Contestations and Debates

 

The constitution making process witnessed a major contestations by political parties while deciding on the three inter related but important issues - form of governance; name, number and coverage of provinces, and election procedures. Other issues were also contested heavily but agreements were also reached. In issues such as those given below all political parties and organization from civil space took a very conservative position and continually pushed for their own agendas.

 State restructuring and power sharing:

One of the most important committee formed by the first Constituent Assembly was the Committee on Restructuring State and Distribution of State Power. It was formed in December 2008 following clause 66 of the Constitution Assembly Rules 2008 which had also defined its scope of work. The committee had 43 members of parliament and it was headed by Lokendra Bista Magar. The Committee on Restructuring the State and Distribution of State Power prepared its preliminary draft on federalism that underlined ‘identity’ and ‘viability’ as the two main foundations for carving out provinces (Khanal, 2017). ‘Identity’ included themes such as ethnicity, language, culture, contiguous geography and territorial alignment of the ethnic population while ‘Viability’ consisted of economic interrelationships, status of infrastructure development, availability of natural resources, and administrative convenience. The recommendation of the committee was contested which led to the formulation of High Level State Restructuring Commission (HLSRC) whose 9 members represented powerful political figures of various political party. This commission itself remained divided on the recommendation. The majority members recommended 11 provinces - 10 provinces to be based on identity and one non-territorial province for the Dalit community and a while minority members of the commission proposed 7 provinces. Karki (2014) analyzed proposal of 14 provincial units and 11 provincial units and reached to the conclusion that the demography of six out of 11 provinces recommended by the HLSRC was in favour of the targeted groups. Caste/ethnic breakdown of human geography of theHLSRC’s proposed 10 provinces suggests three categories of federal units: (1) provinces with the presence of targeted group as the majority population (Mithila-Bhojpura-Koch Madhes, Narayani, and Khaptad-Karnali) (2) provinces in which the targeted groups constitute as dominant groups (Limbuwan, Kirat, Tamshaling, Magarat and Madhes-Abadh-Tharuwan), and (3) provinces that targeted groups are in minority with small margin of less than one percent vis-à-vis hill high castes (Newa and Tamuwan). But in 14 provinces model proposed by the Committee for State Restructuring and Distribution of State Power, the targeted group of concerned provinces is in majority or in dominant position only in 4 provinces (Kirat, Sherpa, Tamshaling and Kochila-Mithila-Bhojpura-Madhes) and in the rest 10 provinces the hill high castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, Thakuri and Sanyashi) dominant demographically.   

Electoral System:

The Maoists favoured multi-member direct full Proportional Election System in which people have to vote for a party’s symbol, and all the candidates of that single political party would be elected based on number of votes received considering Nepal as one election constituency.This model was also proposed by madhes-based parties and other newly formed political parties. In contrast the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML proposed a system by combining the Proportional Representation and first past the post (FPTP), as a basis for inclusion.They also assigned equal weightage to both first-past-the-post and proportional representation . Finally, agreement was reached for mixed type of election system including first past the post 40% and proportional representation system 60%.  

Form of governance (presidential or parliamentary):

The contestation between presidential and parliamentary form of governance was debated among political parties. Unified Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist and some madhes-based parties pushed for executive presidency claiming that stability to the government would be achieved. The Nepali Congress (NC) proposed parliamentary form while the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) proposed a "blended" alternative of the parliamentary system with additional authority to prime minister which would guarantee stability of the government but at the same time would not make president authoritative. Eventually, the major parties agreed to a parliamentary form of government, with some limits on changing the Prime Minister on exercise of executive powers.

Positions of Political power centers

The conceptual understanding among political power holders on issue of federalism did not last long. While agreements were reached on ethnicity and viability as broad grounds for ethnic division, there were divergent views regarding the number of provinces and boundaries. In the political sphere, proposals of Madhesh based political parties, ethnic groups and Communist party of Nepal Maoists relied more on ethnicity based divisions which were contested with provincial divisions proposed by other political parties. The following section details models of federalism proposed from various political parties.

Proposals by Political parties

In its election manifesto for the Constituent Assembly elections, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had proposed 11 federal units based on ethnic structure, geographical convenience, major language and economic potential (UNDP, 2008). However, it submitted a framework of 13 federal units to the concerned committee of the Constituent Assembly. It used ethnicity as determining factor for 11 provinces (Newa, Tamuwan, Magarat, Tharuwan, Bhote, Limbhuwan, Kirat, Sherpa and Kochila) and regionalism for the 2 remaining provinces 2 (Bheri-Karnali and Seti- Mahakali) (UNDP, 2008).

Figure 4: 13 province Map proposed by CPN Maoists

(Source: Two Steps Forward One step backward Nepal’s Peace Process, Accord Series 2017)

 Nepali congress proposed a number of criteria such as national integrity, geographical conditions and convenience, population size, natural resources and economic potential, regional inter-relationships, and the distinctive habitats of the Madhesi, adibasi, janajiti, dalits and other language groups and communities for delineation of provinces (Sharma, 2014). Along with these criteria it also maintained that the number of provices should be kept minimum. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) proposed the delineation of 15 federal units using criteria much similar to the of Nepali Congress such as geographical distinctiveness, allocation of natural resources, and population and occupancy by ethnic/caste groups, mother tongue and administration capacity. Seven provinces were based on ethnicity, two on the basis of language, and six were mixed.

 

The Madhesh based political parties prosposed for ‘One Madhes, One Province’ on the basis of cultural distinctiveness and identity and geographical characteristics. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum had proposed the concept of a single Madhes province on the basis of geography, ethnic, language, social and cultural distinctiveness, diversity and similarities (Karn, 2017). The Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party proposed a single autonomous region in Terai based on geographical similarities, affinity in terms of culture and language, emotional solidarity and unity. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party proposed geography, population, ethnic community, language, cultural identity, natural resource endowment and economic potential as the bases for federalization although this party remained opposed to federalism (Sharma, 2014).

 

Table 1: Following table explains the proposal of parties regarding federalism

The political parties or groups

Committed issues and proposals on federalism

 

 

 

               Nepali Congress

7 federal states on the basis of identity and economic viability; a mixed type of name for which local people have to right to choose; boundary to be decided by the state council; strongly advocated for pluralism, equitable development, and justifiable distribution of state resources and power as the basis of these federal units.

 

 

        Communist Party of Nepal –United Marxist Leninist (CPN- UML)

7 federal states based on multiple identities with mixed communities and equal rights; clear-cut division of authorities for center, province and local governments and economic viability; nomenclature to be done by provincial councils; progressive democracy and  social justice in all the provinces.

 

 

United Communist Party of Nepal UCPN (Maoist)

11 federal states: 8 based on identity and 3 on geography; mapped out all the names and boundaries of the states but proposed that final demarcation can be done as recommended by the state restructuring commission; also proposed autonomous regions, special regions and protected regions within these 11 states.

 

           Rastriya Prajantra Party (RPP) Nepal

Strong opposition to federalism, secularism and republicanism; advocacy for decentralization, Hindu State with guarantee of religious rights to other groups and constitutional monarchy.

 

 

Madhes-based political parties[1]

Madhes based parties have stuck to have a Madhes pradesh. Though these parties are divided on the number of pradesh– some have proposed two and some only one — they are unison on demanding Madhes Pradesh with the right of self-determination. They have backed UCPN Maoist proposed 11 state model and are flexible on the number of states to be proposed in the hilly and mountain region.

National People’s Front (Rashtirya Janamorcha Nepal)

A communist party which has opposed the federalism saying that it could divide the country and break the national unity inviting foreign military intervention under an imperial project; the state could be restricted through a strong and full-fledged decentralization scheme.

Civil Association of  Janajati groups

Most of the janajiti groups have articulated their demands for ethnic states in a general way and some have based their claims on the distribution of ethnic groups as reported in the census. The federation of the janajitis, Nepal Janajiti Mahasangh, for example, has called for autonomous ethnic states with the right to self-determination, but has not clarified the number and extent of such ethnic states or forwarded a concrete proposal.

(Source: Election manifesto of major political parties 2008; Martin Chautari Policy Brief 08 The debilitating dynamics of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly 2008-2013; Vinita Purohit (2014). Political parties and the process of democratization in Nepal: a study of their role in the post 1990 period https://blog.com.np/2008/03/29/a-comparative-study-of-nepali-political-manifestos/)

Proposal by nonpartisan groups

Various janajati groups have also proposed their own versions of the restructuring of the state in a federal set up. All ethnic groups demanded that states should be designed on the basis of areas of historic occupancy. Areas of historic occupancy, however, have been interpreted and identified differently by different groups and there is considerable overlap between territorial claims (ICG, 2011). Non partisan groups from Terai argued for regional autonomy and division along geography but ethnic groups and indigenous nationalities proposed territorial division based on historical contiguity and language.

Major Timeline

The road to federalism in Nepal has not been smooth at all. Dynamics and discourse were hugely affected by the political positions held by various power centers. From a situation where it was viewed that Nepal is moving towards a ethnicity based federalism, there has been change of course from devising boundaries strictly based on ethnicity based arguments. Following table shows major events which were decisive to change the course of federalism in Nepal.

 

Table 2: Major events leading to the restructuring of Nepal

Date

Actors

Details

2000

Govind Neupane Published a book “Nepalko Jatiya Prasna”

 

Govinda Neupane proposes 11 federal regions or Pradesh in his book titled Nepalko Jatiya Prasna (The Ethnic Question in Nepal). These include the Kirant Pradesh of the Kirat people (the Rais and Limbus) in the eastern hills, Tambasaling of the Tamangs in the central hills, Nepa of the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, Tamumagarat of the Magars and the Gurungs in the western hills, and the eastern Khasan, central Khasan, and western Khasan of the Khas people in the mid and far west. He proposes four states in the Tarai, namely, Vijaypur and Mithila in the east, Lumbini in the centre and Kapilbastu in the west  (Khanal, 2017).

November 2006

Communist Party of Nepal- Maoists and Seven party Alliance

Signed a 12-point agreement with the alliance of seven political parties in Nepal. A few months later, a massive People's Movement II took place with the participation of the seven political parties (Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Nepali Congress (Democratic), People's Front Nepal, Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party, Nepal Sadhbhawana Party (Anandidevi), and Leftist Front Nepal) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and several other political parties, civil society, and various organizations which resulted in the reinstatement of the dissolved parliament and promulgation of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007  (International Crisis Group, 2011).

January 2007

Parliament

The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 was promulgated. According to the article 4, Nepal is an independent, secular, indivisble, inclusive and fully democratic state. The Constitution provided for a unicameral parliament with 330 members (GoN 2007). 

January 2007

Madhesi janaadhikar Forum

The Madhesh Movement (along with a movement by the Janajatis) erupted after the promulgation of Interim Constitution 2007 forced the state to accept federalism as the basis of state restructuring, and to revise the constituencies in the Terai as per the population ratio. Since then, the Nepali discourse on state restructuring, has been narrowly defined to encompass only some dimensions of federalism and there is a general perception that state restructuring is synonymous with federalism (Karki, 2014).

 

August 2007

Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities and Indigenous Nationalities Joint Struggle Committee and Government

 

Agreement was concluded between state and national association of indigenous nationalities in Nepal to form a state restructuring commission to present recommendations to the Constituent Assembly regarding a federal state structure based on ethnicity, language, geographic region, economic indicators and cultural distinctiveness while keeping national unity, integrity and sovereignty of Nepal at the forefront  (Mahubang, 2014).

 

30 August 2007

Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum and Government

Agreements was reached to make arrangements for a federal state with regional autonomy while the sovereignty, national unity and integrity of Nepal will be kept intact during the restructuring of the state (ICG, 2011).

 

28 February 2008

Agreement with United Democratic Madhesi Front (Madhesi) and Government

By accepting the Madhesi people’s call for an autonomous Madhes and other people’s desire for a federal structure with autonomous regions, Nepal shall become a federal democratic republic (ICG, 2011).

April 2008

All political parties in Nepal

The elections to the constituent assembly were held to elect a 601-member assembly with 240 members to be elected from first-past-the-post system, 335 from proportional system on the basis of votes given to the political parties taking the entire country as a single constituency and 26 to be nominated by the Council of Ministers on consensual basis from among the eminent personalities making significant contribution to the nation and the underrepresented indigenous communities and ethnic groups (Karki, 2014).

May 2008

Constituent Assembly members

First Meeting of the Constituent Assembly in Nepal. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly according to Article 159 (2) of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007, approved a resolution relating to the implementation of a republican setup and announced that Nepal had been formally transformed into a federal democratic republic (International IDEA, 2015).

2008

CPN  Maoists

 

11 federal states: 8 based on identity and 3 on geography; mapped out all the names and boundaries of the states but proposed that final demarcation can be done as recommended by the state restructuring commission (SRC); also proposed 22 autonomous regions, special regions and protected regions within these 11 states (Hachhethu, 2017).

2013

CPN UML

 

7 federal states based on multiple identities with mixed communities and equal rights; clear-cut division of authorities for center, province and local governments and economic viability; nomenclature to be done by provincial councils; progressive democracy and  social justice in all the provinces  (Khanal, 2017).

December 25 2009

Constituent Assembly Committee on Restructuring of State and Distribution of State Power

The Committee on Restructuring of State and Distribution of State Power tabled a report, adopted by majority vote, which provided for 14 provinces based largely on the ethnic criteria. Even a group with a population of one per cent of the national total was linked to a potential province while groups that would not be able feasibly to administer their own province were given autonomous regions with independent jurisdiction for self-governance. The committee also proposed special preferential rights to the principal ethnic group to head the government in its respective province and autonomous region (Hachhethu, 2017).

May 2010

Constituent Assembly

Extension of term of the first Constituent Assembly for 2 years

 

April 2012

Nepali Congress

7 federal states on the basis of identity and economic viability; The model included two Tarai-only states and four of the five hillmountain states had access to the southern border. Thus, the Tarai was divided between six states. The model also kept all 75 districts intact and most states were named after rivers,  a mixed type of name for which local people have to right to choose; boundary to be decided by the state council; strongly advocated for pluralism, equitable development, and justifiable distribution of state resources and power as the basis of these federal units (Mahubang, 2014).

November 2011

High Level State Restructuring Commission (HLSRC)

The High Level State Restructuring Commission (HLSRC) provided for by the Interim Constitution was formed long after the State Restructuring Committee had submitted its report. The HLSRC members were selected along party lines and they remained divided accordingly. The nine-member commission consisted of two each from the major political parties, UCPN-M, NC, UML and the Madhesi Front, while the chair was selected by consensus (Mahubang, 2014).

February 2012

High Level State Restructuring Commission (HLSRC)

The HLSRC could not produce a consensus report. Indeed, the minority group from within the HLSRC submitted a separate report. The HLSRC majority report had proposed 10 provinces to be based on identity and one non-territorial province for the Dalit community, to be spread across all 75 Nepali districts. The minority report of the HLSRC proposes 6 provinces, 4 in the hills and 2 non- contiguous provinces in the Tarai, but refrains from naming the provinces (Khanal, 2017).

May 2012

Constituent Assembly

End of term of First Constituent Assembly (Tamang, 2017)

November 2013

Government

The elections to a new Constituent Assembly (Tamang, 2017)

June 2015

NC UML and UCPN-M and the Madhesi Front

NC UML and UCPN-M and a faction of the Madhesi Front reached a 16-Point Agreement in June 2015 that settled the differences on the major contents of the constitution. It agreed that there would be eight provinces, but with the boundaries to be settled later through a commission. Following public consultations, which were more of a formality than a substantive and systematic exercise, and a Supreme Court decision that the constitution would have to demarcate the provinces prior to adoption, the party leaders came up with a six-province model. But, following protests from the most ‘backward’ (disadvantaged) Karnali region and a few districts from the Mid-western Development Region, they revised it to seven provinces (Hachhethu, 2017).

 June 2015

Parliament

A first draft of the new Federal Democratic Republic of constitution of Nepal was shared (Hachhethu, 2017)

August 2015

Parliament

A revised draft of the new Federal Democratic Republic of constitution of Nepal was shared (Hachhethu, 2017)

September 2015

Parliament

Constitution of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal was proclaimed with majority votes. Dissatisfaction in some districts in terai was also witnessed (Karn, 2017).

March  2016

Government of Nepal

The government formed Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC) in accordance with Article 295 (3) of the constitution (Acharya K. K., 2018).

March 2017

Government of Nepal

The Government of Nepal decided to implement a major territorial reform based on constitutional provision through the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC). The commission recommended 753 viable local government units including 460 rural municipalities, 276 urban municipalities, 11 sub-metropolitan cities and 6 metropolitan cities at thebottom level. These local government units were further divided into 6,743 Wards. Similarly, 77 district level local governments were formed (Koirala, 2019).

May, June September 2017

Election Commission

The local level elections were held in three phases  (Sapkota, 2018).

November, December 2017

Election Commission

The first provincial assembly elections in Nepal were held in two phases (Sapkota, 2018)

October 2018

Parliament

The Parliament Development Committee endorsed the Local Government Operation Act –2074 (B.S.) to implement the provisions related to the powers of the local level as per the constitution (Sapkota, 2018).