Failure Of The Amendment Bill

Uttam Maharjan

The constitution amendment bill, which had lingered for months in Parliament, was finally put to the vote on August 21. The Madhesi parties had expressed their dissatisfaction over some provisions of the constitution since it was promulgated in September of 2015. The dissatisfaction of the Madhesi parties found its expression in the Madhes agitation quickly followed by the implicit embargo against the country at the hands of the Indian establishment.
Several governments had changed since the Madhesi agitation. The Madhesi parties even played a role in making and breaking governments for their vested interests. The Oli-led government had to cave in for this very purpose, giving room for the Prachanda-led government. The Prachanda-led government assured the Madhesi parties in unambiguous terms that their demands would be fulfilled. But the government cringed at setting the stage for endorsing the amendment bill. At long last, the government allowed the Deuba-led government to supplant it as per the so-called gentlemen’s agreement.
The amendment bill was defeated the other day when it was put to the vote. The bill was able to garner 347 aye votes against 206 nay votes, falling short of the two-thirds majority of 395 votes. The main opposition party, the CPn-UML, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and other fringe parties voted against the bill.

Sticking point
The main sticking point in the endorsement of the amendment bill was lack of two-thirds majority. This was due to the reluctance of the main opposition party to support the bill. In its eyes, the bill was anti-national; it sought to separate the Terai from the hills, thus roiling the age-old harmony so happily subsisting between the two regions. The other points in the bill like language and citizenship were also controversial.
The Madhesi parties, especially the Rastriya Janata Parry-Nepal (RJP-N), a conglomerate of six erstwhile Madhes-based parties, boycotted the first and second phases of the local polls under the pretext that its demands had not been fulfilled. But the results of the polls proved that its demands were not reasonable as the majority of the Madhesi people voted enthusiastically in the polls and even some leaders and cadres of the party clandestinely contested the polls, thus dealing a double whammy to it.
On the other hand, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also advised the Madhesi leaders against boycotting the polls. This was a crucial factor that made the RJP-N make a U-turn in its stand. So the party became ready to face the results of the voting on the amendment bill and also to take part in the coming polls whether the bill was passed or not.
One of the reasons for the amendment bill lying fallow in Parliament for months was the possibility of the bill being defeated for lack of a two-thirds majority, which turned out to be true. The coalition government tried to garner enough votes for the endorsement of the bill. The RJP-M went as far as requesting the CPN-UML, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party led by Kamal Thapa and other parties in writing to vote for the bill.
The Rastriya Prajatantra Party led by Kamal Thapa voted against the amendment bill after the split of the party. It reiterated its demand for declaring the country a Hindi state again. This caused a setback in the endorsement of the bill to some extent.
During the discussion on the amendment bill, some lawmakers expressed their objection to the attempt of the government to put the bill to the vote. They suggested that the bill be referred to a special committee. There were also voices against the bill as it tried to alter the provincial boundaries in a spirit that goes against the constitution. It is clearly mentioned in the constitution that it is mandatory to seek the permission of the provincial assemblies to change the boundaries. The point to be noted here is that provincial assemblies are yet to come into existence as the provincial elections are yet to take place.
Some lawmakers, therefore, suggested dealing with the amendment bill after the elections to the provincial assemblies and Federal Parliament were over. As the tenure of Parliament lasts till January of 2018, the elections must be conducted by that time, failing which constitutional and legal complications may crop up.
The RJP-N has finally realized its folly of boycotting the local polls in all the provinces except in Province 2, where the poll takes place on September 18, 2017. That is why, it changed its tone, even if at the beck and call of India and got ready to contest the poll in the province, even if the amendment bill was defeated. In the past, it was parroting that the bill must be endorsed in its favour, come hell or high water. Given its commitment, the party will also take part in the upcoming provincial and federal elections.
Boycotting the elections is not a democratic exercise. Elections are part of democracy and play a pivotal role in assessing the popularity of leaders or parties. The two phases of the local polls indicated that the decision of the RJP-N to boycott the polls was against the popular waves towards the polls. Even if belated and at the behest of an external force, the decision of the RJP-N to contest the upcoming polls is a welcome step, which will help it to come to mainstream politics by establishing itself as a democratic party.

Deck cleared
In the meantime, the government has announced the holding of the provincial and federal election on November 26. With this announcement, the deck has been cleared that the all the three levels of elections will have been held before the term of Parliament ends. Now the RJP-N should brace itself for the coming local and the provincial and federal elections. It should not escape from the elections under one pretext or the other. On the other hand, the relevant electoral laws should be passed at the earliest. The Constituency Delimitation Commission should also finish its work in time.
As the long-festering row between the RJP-N and the government has come to a grinding halt with the defeat of the amendment bill, it may be safely said that the country will now definitely go federal in a full-fledged manner without any hassles after the provincial and federal elections.

 

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