Koshi Province crisis: Politics static, protests relentlessThe recently named province is currently embroiled in two problems with no solution in sight.
The provincial politics in Koshi is experiencing twin troubles—one relates to the flaring up of ethnic sentiments after the recent naming of the province and the other to the tricky numerical strength of the parties in the assembly.
The alliance that runs the federal administration has found it difficult to form a provincial government and the new nomenclature of the province has led to violent protests that saw a demonstrator being killed and hundreds getting injured.
The Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) pulled out of the Koshi government on Wednesday and also withdrew its support to the chief minister. Nirmala Limbu, the party’s sole representative in the provincial assembly, was the health minister in the CPN-UML-led provincial government.
The Nepali Congress-led central coalition has been mulling ways to form a new government in Koshi based on the power equation in Kathmandu.
The CPN (Maoist Centre), a coalition partner, is still in the UML-led Koshi Cabinet, along with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. In the 93-member provincial assembly, the UML has 40 seats, the Congress 29, the Maoist Centre 13, the RPP 6, the CPN (Unified Socialist) 4, and the Janata Samajbadi Party one seat.
Both the Congress-led bloc and the UML-RPP alliance have 46 seats each, adding to the difficulty of crafting a ruling coalition. What further complicates the matter is that the UML is the largest party in the province.
Constitutional experts say the Speaker cannot vote to form the new government.
“The Speaker cannot vote to prove the majority to form a government. If the Speaker votes, he or she will be the Speaker of the majority and is no more neutral,” said constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari.
To form a new government, the central alliance partners should quit the government, making the chief minister seek a floor test.
Article 188 (2) of the Constitution of Nepal states that in case the political party the chief minister represents is divided or a political party in a coalition provincial government withdrawing support, the chief minister shall table a resolution in the provincial assembly for a vote of confidence within 30 days.
Experts, however, remain divided on the issues of both provincial and central governments. Some argue that floor tests are not required unless the government falls into a minority.
In any case, the parties in Koshi are not thinking about seeking a vote of confidence until they find a clear way of securing a majority.
Rajendra Karki, a lawmaker from the Maoist Centre in the Koshi legislature, said as there is no clear majority to make a new government, their current focus is on the policies and programmes and the budget. “Until we find a clear way forward, we are in no mood to push the province into instability, by initiating the process of a new government formation.”
According to provincial leaders, the Congress and its partners have been trying to woo the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. The party that has already pulled out of the central government has been allying with the UML in Koshi in line with the two parties’ collaboration as the opposition in the federal parliament. However, the Maoist Centre, which leads the federal government mainly with the backing of Congress, hasn’t quit the Koshi Cabinet. The Congress, therefore, has been urging the Maoist Centre to pull out of the UML-led government.
“We have already asked the Maoist Centre to pull out. Only then will the process of a new government formation begin,” said Binod Rai, a provincial lawmaker from the Congress. “Yes, the numbers are tricky. But we are in negotiation with the ruling parties. We will definitely find a way out.”
Some ethnic groups have been staging protests, demanding the name of the province be changed to reflect the identity of the major ethnic communities in the region. And the protests have been increasingly turning violent.
Province 1 was named ‘Koshi’ on March 1. Since then, the protests have intensified with hundreds getting injured in clashes, and there is no sign of a let up in protests against the ‘Koshi’ name. Instead, the activists advocating identity-based nomenclature have intensified their agitation. Kirat Yakthung Chumlung, Kirat Rai Yayokkha and the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities have been coordinating protests organised by the Province 1 Renaming Joint Struggle Committee.
“The government has called the agitating groups for talks. An understanding will be reached to resolve the issue,” said Karki, the provincial lawmaker. “All the parties in the Koshi assembly have agreed that talks are the best way to resolve the matter.”
Presidents of 14 districts of the Congress party issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the nomenclature issue should be resolved through talks. “We cannot suppress the protest,” they said.
But the UML Koshi parliamentary party has said that the name cannot be changed, regardless of the government’s intentions. A meeting of the parliamentary party on Sunday ruled out any alternative to the province’s existing name.
A province can be renamed with a two-thirds majority of its assembly voting for the motion.