Oli attempts to use citizenship ordinance for his political gainsTiming raises questions over intentions as bill had been pending in Parliament for years.
Tika R Pradhan
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has attempted to use one of the most sensitive issues to his political advantage amid political fluidity, as he finds himself cornered.
President Bidya Bhandari on Sunday promulgated Nepal Citizenship (first amendment) Ordinance 2021.
Many believe the ordinance was introduced to appease the Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party. The two leaders have stood in support of Oli of late, even in his Friday House dissolution move, which has been criticised for being “unconstitutional, illegal and immoral”.
A minister in the Oli Cabinet said that the ordinance was brought in view of the urgency, as a large number of people have been suffering because they don’t have citizenship certificates due to a lack of law.
The minister, however, would not say why it was brought through an ordinance and why it was not endorsed from Parliament when the bill was pending there for years.
According to Law Minister Lilanath Shrestha, the ordinance addresses two major issues—issuing citizenship by descent to the children of the couple who received citizenship in Nepal before September 20, 2015 and citizenship by descent to the children of a Nepali mother, whose father’s whereabouts are unknown.
The Bill to amend Nepal Citizenship Act-2006 has been pending in Parliament since August 7, 2018.
Nepali politicians’ reluctance to pass the bill had met with massive criticism, for rights activists argued that they refused to treat both men and women equally, as without the law, mothers were barred from passing citizenship to their children.
Oli himself and his party were opposed to the idea of passing the bill, as they argued that the bill with such provisions could lead to granting citizenship to those people who were born out of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers, especially Indians, given the marriages between Nepali women from the bordering districts with Indian men.
The issue had remained a lightning rod.
Women rights activists for long had demanded that the government must pass the law that allowed Nepali mothers to pass on citizenship to their children.
“I had spoken in Parliament urging the government to issue the Bill to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act 2006 at the earliest, but the government refused to pay heed,” said Shashi Shrestha, who led the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee.
The Shrestha-led committee had presented the bill before the full house of the Parliament after discussing it in her committee for several months.
She said the only intention of Oli was to rule the nation through ordinance, a provision which should be used only to address urgent issues that could arise only when Parliament is not in session.
“The bill was pending in Parliament for years, but it was never moved forward. Now it is being brought through an ordinance just to fulfil the ruler’s personal interest,” said Shrestha, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “Oli has brought this ordinance just to save his government.”
Oli on Thursday issued the ordinance, just as he was facing a tough time to save his chair, which he had managed to retain even after losing the vote of confidence on May 10. Because the Thakur-Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party refused to support the Nepali Congress-Maoist Centre alliance, a new government could not be formed, even though the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction of the Janata Samajbadi threw its weight behind Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba.
But as they say a week is a long time in politics, the Madhav Nepal faction of Oli’s UML, which had been vacillating for weeks, on Friday decided to support Deuba as prime minister.
Oli, in cahoots with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, dissolved the House and declared elections for November.
The opposition alliance is now set to challenge Oli and Bhandari’s House dissolution in the Supreme Court. According to leaders, it will file separate petitions signed by as many as 145 lawmakers, including those from the Nepal faction of the UML and the Yadav-Bhattarai faction of the Janata Samajbadi on Monday.
A Congress leader said the opposition alliance could not file the petitions on Sunday as it took time as all the lawmakers needed to sign a separate petition.
Just as the opposition alliance was working on petitions, Oli made his move.
With the ordinance, insiders say, Oli has paved the way for the Thakur-Mahato faction to join his government.
Mahato has been tipped as leading the Home Ministry as a deputy prime minister.
But the citizenship ordinance has more to it than meets the eye.
The Thakur-Mahato faction may have been beguiled by the ordinance, but it does not yet actually address the concerns raised by women rights activists.
The ordinance still has conditional provisions when it comes to allowing women to pass citizenship to their children.
Firstly, for a woman to pass on citizenship to her children, she should be born in Nepal. Second, she has to have lived in Nepal. And third, only if the father’s identity is not known.
Women rights activists have long fought against these provisions, especially the third one, where a mother has to provide the “proof” that her child’s father is not known.
Political analysts say the citizenship ordinance has been brought not because the government has realised the urgency and sufferings of the people but only because Oli thinks it could serve his interest.
“Oli is the most vocal leader in contemporary politics with so much hatred for Madhes and its issues,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “It's clear that the ordinance has not been brought because he realises the fact that a lack of law was making many children stateless.”
Maharjan said Oli’s only intention behind introducing the ordinance is fulfilling his political interests.
“The Bill to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act 2006 had been languishing in Parliament for years just because of Oli’s reluctance, resulting in the suffering of a large number of people,” Maharjan told the Post. “This is Oli’s yet another trickery.”