7- 13 November 2014 #731

Keep talking

The foundations of a New Nepal cannot be laid on faultlines of the past
Anurag Acharya
On Monday, the two ruling parties Nepali Congress and CPN-UML came up with a document listing their common position on contentious issues of constitution drafting.

The position paper received mixed reactions in the mainstream and social media. Not surprisingly, it irked the opposition which is calling it an arm-twisting strategy by the ruling coalition against them. The document was discussed briefly at the dialogue committee’s meeting on Tuesday following which Chairman of the committee Baburam Bhattarai abruptly called off the meeting stating that the document must be discussed at the highest political level for consensus.

Given their political calculations, the opposition was expected to find fault in the document, but there is no reason why they can’t treat it as a talking paper.

On the contentious issue of form of governance, the proposed document leaves a room for negotiation by acknowledging that Nepal’s parliamentary practice has bred political instability. This, weighted against the risks of authoritarianism or a paralysing standoff between directly elected executive and the legislature or the judiciary, experienced by many countries, opens up a unique opportunity of arriving at a model that best suits our own needs.

Similarly, the document proposes a separate constitutional bench within the apex court instead of a constitutional court to resolve disputes over jurisdiction between constitutional bodies or those related to interpretations of the constitution. The parties must now rationally decide if a separate bench is sufficient to deal with the volume of cases involving the provinces, union government and the constitutional bodies, and not make it a matter of contention.

As expected, the trickiest part is related to federalism. But there is room for debate here as well. To begin with, the Madhesi parties could argue in favour of retaining some parts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari in the proposed Tarai (Janakpur) province, unless the ruling parties can give proper justification or the rationale behind lumping huge swathes of the plains with the proposed hill province of Kosi. Similar arguments could be made on the possibility of retaining the lower belt of Tharu dominated Kailali and Kanchanpur with the proposed Lumbini province. Beyond political and economic calculations, the Tarai’s regional autonomy from the hill administration may help to heal its historical grudge against Kathmandu mending the ruptured social fabric between the Pahades and the Madhesis living in the region.

In the last column, I had argued that the parties could limit the number of states while meeting demands by ethnic groups by recognising one or more autonomous regions within a state where cultural, linguistic as well as political rights of the groups are protected. The proposed document by NC-UML seems to make similar proposition.

This is a welcome step. However, the ruling parties must prove that their proposal is aimed at empowering marginalised groups and recognising their identity, rather than a strategy to limit the number of provinces. For this, the parties must agree to promote self-rule within the autonomous regions by reserving the constituency seats from the regions for the group. For instance, making it mandatory for the parties to file a Sherpa candidate from the declared Sherpa autonomous region. Such provisions guaranteeing inclusive candidacy list, along with reservations for women and Dalits will ensure sufficient representation of minorities in the state and union legislature.

The current proposal by the NC-UML is a fresh departure from their earlier rigid stance of north-south provinces. At a time when demands for identity and self-rule are still viewed as divisive within both parties, the common proposal can be a starting point for gainful negotiation.

However, the ruling parties must refrain from projecting the document as a bait to trap the opposition. If the disagreements persist, the final solution, including the options of going for a vote must be mutually agreed upon.

The senior leaders on both sides should be mindful not to lay the foundations of a New Nepal on faultlines of the past.

@Anurag_Acharya

Read also:

Off the people, for the people, Anurag Acharya

The ‘f’ word again, Editorial

Divided we don’t rule, Editorial

PR for PR, Trishna Rana

The Tarai is tinder dry, Navin Jha

Federal express, Ass

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