Ruling party’s indecision delays finalisation of the bill to amend Citizenship ActCross-party top leadership will discuss the matter with an aim to find a solution.
After holding 140 meetings to decide on the contentious issues of the bill, including the provision of naturalised citizenship, the committee on Saturday decided to seek help from the leadership of various parties.
Committee Chairperson Shashi Shrestha had called a meeting on Saturday to finalise the draft through a vote if there was no consensus. The committee, which has been discussing the bill for over a year, wanted to present it before Parliament for endorsement at the earliest. Chances of the bill getting endorsed by the ongoing session of Parliament, which will be prorogued next week, are slim.
The committee has given 24 hours to its members to reach a conclusion after holding discussions with the top leadership.
Janardan Sharma, Pampha Bhusal and Krishna Gopal Shrestha from the Nepal Communist Party (NCP); Dilendra Badu, Amresh Kumar Singh and Dila Sangraula from the Nepali Congress; Raj Kishore Yadav of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav of the Samajbadi Party Nepal have been asked to reach a conclusion after discussions with the top leadership of their respective parties.
Though a majority of the Nepali Congress lawmakers were for having a few years’ gap before granting marital naturalised citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali man, the party came up with a proposal to retain the existing provision.
The existing provision says a woman married to a Nepali man is eligible to get naturalised citizenship once she provides evidence showing that the process for renouncing her foreign citizenship has been initiated. The Madhes-based parties are also for the continuation of the existing provision.
The Congress proposal was an unexpected turn for the ruling party, which earlier backed the government’s proposal of granting naturalised citizenship only seven years after the marriage.
“We were ready for a vote after registering our proposal as a note of dissent,” Sangraula told the Post. “Ruling party lawmakers, however, were not ready probably because they feared criticism from the people of the Tarai/Madhes region.”
Chairperson Shrestha, who wanted to put the issue to a vote, backtracked after ruling party lawmakers said they wanted the top leadership to take the decision.
Asked if it was fear that prompted the ruling party to backtrack, Rekha Sharma, a ruling party lawmaker, dismissed.
“That is not true. Actually, we want at least the ruling and main opposition parties to have a common position on a sensitive issue like citizenship.”
While speaking at Saturday’s meeting, Yadav, who is also a member of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal presidium, said his party has already started negotiations with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on the matter. “Therefore, it would be better to put the process on hold for a couple of days,” said Yadav.
Following the Congress’ proposal, ruling party lawmakers even blamed the opposition for politicising the issue. They asked the Congress lawmakers to keep nationalism above party politics.
“The Congress is trying to play politics over such a sensitive issue,” said Nawaraj Silwal, a ruling party lawmaker.
The opposition lawmakers, however, said they might have had a different view during the deliberations on the bill, they now will follow the party’s decision.
“Our party wants to retain the existing provision. Though we had a different position earlier, we are with the party’s decision now,” Sangraula told the Post.
The central working committee meeting of the main opposition party on Friday evening decided to retain the provision on marital naturalised citizenship.
As the House committee failed to decide on the bill even after a year, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday proposed seven years to grant naturalised citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali man and provide a national identity card to ensure her social, economic and cultural rights until the citizenship is issued. The government had registered the bill in the federal parliament on August 7 last year.
According to the Citizenship Act, a woman married to a Nepali man is eligible to get marital naturalised citizenship once she provides evidence to show the initiation of the process for renouncing her foreign citizenship.
The amendment bill, however, includes a provision that if the woman cannot provide evidence that her citizenship of origin hasn’t been abandoned, the Nepali naturalised citizenship will be revoked.
Lawmakers from the Tarai stood against the provision, demanding the continuation of the provision in the existing Act.
With the committee failing to find a solution, the Home Ministry had forwarded the proposal regarding the national identity as a middle path to end the dispute.
According to the constitution, naturalised citizens are eligible for all government positions, except the President, Vice President, prime minister, provincial governor and chief minister.