Nepal: Rising Uncertainty Over Constitution Implementation – OpEd
There is some truth that there is discrimination of the Madheshi, residents of the plains of Nepal, but the majority of hill indigenous and mountain people are comparatively more discriminated than the Madheshis. The discrimination of the Madheshis is not the voice of original residence of Terai, who have been there since centuries; it is an imported and guided agenda highlighted after the flow of immigrants in Nepal from India as result of an open border between these two countries.
The Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) Nepal, the leading Madhesh agitating party, is demanding, for a long time, an amendment to the constitution of Nepal. Their major demands were proportionate representation, two provinces in Terai, citizenship and language, which must be incorporated in the amendment of constitution. They are opposing and threatening to boycott the forthcoming polls of 18 Sep 2017 if their demands were not met.
The majority of the Madhesh (Terai) people are fed up with the agitation and started to disobey anti-polls activities. They believe that Terai cannot gain political and economic prosperity without participating in the elections. The recent local bodies’ polls gave also some indications. Many Terai leaders, previously who were opposing the polls and supporting the agitations, have abandoned the agitating parties and participated in second phase of local polls of 28 June 2017. And some of them won the election. This has put the agitating Madhesh leaders in pressure of division if they did not participate in third phase of local government polls.
Owing to this reality, RJP is in dual mentality whether to participate or not in local level polls of province number two, to be held on 18 Sep 2017.
The Government of Nepal has succeeded holding local polls of six provinces in two phases in 14 May and in 28 June 2017. And in province number 2, polling date has been rescheduled for the fourth time to bring agitating Madhesi parties on board and will be held on third phase in 18 September 2017.
To fulfill some Madhesi demands, the present ruling coalition government of Nepali Congress supported by Communist Party of Nepal (Center) has tabled a bill for constitution amendment and the government has already decided to increase the number of local bodies in Terai. But, it became difficult to materialize as opposition Nepal Communist Party (Unified) is against constitution amendment citing it threat to the national unity and sovereignty. Without its support, it is difficult to get two third majority in the house to amend the constitution. And, the government’s decision to increase the numbers of local bodies in Terai, proportionate to the population has been halted by the order of the Supreme Court.
Other than RJP leaders from major political parties in Terai of Nepal have no objection with the constitution and the elections.
For time being, RJP has good support of India. People in Nepal are not happy with India as it is playing dual role to get support from both the sides, externally supporting local polls and internally encouraging polls boycott activities of agitating RJP leaders.
They are also not happy with its diplomatic stands as it is using Madhesi parties against Nepal constitution for its amendments in the name of inclusion. And, anti-India feeling is increasing in Nepal. For instance, the Nepal India border blockade by India in 2015 with support of RJP was counterproductive for it and thereafter majority people in Nepal started to undermine Indian authorities openly. Thereafter, Nepal inclined towards China and signed many agreements with it including transit transport between Nepal and China that deals with railway connectivity and trade and transit routes by the previous K. P. Oli led government.
The ruling coalition government in Nepal seems soft and liberal in fulfilling demands of the Madhesi leaders related to constitution amendments and increase numbers of local bodies in Terai. Moreover, frequent changes in the dates of local polls is also indication to attract Madhesis in the local polls.
After the third phase of local polls, only four months period would be left for preparations to hold the provincial and the parliamentary polls by 21 Jan 2018. When polls were possible to be held in province number one, five and seven in second phase, there was no reason to postpone the polls in province two; and there is also no guarantee that polls would be held in province number 2 even after four months of second phase polls. Because, the Madhesi leaders could change their stances any time regarding the polls.
Analysts suspect that this excessive gap between second and third phase of local polls could affect negatively to the provincial and federal parliament polls.
If the provincial and the parliament election were not held between 18 Sep 2017 and 21 January 2018, it means a constitution vacuum would be created automatically; or alternatively there could be amendment in the constitution to hold remaining elections beyond any date after 21 Jan 2018 by extending tenure of present parliament and its members. It means, the ruling coalition parties would get more time to conduct remaining polls and to lead the government for longer period. Some medias have already started to disseminate news, quoting various sources about high possibility of this parliament tenure extension by constitution amendment. If it happened, it would increase political transition period as well as uncertainty would remain in its constitution implementation
*Hari Prasad Shrestha, former Undersecretary, Nepal Government and was associated with UNDP Africa, is writer of novella – The Violent Nile.