Madhesis, ethnic groups oppose pact

Less than two weeks before the term of the Constituent Assembly expires, Nepal's political parties have finally reached an agreement on the major contentious issues related to the future of the state structure. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) along with the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) decided to adopt a ‘mixed' form of government, create a bicameral central Parliament, and have 11 states in a future federal system. The pact has however sparked immediate protests.

The parties have decided that there will be a President directly elected and a Prime Minister elected indirectly by Parliament. Both would enjoy executive powers, though the exact division of powers has not been worked out.

Conflict

The Maoists had long stuck to a demand for a directly elected executive, while the NC refused to give up its stance for a traditional parliamentary system. The compromise ‘mixed system' has been criticised on the grounds that it will lead to conflict between the two power centres, and policy paralysis.

The central Parliament will have two Houses — the lower chamber is to have 311 members, and there would be 60 members in the Upper House. A mixed electoral model has been adopted, with elections through the first-past-the-post as well as a proportional representation based list system.

The issue that has polarised Nepali society straight along ethnic lines is that of federalism. Parties agreed to create 11 states, but have decided that boundaries of the states would be determined by a future commission, and names of the states would be given by the provincial Assemblies once states are formed. The agreement to ‘postpone' some of these issues comes after parties failed to agree upon any one of the various models of federalism on the table as submitted by a CA committee as well as the State Restructuring Commission (SRC).

The Madhesi front has expressed its ‘disagreement' over the decision. Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhedar said they have ‘reservations', but will not obstruct the constitution writing process. Another senior leader of the front said, “If we agitate right now, so close to the constitutional deadline, the entire process will get derailed. So we have accepted it temporarily.”

Protests

The Madhesi Front's attitude is being seen as one of quiet acquiescence, sparking protests. Another cross party Madhesi alliance, headed by former foreign minister Upendra Yadav, slammed the pact and has announced protest programmes. On Tuesday evening, Madhesi civil society activists in Kathmandu as well as over half a dozen districts in the Tarai plains burnt the effigy of Madhesi leaders for agreeing to the deal.

Conspiracy

Ethnic groups have also opposed the pact. Prithvi Subba Gurung, head of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus in the CA, told The Hindu, “I see it as a conspiracy to maintain elite hegemony, and counter the emerging alliance between the Madhesis and the ethnic groups. The provinces in the hills will be carved out in a way that will make hill Brahmins and Chhetris the dominant group; the Tarai will be divided into four-five parts diluting its strength drastically.” Mr. Gurung said ethnic representatives will oppose this in the Constitutional Committee, which operates on the principle of unanimity.

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