Constitution amendment again divides Nepal

Constitution amendment again divides Nepal

SAM Report,

Major friction emerges once again as the prime minister prepares for second round constitutional amendment. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said the bill for amendment will be officially presented to the parliament in a couple of days. He also discussed outline of possible amendments. On the other hand, former Prime Minister and UML Chairman K. P. Sharma Oli urged his party leaders and activist to resist this initiative. Oli said, a foreign conspiracy was instrumental in replacing his government with current one to pass this unnecessary change in the constitution. Apart from alliance partner Nepali Congress, no another significant party is supporting government’s amendment proposal. Only a part of Madhesi people for whom this amendment is taking place, is supporting this change. Usually, it’s not possible to pass a new bill without(??) the support of all three major parties. Question arises why PM Prachanda took this initiative without national consensus.

The constituent assembly approved current constitution of Nepal in 2015. Excluding Madhesi parties, all three major parties Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist Party and then ruling Nepali Congress worked together to approve the current constitution. And since this constitution was passed Madhesis of Terai region started campaign against the change. Bordering country India fully supported this campaign and imposed an undeclared economic sanction which caused economic crisis in Nepal. The new constitution declared Nepal a federal republic and divided into seven states. New parliamentary system was introduced that comprised central bicameralism (two legislator’s assemblies) and unicameralism (single legislative chamber) in individual state. Mixed election system was also introduced. For lower house, one portion will be elected via first-past-the-post method and another part will be elected in a ratio of parties received vote. Special legal provisions were secured to empower and protect minority rights. Abolition of the death penalty continued. Provisions are put to make difficult citizenship for Indians marrying Nepalese women, it also restricts naturalized citizen in any constitutional post.

Madhesis raised objections and put forward observations on four provisions of new the constitution. First, objected against dividing province in a horizontal manner instead of vertical. This will create one or more separate province in Terai region where Madhesis will be regional government. The second objection is on the restrictions imposed on opening any state post for Indian-origin citizen. Third, imposing of strict rules of becoming a citizen. Fourth demand is to ensure proportional representation in parliament and recognize Madhesi language. Although these demands will not be fully endorsed in the new amendment, Prime Minister Prachanda has however taken into consideration these four points of the Madhesis.  Which includes fresh demarcation of the border and creating two new states, relaxing appointment in constitutional post, ensure proportional representation, finally recognizing Madhesi as a new official language.

In addition to K.P. Oli’s UML Madhesi Front is also opposing this move. Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of Nepali Congress also doesn’t seem enthusiastic about the issue despite supporting it as an alliance member. Deuba thinks he will get the credit for addressing this issue when he takes over the prime ministership in next May, which might be sooner if current government fails.

Prachanda is aware that the proposed constitutional amendment will not be approved. This action looks like an effort to please Indian brass. During his visit to Nepal, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee suggested to include all the facets in the second amendment. Despite Nepali Congress being the number three party in parliament, Prachanda was able to become prime minister with India’s support. But now he faces a dilemma of satisfying Delhi and balancing Chinese relationship. To manage this situation, he by passing all norms invited Narendra Modi during a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS-BIMSTEC summit in Goa. He had to face severe criticism in Nepal for this move.

Political divisions will further increase if government pushes for this constitutional amendment. At the same time, vote base of Maoist party likely to decline. Already number 2 of the party and former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai broke away and created his own party. Many other leaders also left Prachanda. The situation deteriorated more in second constituent assembly elections comparing to first. Now Prachanda is likely to lose more support if he takes up a pro-Delhi policy to appease India. This might bring disaster for his party in 2018 election. Probably considering this reality, he is also trying to strike a balance with China. He avoiding taking any negative stance on China trade and transit agreement which was signed during Oli’s government. Moving further ahead, he banned the new 2000 rupee note in Nepal and canceled a connectivity road construction associated with BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) corridor, which would go in favour of New Delhi. These measures signal a declining Indian influence in Nepal which soon might be replaced by a Chinese influence.

CPN Maoist Centre leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Party Chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (centre) in a meeting with CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and leader Bamdev Gautam at the PM's residential office, in Baluwatar, on Thursday, November 24, 2016. Photo Courtesy: PM's Secretariat
CPN Maoist Centre leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Party Chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (centre) in a meeting with CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and leader Bamdev Gautam at the PM’s residential office, in Baluwatar, on Thursday, November 24, 2016. Photo Courtesy: PM’s Secretariat