Ruling party undermines spirit of federalism, again, as it ‘decides’ name for Province 5 and its capitalOli and Dahal may have taken the decision in a bid to placate some leaders in the party but in doing so, they have trampled upon the constitution, experts say.
The two chairmen of the ruling party—Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—on Friday decided to name Province 5 as Lumbini and Rapti Valley-Deukhuri of Dang district as its capital.
Subsequently, the proposal was tabled in the provincial parliament for discussion. But this is a fait accompli. The country has become a federal republic in which the power is delegated to the lower tiers of government but the unitary system of governance, in which the orders come from Kathmandu and the rest of the country follows, continues.
Intervention in the constitutional rights of the provincial assembly to determine the name and capital of the province by the federal government and the ruling party, according to party leaders and experts, would not only affect the constitutional provisions but also undermine the spirit of federalism.
“It’s like the federal government is taking the decisions of the provincial assembly,” said Bipin Adhikari, an expert on constitutional matters and former dean of the Kathmandu University School of Law. “To promote federalism, the provincial assemblies should be allowed to practise taking decisions of their own.”
This is not the first time that the central leadership of the ruling party has decided on the name of the province and its capital.
In December 2019, the party’s nine-member secretariat “suggested” Bagmati as the name and Hetuda as the capital of the erstwhile Province 3.
The constitution says the provincial assembly endorses the name of the province and its capital with a two-thirds majority.
According to Adhikari, the centralised structure of the ruling party and its decision-making will be a problem for federalism in the country.
“If this continues, people will feel that the federal government can revert the decision of provincial assemblies any time they want,” Adhikari told the Post. “Without allowing the province and the local level to take the decisions for them, they won’t feel the ownership.”
Ruling party leaders are not happy with the prevailing practice either.
“It is the jurisdiction of the provincial assembly to determine the name and capital city,” said Dev Prasad Gurung, a Standing Committee member and the chief whip of the ruling party in the federal parliament. “The two chairpersons should have thought about its consequences on federalism before taking the decision.”
This discontent within the party is evident at the provincial level too.
Bhoj Prasad Shrestha, a ruling party member of the Province 5 assembly, said the interference of the centre was unconstitutional and is against the spirit of federalism.
“It’s unfortunate that the provincial assembly was not allowed to decide on the basis of necessity and significance of the people and the geography,” Shrestha told the Post. “We were not given the chance to discuss among the assembly members and find a midpoint.”
There had been discussions going on among provincial lawmakers whether to have the capital in Dang district or Butwal.
Experts on constitutional law and federalism have also said the federal government and the ruling party have been seriously violating the constitutional rights of the provincial assembly, making fun of federalism.
“It’s not only a breach of jurisdiction but it can be termed as fraud on the constitution,” said senior advocate Chandra Kanta Gyawali, an expert on constitutional law and federalism. “Provincial assemblies are sovereign entities and intervening on their rights would undermine federalism.”
He said there must not be the involvement of either the federal government or the party and the assemblies must be allowed to take their independent decisions.
Some other members of the provincial assembly also said the decision of the ruling party was against the recommendation of the technical subcommittee formed under the Capital City Recommendation Committee— that has recommended Beljhundi of Dang or Butwal would be suitable for the capital city.
Insiders say the sudden decision on the Province 5 name and its capital also has to do with the internal dynamics in the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
Province 5 Chief Minister Shanker Pokhrel, according to leaders, lately has emerged as a close confidante of Oli.
Pokhrel for long had been making a pitch for making the Dang region the capital of Province 5. However, Nepal Communist Party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel was bent on making Butwal as Province 5 capital.
When Oli and Dahal last month reached an understanding to bury the hatchet, it entailed a larger power-sharing deal, including changes of chief ministers in some provinces.
A leader said that the ruling party could have agreed to Pokhrel’s call for making the Dang region provincial capital in exchange for a provincial chief minister to the other faction in the party. Many believe Pokhrel will soon come to Kathmandu to take “some important” party position.
The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Poudel, the general secretary, could have given up on his stance on the provincial capital for a ministerial berth. “But a ministerial berth is too small a position for a leader who already has a significant position in the party,” the leader told the Post, referring to Poudel. “But in politics, anything can happen.”
The clash between Poudel and Pokhrel, however, was apparent in the party, and it had become a matter of prestige for both leaders ever since the Nepal Communist Party formed a government in the province.
In the Province 5 assembly, the Nepal Communist Party holds 61 of 87 seats.
Some, including the leaders of the opposition party, say it is even worse if a province’s name and its capital are being decided by the ruling party because of its internal problem, as it simply undermines the basic principles of democracy.
“The ruling party has snatched the constitutional right of the provincial assembly to make independent decisions,” said Santosh Pandey, chief whip of Janata Samajbadi Party in the Province 5 assembly. “Such a move will not only ruin federalism but also affect the dignity of the ruling party.”