Parties ‘closing gap’ on statute disputesLeaders of major political parties have claimed that they are close to a deal on the outstanding issues of the constitution writing process.
Four days before the January 22 deadline for promulgation of the new constitution, leaders involved in cross-party negotiations said they could strike a “package deal” once leaders arrive at consensus on the names and border of provinces, the most contentious of the issues.
“I see no such complexity in the rest of the issues once the parties reach an understanding on the names and border of provinces,” said Nepali Congress leader Purna Bahadur Khadka. “We are hoping for a miracle.”
Despite closing the gap on other disputes—forms of government, judiciary and electoral system—the parties are still wrangling over federalism. Parties are discussing multiple options for a “breakthrough”. For consensus sake, the Maoist party has consented to six states provided that the ruling parties agree to give them “mixed” names, taking both geography and identity as the bases for carving out states.
“Accepting a six-province model is not a problem for us if the Congress and UML agree to multiple-identity-based federalism like Bagmati-Newa-Tamsaling Province,” said UCPN (Maoist) Chief Whip Giriraj Mani Pokharel.
The ruling parties are not yet convinced about the Maoist proposal, though. Instead, they have proposed a federal commission to settle disputes concerning five districts—Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur—while federating the country.
The ruling parties have so far rejected the opposition parties’ call to divide these districts based on Pahadi-Madhesi demographics.
“We can do everything for consensus but any proposal that detaches hilly areas form Tarai is non-negotiable,” said UML Chief Whip Agni Kharel.
A proposal has been floated to define the five districts as “union territory”, which will be directly governed by the Centre and their status could be decided later.
Leaders privy to the developments said except for a section of Madhes-centric leaders such as Mahanta Thakur, Rajendra Mahato and Upendra Yadav, the remaining ruling and opposition parties are open to the option.
Another alternative being mulled over is to declare the five as “disputed districts” and decide their status through the federal commission. Leaders maintain that Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari and Siraha could be put together to form a province.
For Kailali and Kanchanpur in the Far West, the Tharu belt in the districts could be declared as an autonomous area, said interlocutors.
If their last-ditch effort to reach a deal falters, the parties could prepare a “common agreement paper” on the unresolved issues in order to give a message to the people that the constitution writing process is “on track.”
The paper would include the parties’ position on the disputed issues, progress made so far and their commitment to writing the constitution within a specific period of time. On judiciary, the parties have reached an understanding to have a constitutional court for 10 years and a separate mechanism to look into court-related corruption.
The ruling parties have proposed to expand the Electoral College for presidential election against the Maoist stance of directly-elected President. A Maoist leader said they could lend support to the consensus bid even by registering their note of dissent against reformed parliamentary system if disputes over federalism are settled politically. Both the ruling and opposition camps are one on adopting a mixed electoral system. However, the opposition insists on equal seats for the two categories while the ruling parties are pushing for 70 percent direct and 30 percent PR seats in the Lower House.
Oppn protest ‘on’
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have decided to continue with their planned street protests and strikes scheduled for Tuesday. The Maoist party has instructed its cadres to intensify street agitation. Opposition leaders said talks and protest would go simultaneously. In a statement on Sunday evening, the UCPN (Maoist said there had been no agreement on the contentious issues but “serious” negotiations were ongoing.
Leaders’ love for 5 districts at heart of federal row
Many political heavyweights who stake their future in five Tarai districts—Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur—are a factor in the stalled constitution writing process, leaders say.
Competing interests of these leaders has made it difficult for cross-party negotiations to come to a definite conclusion.
CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and Nepali Congress General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula were elected from two Jhapa constituencies while two “messiahs” of Madhesi politics—Upendra Yadav and Bijay Kumar Gachhadar—come from Sunsari.
Oli and Sitaula are against dividing the district whereas the Madhesi leaders pitch for splitting the units based on their population composition.
The UML chief invited 52 cross-party lawmakers representing the eastern region to his residence to oppose the idea after the Madhes-centric parties proposed that the dispute could be resolved if these districts were divided along the communal line.
As for Morang, the Koiralas—who form a political dynasty—want Biratnagar as a separate entity. Leaders privy to the developments say they have conveyed to the leadership to maintain a distinct identity for the area given their attachment with the city that was the base of NC leaders such as BP and GP Koirala.
“The Koiralas have suggested that instead of having Biratnagar in Madhes, it could be made a separate entity or part of Limbuwan Province,” said an NC leader.
To matter Kailali and Kanchanpur, former Prime Minister and senior NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and UML Vice-chairman Bhim Rawal have their constituencies in the far-western region where a movement for ‘Undivided Far West’ was waged two years ago.
Deuba has told the regional parties that the Rana Tharus, who are indigenous people of the far-western Tarai, would be taken care of.
“Oli, given his stature, will not compete in regional politics but could be a presidential candidate. And that would be impossible if the region is split. The Koiralas want to have control over the politics in Morang,” said analyst Chandrakishore. (PR)