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Federalism crippling Nepal: Local election a possible way out

image00141By Shambhu Deo
Deceptive federalism is crippling Nepal since promulgation of the constitution. A doggedly effort to organize local election can be a possible way out of the turbulence. Nepal suffered badly with a series of months long protests including blockade organized by various political parties and supported by others as well. Fresh row of protests erupted when the Communist Party of Nepal (MaoistCenter) and Nepali Congress led government has tabled a proposal of constitutional amendmentwithout proper discussion with all the stakeholders.The amendment is for revision in demarcation of provinces, citizenship issues, status of languages and representation in upper house. Article 274 (4) of the constitution says that the Speaker of the parliament will sendthe proposal to provincial assembly for approval within thirty days of registration. Here, theconstitutionally envisagedexistence of provincial assemblyfor amendment is ignored.The amendment proposal of citizenship and language are not perceived as convincing for Nepal. Prevalent rumor of Budhha’s birthplace is in India, ambiguous proposal of amendment to remove hilly districts from the province with Lumbini and appreciating the proposal by various Indian cornersresulted in chaos and made people disgruntled in Nepal. This ledthe demonstrations against the government leaders in many districts and before the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. Some of the prominent leaders labeled the proposal as anti-national.
A constitution capable to restructure the state truly, to make the state move ahead continuously satisfying the aspirations of all concerned can fulfill the need. Constitution should enable all the people to feel an equal stake and balanced ownership in the constitution for sustainable implementation. The constitution should facilitate positive change, future development and evolution. The constitution promulgated in 2015 is to restructure the state. The root of its mandate goes to the 12-point agreement and peoples’ movement (Jana Andolan), which was intended to implement the concept of full democracy through forward-looking restructuring of the state. It was not intended for secularism and federalism. Federalism got materialized only after amendment in the Interim constitution to include ‘Federalism’ to address Madhesh movement. Secularism got mysterious entry in the constitution, since majority of the constitutional stakeholders unofficially claim that they are not responsible for secularism and are unaware of how it came.
Federalism is a combined system of central and provincial governments of equal status with division of power in a single political systemof the same territory. Federalism required supportive political culture and civil society. Federalism has definite values, such as rule of law, tolerance, compromise, consensus, accepting diversity and respecting minorities. None of these existspresently in Nepalese politics andmay cause federalism not to survive in such a way. There is an exception for consensusthat is facility increment for the parliamentarians.
The economic viability, development opportunity, transportation facilities, administrative capacity and distribution of resources available need to be appropriately considered. The federal structure in the present constitution could not consider these factors appropriately and may lead to great inequality made stakeholders unsatisfied and caused problems in implementation of the constitution.
There is demand of ethno-based federal structure for identity. This cannot be addressed in Nepal having 103 ethnic groups, with no single group in majority and distributed across the country. Only a few groups can be satisfied leaving huge population unsatisfied encouragingsentiments of division and secede in the country. There can be more discrimination against minorities and increased inequality.Identity based province does not assure its capacity for survival or development. The demarcation of province is a complex process and various federal states adopted different methods. Switzerland has used referendum to demarcate new canton Jura. South Africa established a commission of experts to determine the appropriate demarcation of provinces. A commission of expertscan be formed to finalize provincialterritory in Nepal postponing the immediate implementation of federalism.
Federal structure is not appropriate for all countries. There are 24 federal states out of 193UN member countries. There are examples of developed countries, such as Belgium, which turned as decentralized state from unitary andagainis a federal state at present. Nepal too now needs a full decentralization and institutionalization of democracy. Restructuring of a country is much more than federalism and covers to restructure its political, social, cultural, economic and other aspects of societies. Freedom, democracy and decentralization are important ingredients of modern states. Nepal needs to adopt fully decentralized system. World Bank suggests decentralization of expenditure is needed to enhance economic development. Major taxes and levies should be collected by the central government, as all the lower units do not have equal resources. A constitutional arrangement of at least half of expenditure of population proportionate budget through local bodies and districts based on unit planning can enhance economic development, functional democracy and national integrity in Nepal. The political parties are still strongly attached with the unit ‘district’. The district level government and district administration fits in a federal system. These are prevailing in India, in Canada in the name of counties and in the name of zones in Ethiopia.
Past history of over centralization is one of the reasons for demand of federalism. There was very centered decision-making process. Almost two third budgets allocated on current expenditure and one third on capital expenditure. The budget was hugely invested from the center and leaving the districts and regions very less to do facing the most needy people without resources. One of the most important factors for demanding federalism is lack of democratic exercise at the local level. Democracy assures the principle of social contract between the people and their representatives, which did not take place since 2002 in the absence of local bodies. Due to the vacuum, people could not exercise their democratic rights and development process from the grass root level. The process of decentralization and local governance suffered. Furthermore, people have lost their faith on emergence of the local institutions ensuring decentralized local governance and ultimatelyshifted towards federalism. Assured local elections periodically,involving the political parties, all others concerned can institutionalize the democracy in the country, which is comparatively more needed in Nepal. In the absence of institutionalized democracy lacking local election since last 15 years national integrity is at risk as evident by the recent incidents and slogans. Deprivingelections at local level in federal Nepal may harm thenational integrity and survival badly. Security agencies and all stakeholders need to fully support the government and the political parties to conduct local elections in Nepal as earliest possible.
(The writer is the senior agriculture extension officer in the Ministry of Agriculture Development. He can be reached at: deoshambhu@gmail.com)

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