Removal of constitution amendment from parliamentary agenda leads to finger pointing between partiesWhile the Nepal Communist Party says that the agenda was removed to allow the Congress more time, the opposition says it’s the ruling party that is delaying amendment.
Until Wednesday morning, an amendment to the constitution was one of the “probable agendas” for the day’s Parliament meeting scheduled for 2pm.
The amendment regarded the updating of Nepal’s new political map in the national emblem, defined in Schedule 3 of the constitution.
But when the House meeting commenced, the constitution amendment proposal had vanished from the agenda.
Leaders from the ruling party as well as officials at the Parliament Secretariat said that the agenda was removed at the request of the primary opposition Nepali Congress, as it sought some more time to discuss the amendment at its Central Working Committee meeting.
“It was removed as per the Speaker’s decision. We were told that the primary opposition Nepali Congress had requested,” a senior official at the parliament secretariat told Post on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the media.
However, a Nepali Congress leader told the Post that during an all-party meeting on Tuesday at the prime minister’s residence, Subas Chandra Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), had instead told Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba that the constitution amendment proposal would not be tabled on Wednesday.
“So we were convinced that the government will not table the proposal,” said the leader. “The amendment proposal was listed on the daily agenda only to be removed later.”
Issuing a statement later in the day, the Congress took exception to the removal of the constitution amendment proposal from the agenda and questioned the motive of the ruling party.
“The Nepali Congress’ attention has been drawn to the removal of the constitution amendment proposal from the probable agenda of the May 27 meeting,” the Congress stated.
“Our serious attention has been drawn to the act of removing an issue like constitution amendment from the agenda, for which initiatives should have been taken to bring the government, the opposition and other parties in Parliament together, and then blaming the main opposition for it,” read the statement. “The Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party condemns such an action and appeals to the government to act in national unity.”
A section of Congress parliamentarians, including Gagan Thapa, on Wednesday morning had asked Deuba to apprise them of the party’s position on the constitution amendment proposal.
In the afternoon, Thapa, in a tweet, said that a central committee meeting must be called to formally own the party leadership’s decision to stand in favour of the constitutional amendment to update the political map.
Thapa had urged party President Deuba to call a meeting immediately to formalise the decision.
“Let’s facilitate the constitution amendment via a fast track,” he said.
The Congress, which has been critical of the Oli administration’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, has stood with the Cabinet decision to release a new political map of Nepal that depicts Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as part of the Nepali territory.
The government released the map on May 20 in response to India’s opening of a road via Lipulekh to link India with Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
On May 22, the government registered a constitution amendment proposal in Parliament. The proposal was scheduled to be tabled on Tuesday.
Two other parties in Parliament—Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal—have said that while they supported the government’s move of releasing a new map, they wanted their constitutional amendment demands to also be addressed. They had also sought support from the Nepali Congress to assist them in incorporating their demands into the amendment proposal.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli called an all-party meeting to discuss and seek national consensus on the amendment.
According to a Congress leader present at the meeting, the party supported the government’s move but had sought time to discuss the issue in the party committee.
The leader said that the party, however, did not mean to delay the constitution amendment process as it stood by the government on an issue of territorial integrity.
Thapa of the Congress party told the Post that they were puzzled why the government earlier in the day included the proposal in the daily schedule and then later removed it.
“If the government indeed wanted it to be moved forward, it could have tabled it today [Wednesday] and commenced discussions after two days,” said Thapa. “But why did the government refrain from tabling it?”
The Oli government’s decision to release Nepal’s new political map has put Nepal and India in a state of a ‘cartographic war’. Analysts and experts from both Nepal and India have been calling on both sides to de-escalate tensions and sit for talks at the earliest.
There are, however, concerns regarding whether the Oli government’s move of registering the constitution amendment proposal in Parliament had prompted New Delhi to harden its position, just as diplomatic channels were being activated by both sides to seek an amicable solution.
Oli, whose leadership as both the party chair and the prime minister, had been on shaky ground last month, with leaders from his own party bent on demanding his resignation.
India’s May 8 announcement of the road via Lipulekh initially earned him criticism, as many called it his government’s diplomatic failure. As protests erupted and Kathmandu and Delhi traded statements, ruling party Secretariat members pressed Oli to release a new map.
Oli hemmed and hawed, but ultimately released a map, suddenly not only turning the tables on his opponents, but also winning over members of the public and parties from across the spectrum.
The new map needed to be updated in the national emblem, for which a constitutional amendment is required. There are, however, some who believe that a swift amendment could spoil the environment for talks with Delhi, and that the government itself is delaying the amendment.
But Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the ruling party’s international affairs department, ruled out the government's role in delaying the amendment.
It was the Congress that demanded some time, which is why the proposal was not on the agenda on Wednesday, he said.
“The statement is just for public consumption, as the Congress party does not want to look like it was the cause for the delay,” Rijal told the Post.
Nembang, the ruling party leader, said that the proposal would be moved forward soon.
“If the Congress party desires, we can present the proposal on Friday itself, as tomorrow [Thursday] is the budget day,” Nembang told the Post. “The amendment proposal won’t be delayed at any cost. We will take a shortcut if necessary.”
Tika R Pradhan and Binod Ghimire contributed reporting.