Monday, August 30, 2010

A Federal Nepal: the Citizens Must Speak

A Federal Nepal: the Citizens Must Speak

Joshua S. Leslie
August 28, 2010

At a dinner the other day, I was talking to a friend who lives in Switzerland. We were talking about the Swiss federal system when he asked me, “Who is the Prime Minister of Switzerland?” I was bemused as I attempted to recall if I had ever heard the name of the Swiss Prime Ministers, in any context.

Yet, my Swiss friend quickly allayed my fear that I was poorly informed when he explained that hardly anyone outside Switzerland ever truly knows the name of the Swiss prime minister because the actual state power is within each individual citizen. The Swiss federal system is premised on a system of referendums where the laws passed by the cantonal (state) legislatures are submitted to the people for authorization.

How I wish the citizens of Nepal had such influence. Instead, we know the name of the current Prime Minister, as well as usually three ‘potential’ Prime Minister candidates. As we’ve seen over the past few months, the current prime ministerial merry-go round occurs because of the inability of the parliament to develop a consensus on whom to elect. This farce has convinced political observers and policy-makers that Nepal’s national political system to come to a grinding halt.

However, is this stalemate truly because of an inability to select a Prime Minister or because the major parties refuse to seriously begin the process of restructuring a historically unequal, centralized, and suppressive state?

Nepal became officially a federal, democratic state through the Interim Constitution on May 28th, 2008 -- but the federal demarcation of Nepal has still not been approved by the Constituent Assembly, which is the only legitimate body that can make constitutional decisions. The Committee on State Restructuring and Sharing of State Powers released its recommendation for fourteen states on January 20th, 2010. However, even now, the full CA Assembly still has not yet voted on the future federal Nepali state.

Instead, the three major parties have again delayed the constitutional process by belatedly proposing to establish a State Restructuring Commission that will require more months to review and redefine the boundaries of each Nepali state. This further raises the question of whether the new constitution will actually be completed by May 2011 as the identity and viability of each state cannot be discussed within the CA until a version of the state restructuring is accepted.

This problem was clearly visible during my visit to a UNDP/SCPBN Federalism Dialogue in Hetauda concerning the future Tamsaling Province. The three day Dialogue was led by respected Tribhuvan University Professors Krishna Hachhethu and Krishna Khanal and included over sixty civil rights activists, local politicians and ethnic leaders. However, the major issues raised by these leaders were not about the critically important government responsibility of the future Tamsaling State to its people -- but rather the fact that Newa and Sherpa received numerous Tamang majority VDCs. Yet the future Tamsaling State is not responsible to its ethnicity only, but rather all peoples within the State.

Yet, can we blame these individuals, donor agencies or the professors for this critical federalism discussion leading to various ethnicities attempting to include their whole population into their proposed state after years of social oppression and political neglect by the central government and the general practice of a unitary government that promoted one religion, one caste, one language.

Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly continues to give these national ethnicities faint hope because the three major parties may change or remove these proposed boundaries through their continual delays in the constitutional process of defining each state. This further hinders and obstructs the constitution building process because the each new state/province must be determined and approved by the CA before they can approve and disseminate the constitutional authorities for the central, state and local governments.

However, instead of finalizing the draft constitution, we find ourselves two months later after five rounds of self-damaging and detrimental politics. The major parties that promised to bring us a ‘New’ Nepal have instead dragged us into a repetitive political abyss from which it becomes increasingly difficult to climb out.

Rather, to begin our ascent, we must each think like a citizen of Switzerland. We must realize that the power is within us to determine the future of our country.

Therefore, I implore every newspaper, television station, radio station and, especially, each Nepali citizen rather than give prominence to the continuing mockery of our highest political position, instead pressure all 601 CA Members to complete their job in the time allocated: to truly create a federal, democratic nation with an equitable, secular, republican constitution

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