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Why federalism?

Sunday, February 1st, 2015
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David Seddon

If a major concern of the pro-federalists as regards a new Constitution is to reduce the power of the central state and the domination of the political process by the old elites, and to increase the representation of those who have been disadvantaged and arguably ‘marginalised’ in the political process, then this could be achieved without the need for federalism per se.

First, the Constitution should be based on universal human rights and the explicit protection of the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups. The definition of citizenship should be broad and generous, indicating a commitment to gender equality as regards citizenship by birth and recognizing residence; every effort should be made to provide citizenship papers as soon as possible to all who qualify. All citizens should have the right to individual liberties and freedoms and the protection of the state and all adults the right to vote – some consideration might be given to reducing the voting age.

Real devolution of power and resources to elected district and village development councils – as per the Local Self-Governance Act of 1999 (passed but never really implemented, perhaps with supplementary legislation) – would immediately effect a re-structuring of the state. If the number of districts in the Tarai were to be increased from the present 20 to say 45, to allow for greater equality of population as between districts, then a House of directly elected district council representatives (say two from each district – even one male and one female) would create a powerful basis for the representation of blocs of local and regional interests, if that were what the elected representatives desired. In such a House, ‘Madhesis’ (for example) could, if they wished to represent themselves as such, have a decisive voice; alternatively, they could align themselves in other ways to promote a variety of different interests; so could the representatives from remote regions.

Proportional representation is clearly a way of enabling minority interests to have a greater chance of representation than they usually do in first-past-the-post systems, but if an anchor in local constituencies is regarded as desirable, then a mixed system of proportional representation together with first-past-the-post at the constituency level could be adopted – as it was for the elections to the first Constitutional Assembly. This allowed that first Assembly to demonstrate an unprecedented diversity and range of representation – and, incidentally, gave the Maoists the largest
share of seats (Pushpa Dahal has already, not surprisingly, shown an interest in a greater role for proportional representation in any future system of political representation).

As regards the system of government, there is a strong argument for having a directly elected President, with a limited period office; but such a president should, in order to command real authority, renounce (for the period of the presidency at least) all other roles, whether party political, judicial or other. He or she should not be a part of the executive, but represent the nation as a whole, and preside over a National Planning Commission and a National Security Committee, to ensure a unified strategy for sustainable economic development and national security. The legislature could be a directly elected National Assembly (as at present, but elected on a mixed proportional and first-past-the-post system), counter-balanced by a House of Local Representatives with powers of scrutiny. The judiciary should be strictly separate from – and independent of -both legislature and executive.

As to the government itself, there are many possibilities, but its constitution must surely aim to balance effectiveness with representativeness. Single party governments have both advantages and disadvantages – as do coalitions; the same is true of a minimalist inner cabinet with a powerful Prime Minister and Prime Minister’s office, and a larger, more inclusive government with a less ‘presidential’ First Minister.

Also read:

Federalism revisited, Chaitanya Mishra

Second thoughts about federalism, Om Astha Rai

Who cares about the constitution? Om Astha Rai

 

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4 Responses to “Why federalism?”

  1. Anil Bhattarai on Says:

    And, blasphemous it might sound, can be done even without ‘new constitution’. It is only a paper.

  2. Michelle on Says:

    an important lesson to learn: YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION

  3. david seddon on Says:

    Anil and Michelle make good points – most of the progressive changes could actually be undertaken by the interim government without ‘consensus’ or permission, but the political repercussions might be serious….

  4. namah on Says:

    you overrate consensus…let’s call the bluff…where will PKD go to? jungles of Bihar? Tiger Tops?…

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