Political Bone Of Contention

Yuba Nath Lamsal

 

The protracted power tussle between the ruling and opposition parties and their calculated divergence on multiple issues is nothing other than their lack of confidence on their organisational strength and popular base. Viewed from their track records of at least for the last one decade, if not more, none of the political parties seems to have lived up to general expectations of the people.

Key forces

In the political spectrum of Nepal, four forces hold the key role. These key forces are the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Center and Madhesis. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has recently emerged as another force to reckon with especially after the merger of the two factions of the RPP. An extreme leftist force is also trying to emerge, but its presence has not been felt significantly visible in Nepal's political landscape so far.

In the Constituent Assembly election held in 2013, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML emerged as the largest and the second largest party, while the CPN-Maoist Center emerged as the distant third. The Madhesi parties also fared poorly in the election in their own constituency—Madhes, despite their crusade for the rights and the interest of the Madhesis.

Although the CPN-Maoist and the Madhes-based parties fared poorly in the election, Nepal's current politics still continues to be revolving around agendas of the CPN-Maoist Center or the Madhesis. The Constituent Assembly, republican set-up, inclusive democracy, proportionate electoral system and federalism are definitely the Maoists’ agendas. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML in the beginning opposed these issues, but accepted with hesitation after the king took over power and tried to marginalise the political parties. Under compulsion, the seven parliamentary parties agreed to join hands with the Maoists against the king. Similarly, the Maoist accepted multi-party democracy under compulsion as they were not in a position to achieve their goal through their own strength. Finally, both the parliamentary parties and the insurgent Maoists joined hands against the king. It worked as the movement not only restored democracy, but ultimately abolished monarchy.

The Nepal Congress (NC), right from its inception, stood for constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. But the NC was forced to go for republican set-up as the monarchy betrayed time and again and tried to trample democratic system. When multi-party democracy was established in 1951, the NC trusted the monarchy, but the king later betrayed by disbanding the elected government and sending the leaders of the NC behind bar. Despite this, Nepali Congress did not learn a lesson, but continued to support the monarchy. However, the communists had always been demanding a republic. The NC realised in 2005 that as long as monarchy remains, democracy in Nepal will not be safe and stable. Thus, monarchy was finally abolished after the success of the April Uprising of 2006. Similarly, several other issues were forcefully established after this movement.

The Constituent Assembly was yet another key agenda of the political movement of 2006.  The Constituent Assembly had been demanded right from 1951. Even the king of that time had declared that the constitution will be written by the people's elected representatives. But the king did not honour his own words and scuttled this process. This issue came to the fore more forcefully once again, the credit of which goes to the Maoists.  As far the federalism is concerned, both Maoists and Madhesis should be given credit. The Maoists had first raised the issue of federalism, but it was the Madhes movement that established federal demand more strongly.

Now federalism has been the principal bone of contention as the entire political quarrel is revolving around federalism and issues associated with it. This is because federalism in the first place was introduced without homework. Federalism in itself is not a bad idea. But debate should be held if a tiny country like Nepal really needed federalism or genuine decentralisation could have been better. Federalism was viewed as the prescription of all problems.

Federalism is something that empowers local people and decentralises authority of the center to the local level. Based on this principles and needs of the country, federal provinces are determined and the state is restructured from unitary state to a federal system. But it has not been the case in Nepal at present. The way federalism is being defined and federal provinces are being crafted, it gives the impression that small unitary states are being created out of one bigger unitary state. In federalism, it is not only the federal provinces, but all local units, too, are supposed to be autonomous. But there are demands from certain quarters that local units be kept under the provinces, which may not be in true spirit of federalism. Thus, this is one of fundamental flaws in the understanding of federalism in Nepal.

Second, there has never been a debate whether Nepal needs federalism or not. Third, if Nepal really needed federalism then what kind of federal model or how many federal provinces would be appropriate for Nepal.  The way federal provinces are being crafted, or the way some groups are demanding, it seems as though they were not going for genuine federalism, but demanding federalism just for their own political gains. Federalism unites and empowers people; and ensures better delivery of services at people's doorsteps. In our case, issue of federalism has created more rifts among the people and parties. Whatever is the case and cause, we have already declared Nepal as a federal democratic republic from which we cannot go back. We now need to take into account the fact that federalism is for development of the country and the people. So federalism should be made manageable and federal provinces should be crafted in a way it serves the broader interest of the country and it unites the people. It should by no means create conflicts.

 

Federalism debate

As dispute on demarcation of federal provinces continues to drag on, anti-federalist elements are slowly gaining ground. The second Constituent Assembly election of 2013 too produced a parliament in which genuine federalists were in minority, but the ones who accepted federalism under compulsion are in majority. This is because the federalists, who were in majority in the first Constituent Assembly miserably failed to deliver the constitution and institutionalise their agenda. The poor showing of the pro-federal forces and strong presence of anti-federalist forces should not be construed as being the anti-federalism vote. But one thing we must realise that it is the message of the people that they are not happy with the way the federalism issue is being handled. Similarly, the people are slowly getting frustrated as the federalism issue is polarising politics and prolonging political transition in Nepal. 

The prolonged transition has had a cost in our development and stability. The federalism issue is primarily responsible for the protracted transition as our parties have not been able to handle it and resolve the disputes arising from the issues associated with federalism. Now Nepal cannot afford more transition under any pretext. Political parties are, thus, expected to make a compromise to resolve this issue once and for all so that the current transition will come to an end, and the country enters into a new era of stability.

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