Nepal sees a dramatic face-off between executive and the President over citizenship billBoth institutions seem to have played within their constitutional confines, but political colour is visible.
Nepal is witnessing a dramatic face-off.
On one side is the President, a constitutional post with no executive powers. And on the other is the government, the executive. Caught between them is the House of Representatives—the legislature.
A day after President Bidya Devi Bhandari hosted dinner for former Army generals, including the incumbent Chief of Army Staff Prabhu Ram Sharma, Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand on Thursday attempted to make it clear the government has taken every step in line with the constitution, in insinuation of activism by Sheetal Niwas.
Bhandari’s meeting with Army personnel came days after she returned the bill to amend the Citizenship Act 2006 to the House of Representatives for a review, which then passed it again without reviewing. The bill is now in the National Assembly.
Once the upper house passes the bill, it will be sent again to Sheetal Niwas for authentication, and Bhandari will have no constitutional option than to authenticate.
However, the recent moves of the President to hold one after another consultations to seek suggestions in devising her future course appears to have bothered the government.
After consulting legal experts and civil society members last week, Bhandari on Wednesday held meetings with the retired and incumbent army officials.
Holding a press meet on Thursday, Khand tried to give an impression that Bhandari and the CPN-UML were trying to politicise the matter. He said the bill, which is under consideration in Parliament, is no different than the ordinance issued by the President on the recommendation of the KP Sharma Oli government in May 2020.
“Allowing the foreign women married to Nepali men to acquire the naturalised citizenship once they initiate the process to abandon the citizenship of their countries of origin has been the most debated issue now. However, the bill doesn’t talk anything about marital citizenship. The provision is in the Citizenship Act from 2006,” said Khand. “The Act was endorsed when Oli was deputy prime minister and foreign minister and Bhandari was a member of the legislature parliament. I don’t understand why it has become an issue now.”
He questioned the President if she had read out the ordinance forwarded by the Oli government before issuing it?
“Why wouldn’t the country turn into Fiji at that time and why will it now when the present bill and that ordinance contain the same provisions,” he said.
A briefing paper distributed at Thursday’s press meet claims the provision regarding the marital naturalized citizenship continues to be the same for decades.
“The provision to grant marital citizenship to foreign women who married Nepali men was first enacted in the citizenship law in 1952 which continues till today. Now, some sections of the political parties are crying foul, saying that there needs to be a cooling-off period before issuing such citizenship. This is just an attempt at creating an illusion by spreading misinformation,” reads the home ministry’s briefing paper.
Khand had similar arguments while tabling the bill for endorsement in the lower house on August 18 after the President returned the bill.
Listing her concerns and suggestions in 15 points, Bhandari on August 14 forwarded the bill to the House of Representatives for a review.
However, without reviewing it as per her recommendations, the House endorsed the bill.
Seemingly unsatisfied with the House’s move to endorse it again, the President consulted legal experts, journalists, civil society members and lately with the retired Nepal Army generals including the Chief of the Army Staff General Sharma on Wednesday over a dinner.
Khand reiterated that the primary objective of the bill is to clear the legal hurdles to provide citizenship to thousands of children of parents who have acquired the citizenship by birth. The constitution says the children of such parents would get citizenship by descent as per the federal Act. Also, the bill is aimed at allowing citizenship to children in the mother’s name. However, there’s no federal law even seven years since the promulgation of the constitution in 2015.
Khand also questioned the Oli government, saying what stopped it from presenting the bill in Parliament in three and a half years when it was in power.
He said as there was no consensus among the parties in the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of Parliament and there wasn’t ample time to hold detailed discussions on the issue of marital naturalized citizenship, the government brought the bill to address the immediate concerns.
Some 600,000 people, who are facing a tough time due to the lack of citizenship, will benefit if the bill comes into force as an Act, as per the government’s estimates. Those who don’t have citizenship have been deprived of study at home, jobs and opportunity to study abroad as well as foreign travels. They cannot even acquire a mobile SIM, let alone start a business.
Khand said that before tabling the bill in the House, he and Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Govinda Sharma Bandi had jointly met Oli and the latter had assured that as an opposition party, the UML, will perform its role but will not obstruct the endorsement of the bill.
Talking to journalists, the home minister claimed that the discriminatory provisions cannot be addressed without a revision in the constitution.
In her concerns, Bhandari has said several provisions in the bill are discriminatory to women including the one where a mother needs to make a self declarelation that “the whareabouts of her husband was unknown” so as to ensure citizenship to her child in her name.
“We need to amend some constitutional provisions to address the recommendations and suggestions forwarded by the President. If we have to do this, we need a new law altogether and it is time consuming given our past experience. So, to address the situation of statelessness, we decided to bring the amendment bill,” said Khand.
Sources said that after President Bhandari decided to hold a joint meeting with sitting and former Nepal Army generals, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had expressed his reservations to Bhandari on Tuesday over the phone.
Khand also held a meeting with Nepal Army Chief General Sharma ahead of Bhandari’s consultations on Wednesday. In the meeting, Sharma assured Khand that the Nepal Army respects and honours the decision taken by the government and that it is not going to present an additional view on political matters like the citizenship bill, according to sources.
“Now the ruling alliance is feeling that the President is trying to put psychological pressure on the government due to her political ambitions. Some UML leaders are conspicuously peddling rumours that she will resign if the upper house passes the citizenship bill without any revision,” a Nepali Congress leader said. “We have sensed that the UML and some royalist elements are trying to influence the President by giving false information and wrong political messages.”