persons from among the citizens in the council of ministers or constitutional bodies.

* These appointees need not worry about populist short-term measures and do long-term planning since they don't have to worry about being elected.

* They can introduce long-term policies and programs. Third, thus appointed ministers and appointees in constitutional bodies need not be involved in party groupism and serve a particular group within the party. They are free to focus on national agendas and their timely implementation.

* Fourth, the presidential system puts an end to the political game of making and failing the government time and again.

The frequent changes of government, which had happened even in the West and which we have witnessed in our own country gives rise to political intrigue and economic corruption. One can argue that due to ethnic, lingual and regional diversity and diverse political ideologies the political power-sharing would get complicated. But under a two tier system, the provision should be that the appointment in constitutional bodies should be discussed in the legislative and there must be a provision of powerful role of the opposition.

It is not possible to resolve all the problems which have existed for ages by professional politicians alone. It is through institutional development that we can get rid of corrupt bureaucracy, immoral and anarchist political cadres and make the citizen responsible to the country. In a country where the institutions do not follow the rule of law, the people who have knowledge, skill, experience and honesty can institutionalise development.

Under the presidential system, people will elect their president through periodical elections and the team comprising of experts will make policies and implement them. The government can win the trust of the people only through economic growth and long-term service. Therefore, the constitutional provision of a president can ensure the freedom of people, human rights and other rights of livelihood in a country like ours.

Hari Roka is a Maoist-nominated member of the Constituent Assembly.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)