Citizenship Bill may resurface as a major agenda in government formationFor declining to authenticate the Bill twice, President Bhandari was accused of failing to uphold her constitutional duties.
With the new Parliament set to convene soon, some Madhesh-based parties are likely to renew the agenda of the Citizenship Bill, which remains pending since the last Parliament endorsed it.
In the present hung parliament, any major party that seeks the backing of Madhesh-based parties to form the government may need to address the citizenship concerns first. Leaders representing multiple regional forces said that the citizenship issue is going to be crucial for them in the future too.
A newly-emerged national party, Janamat has put forward the citizenship issue as a condition to supporting any major party for cobbling together a coalition. The party won six lawmaker positions in the November House election at a time when the support of every single member is important to have a majority.
“Our party is considering joining the government but the citizenship issue is our main agenda for supporting any party to form the government,” BP Shah, a leader of Janamat Party, told the Post.
Not only Janamat Party, two other Madhesh-based parties—Janata Samajbadi and Loktantrik Samajbadi—are also bringing up the citizenship issue as a precondition to supporting a new government.
“Solving the citizenship issue will be our prime agenda, whoever leads the government,” Manish Kumar Suman, spokesperson for the Janata Samajbadi Party, told the Post.
Leaders of CPN-UML, the second-largest party in the House, have also started lobbying to form the government under its leadership should the Nepali Congress fail to bring the parties together to set up the Singha Durbar administration.
“Our party has mentioned the citizenship issue in our election manifesto. Therefore, should the new government be formed under our party’s leadership, we will solve the issue within six months,” Prithvi Subba Gurung, deputy-general secretary and spokesperson for the UML, told the Post recently.
The UML voted against the citizenship amendment bill introduced by the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government in Parliament. The party also defended the move of President Bidya Devi Bhandari who had returned the bill to the House for a review along with a 15-point suggestion on August 14, when the bill was first presented to her for authentication.
The President's major concern on the citizenship bill was the cooling-off period before granting naturalised citizenship to foreigners married to Nepali citizens. The UML had backed the presidential move.
“If the government is formed by the opposite camp and if they try to formulate a similar kind of bill nullified by President Bhandari, our party will definitely oppose it,” Gurung added.
On the other hand, the Congress spokesperson and lawmaker Prakash Sharan Mahat, who is close to the prime minister, argued that the citizenship bill's implementation will now depend on the new government and how it is formed.
“The Citizenship Bill should be resolved, but I am unable to explain how right now,” Mahat said.
If the incumbent coalition forms the new government and it tries to enact the Citizenship Bill with the same clauses that the Deuba government did earlier, the new Rastriya Swatantra Party will be on the UML’s side.
“We are of the view that though the citizenship bill has to be authenticated, it must mention a cooling-off period for getting naturalised citizenship,” said Ganesh Karki, the party’s media coordinator.
With a new government in place, a new President will eventually get appointed. If the ruling coalition, which passed the citizenship bill twice from both houses, returns to power, they may have to reintroduce the Citizenship Bill in Parliament.
“If the incoming government wants to introduce the Citizenship Bill, it can do so only when all the necessary formalities have been completed again,” Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional expert, told the Post. “The government should table a bill in Parliament for that. Once it gets approved by Parliament and the parliamentary committee, it will be sent to the President for authentication.”
The ruling alliance, including the Madhesh-based parties, were irked by President Bhandari for not issuing the Citizenship Bill that had been endorsed by Parliament, not once but twice. They also accused the CPN-UML of backing President Bhandari’s decision to indefinitely sit on the bill and allow it to lapse.
But, in the meantime, there has been a change in the situation as a major Madhesh-based force, Janata Samajbadi Party, forged an electoral alliance with the UML.
Earlier, President Bhandari was accused of failing to uphold her constitutional duties as she had declined to authenticate the Citizenship Bill twice.
Defining the functions, duties and powers of President, Article 66 (2) of the constitution states: “In exercising the powers or duties under clause (1), the President shall perform all other functions to be performed by him or her on the recommendation and with the consent of the Council of Ministers than those functions specifically provided to be performed on the recommendation of any body or official under this Constitution or Federal Law. Such recommendation and consent shall be submitted through the prime minister.”
But President Bhandari, who had been expressing her reservations against several provisions of the bill to amend the Citizenship Act-2006 despite her ceremonial role, had refused to authenticate the bill, thereby affecting at least half a million stateless people waiting for the bill’s passage to get their national identity cards.
With the President’s refusal, the proposed amendments were rendered null and void, leading to a confrontation between Singha Durbar and Sheetal Niwas.
The political parties were divided—the ruling coalition of the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), and the Janata Samajbadi Party, which then was in the ruling alliance, along with the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, were in favour of the bill, while the CPN-UML had backed the President’s call for its thorough review.
Even though there were speculations that the issue of Citizenship Bill would get traction in the national political debate after President Bhandari refused to verify the bill within the deadline of September 21, the political parties, however, didn’t whip up the agenda since they didn’t want to annoy any section of the society during the election time.
However, a Madhesh-based politician the Post spoke to claimed that their parties had indeed raised the citizenship issue as one of their key election agendas. “We were vocal on the issue during the campaign and we want a lasting solution to this long-standing problem from the next parliament.”
Since this President has already taken a stance not to issue the bill, the parties and the new government may have to wait until the new one is elected, in March next year.
“Now the political parties that approach us seeking support in government formation have to promise in writing that they would issue the bill once a new President takes office,” said Suman, the Janata Samajbadi Party spokesperson. Jitendra Sonal, a Loktantrik Samajbadi leader, and BP Shah, a central committee member of Janamat Party, echoed Suman’s sentiments.
The Janata Samajbadi, Janamat Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi have 12, six and four seats in the House of Representatives, respectively. As they have 22 seats combined, their strength and stance could be crucial for the parties aspiring to lead the government.