6-12 February 2015 #744

Devolution without federalism

There are many other ways to ensure proper representation without the need for federalism per se
David Seddon
If a major concern of Nepal’s pro-federalists with regards to a new Constitution is to reduce the power of the central state, the domination of the political process by the old elites, and to increase the representation of those who have been disadvantaged and arguably ‘marginalised’ in the political process, then this could be achieved without the need for federalism per se.

First, the Constitution should be based on popular democracy (loktantra) universal human rights and the explicit protection of the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups. The definition of citizenship should be broad and generous, indicating a commitment to gender equality with regards to citizenship by birth and recognising residence. Every effort should be made to provide citizenship papers as soon as possible to all who qualify. All citizens should have the right to individual liberties and freedoms and the protection of the state and all adults the right to vote – some consideration might be given to reducing the voting age.

Real devolution of power and resources to elected district and village councils as per the Local Self-Governance Act of 1999 (passed but never really implemented, perhaps with supplementary legislation) would immediately effect a re-structuring of the state. If the number of districts in the Tarai were to be increased from the present 20 to say 45, to allow for greater equality of population as between districts, then a House of directly elected district council representatives would create a powerful basis for the representation of blocs of local and regional interests. There could be two representatives from each district, one man and one woman.

In such a House, ‘Madhesis’ for example could, if they wished to represent themselves as such, have a decisive voice. Alternatively, they could align themselves in other ways to promote a variety of different interests so could the representatives from remote regions.

Proportional representation is clearly a way of enabling minority interests to have a greater chance of representation than they usually do in first-past-the-post systems, but if an anchor in local constituencies is regarded as desirable, then a mixed system of proportional representation together with first-past-the-post at the constituency level could be adopted – as it was for the elections to the first Constitutional Assembly.

This allowed that first Assembly to demonstrate an unprecedented diversity and range of representation, and gave the Maoists the largest share of seats. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already, not surprisingly, shown an interest in a greater role for proportional representation in any future system of political representation.

Regarding governance, there is a strong argument for having a directly elected President, with a limited period office. But in order to command real authority, the president should renounce all other roles, at least for the period of the presidency, whether party political, judicial or other. He or she should not be a part of the executive, but should represent the nation as a whole, and preside over a National Planning Commission and a National Security Committee, to ensure a unified strategy for sustainable economic development and national security.

The legislature could be a directly elected National Assembly as at present, but elected on a mixed proportion and first-past-the-post system countered by a House of Local Representatives with powers of scrutiny. The judiciary should be strictly separate from – and independent of - both legislature and executive.

As to the government itself, there are many possibilities, but its constitution must surely aim to balance effectiveness with representativeness. Single party governments have both advantages and disadvantages, as do coalitions. The same is true of a minimalist inner cabinet with a powerful Prime Minister and Prime Minister’s office, and a larger, more inclusive government with a less ‘presidential’ First Minister.  


Read also:

Instead of federalism, David Seddon

Federalism for the sake of it, David Seddon

PR for PR, Trishna Rana

Long-term optimist, Kunda Dixit

Devolution, not revolution, Alok Bohara

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