Leaders claim progress on judiciary, electoral systemWith the January 22 deadline looming, the major political forces are quietly exploring ways to find a point of compromise on key contentious issues of new constitution
The four major political forces—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist) and Madhes-based parties—had ironed out most of the issues related to judiciary and electoral system during informal talks, the leaders said. On federalism, the issue of demarcation has emerged as the main bone of contention, with differences still remaining on the number of provinces and their naming process.
The ruling parties have proposed to form an expert team to settle the dispute over demarcation but the opposition leaders are against promulgating constitution before the issues of demarcation and name of the provinces are settled. The opposition front has said that the provincial parliament could pick the names but insist on an immediate agreement on demarcation. The Maoists maintain that the identity of certain ethnic groups should be reflected on demarcation of provinces.
Dispute lies mainly on five districts: Jhapa, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Morang and Sunsari. Leaders say members of the Koirala family have expressed reservations over including Biratnagar in Koshi province. They want Biratnagar separated from the rest of Morang and include it in Limbuwan province instead.
Responding to concern raised by the Madhesi leadership, including Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party Chairman Mahanta Thakur over Kancharpur, senior NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba has assured the Madhesi
leadership that Ranas, Tharus would not be expelled from the district.
On forms of government, the ruling parties as well as some Madhes-based parties are nearing an agreement to form an improved parliamentary system. But the Maoists rejected the suggestion, saying that it cannot accept the system against which they had waged the war in the past. The opposition party has instead pitched a mixed system under which the President and the prime minister will have equal executive powers. The Maoist party claims the system that the parties had agreed on in May, 2012 would best address the aspirations of change.
The leaders, however, claim the power sharing agreement before and after the promulgation of new constitution seems to have played a role for current deadlock. Parties have also begun discussions on possible adjustment of top leaders after the promulgation of new constitution.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal reportedly sought the position of President during talks with UML Chairman K P Sharma Oli. The main opposition party could also be offered the position of Speaker in new Parliament, according to the leaders. But challenges galore the parties, with Prime Minister Sushil Koirala also likely to stake claim for the head of state. That would also mean disappointment for former UML chairman Jhala Nath Khanal, who had been promised the position by his senior party colleagues. NC leaders maintain that elevating Koirala as the head of state would give party reins to Deuba much to the chagrin of Ram Chandra Poudel.
Informed interlocutors hinted that the ruling coalition could offer some ministerial berths as part of the broader deal both on constitution and power sharing to woo the Madhesi parties, who have refused to join the government until they are assured of a constitution of their liking.
While the parties are pushing for a package deal to settle the disputes, cross-party leaders say, they have spared less efforts on ending the deadlock in the CA. Amid deliberations on the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee, the House remains divided on whether to return the disputed issues to the parliamentary panel. The ruling parties are in favour of settling the contentious issues in the CA, but the opposition wants it resolved by the PDCC. “Along with discussions in the CA, the parties are holding informal talks. Hopefully something will come out of the negotiations,” said NC leader Purna Bahadur Khadka.
On the issue of a larger package deal, the parties could go for transforming the incumbent Koirala-led government into a national unity one, and come up with a preliminary draft of the constitution, the leaders said. That could have some of the agreed issues such as forms of government, judiciary and electoral system. “We are discussing on overall issues during informal talks. We should try and come up with at least a draft of constitution within the deadline,” said UCPN (Maoist) leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha. Even Madhesi leaders expect a draft by January 22. “We hope the draft will be in place after the parties agree on disputed five districts in Madhes,” said Sarbendra Sukla, general secretary of Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party.