Nepali Times

Four trekkers killed

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Four trekkers, including a foreign national, were killed by a landslide on the Manaslu trekking route in Gorkha district on Thursday.

The landslide that occurred in Kerauja village of Gorkha in the western hills also injured six people, including four foreigners. They were airlifted to Kathmandu by a Fishtail Air helicopter.

The deceased Nepalis have been identified as 30-year-old Tsering Sherpa, 35-year-old Dorje Lama of Kathmandu and 32-year-old Ranjana Basnet of Okhaldhunga. The name and nationality of the foreigner who died along with the three Nepalis are yet to be confirmed, according to Gorkha’s Chief District Officer Narayan Prasad Bhatta.

The region where the tragedy took place was badly damaged by last year’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in Barpak, Gorkha.

Bomb incidents condemned

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
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A bomb disposal team of Nepal Army at work in a school in Kathmandu. Photo: RSS

UNICEF has condemned the placement and explosion of bombs at more than half a dozen schools in Kathmandu Valley on Tuesday.

A Maoist faction formed by former ex-combatants had left Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in at least eight schools, and two of these IEDs exploded and caused damage to school infrastructure.

Police later arrested two suspects and presented them before media. 31-year-old Shankar Lakhe of Ramechhap and 24-year-old Chandra Bahadur Tamang of Sindhuli were arrested from their rented room in Baudha, Kathmandu.

“Schools are meant to be safe havens, whether in the public or private domains, and must remain as areas where children can learn and grow up in safe and happy environment free from any violence and threats,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Nepal Representative.


Not playing ball

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

After the bloodshed in the Tarai that followed the promulgation of the ‘fast track’ constitution last year left nearly 60 people and a dozen policemen dead, it is once more decision time. The onus is on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on his return from India to carry out a second amendment to the constitution to satisfy Madhesi and Janajati dissidents.

But on the first anniversary of the seventh constitution in seven decades, Nepal is stuck again. The first constitution in Nepal’s history that was drawn up by a sovereign assembly elected by the people is supposed to be the last step in a peace process that began with the ceasefire in 2006.

There is hardly any precedence in recent world history of a constitution being passed by nearly 90 per cent of elected representatives. Despite that there was dissatisfaction in the Tarai, which some Madhes-based parties used to launch an agitation aimed at gaining back the support they had lost in the 2013 elections. The protests turned violent, and brutal police response on the streets led to many deaths.

The hurried promulgation of the constitution, despite misgivings from New Delhi, then led directly to a border blockade supported by India that crippled the country’s economy. The human disaster of the earthquake was followed by a humanitarian disaster of the blockade.

Through Nepal’s recent history of Maoist violence, the 12-point agreement in Delhi, the downfall of the monarchy and the decade-long transition after 2006 we have seen the impact of geopolitics on Nepal’s internal affairs.

Although both Nepal’s neighbours say they want stability here, recent decisions have shown that one of them prefers ‘controlled instability’. Many believe that some of the agitating parties that observed Constitution Day this week as a ‘black day’ and burnt copies of the statute may be acting at the behest of this outside force.

It is difficult to see how supporting such divisive politics of ethnicity benefits any domestic or foreign entity. How does uncertainty, anarchy and a constitutional limbo help a country with which we share a long, open border?

The main message that Pushpa Kamal Dahal attempted to give to both his Indian interlocutors and the public back home during his New Delhi visit this week was that he had restored India-Nepal bilateral relations to its earlier bonhomie. He may have succeeded in giving that impression in New Delhi, but back home the joint communique and purported secret deals have reinforced the belief that Nepal’s leaders have once more sold out to India.  Even if it is not true, the perception that he did so is neither good for Dahal, not for the country.

The fact that two of the four main demands of the Madhesi parties were addressed within five months in the first amendment is actually proof of the pragmatism and flexibility of the new constitution. It showed that democracy is alive and well, and taking legitimate democratic decisions. The Madhesi parties who want their other two demands to be fulfilled through the second amendment are a part of the constitutional process to press for those changes. The fact that they are working to achieve those ends through committees in the legislature is a healthy sign.

As we have emphasised in this space before, the demands of the Madhesi parties on border demarcations of the two Tarai provinces and the demand on citizenship cannot be fulfilled without the UML being on board. And the UML seems set to make it as difficult as possible so that it can extract its pound of flesh.

This deadlock is delaying all pending legislations governing the implementation of the new constitution which stipulates local, provincial and national elections to be held by January 2018. The Election Commission’s deadline for poll preparations have already lapsed. If voting at all three levels cannot take place in a little over a year, it could lead to a constitution crisis and bring us back political to square one.

Parliamentary elections need to be completed by January 2018, and elected federal assemblies can only function if local and provincial elections are held so that the National Assembly can elect a president and vice-president.  That in turn is only possible if there is agreement on the number of provinces, their boundaries — and for this the Madhesi parties need to be on board and the UML has to play ball. A deal is not in sight, and time is running out.

Ex-speaker speaks out  

Monday, September 19th, 2016

14398023_10154543126112500_172175389_nInterview with Subhas Nembang, Chair of the now-dissolved Constituent Assembly in Himal Khabarpatrika (19 September)

Himal Khabarpatrika: How do you review the first year of the Constitution?

Subhas Nembang: We have failed to show the wisdom and capacity needed to implement the Constitution. The political parties that stood together to promulgate it are now divided, and it has hindered its implementation. A constitution gives us rights, outlines our duties and shows us the way to govern the country. But it does not give us knowledge, wisdom and ability that we need to take the country forward.

Why are the parties that promulgated the Constitution not serious about its implementation?

They say they are committed, but their actions contradict this.  The previous government had passed a timetable to implement the Constitution, but the new government has neither followed it nor replaced it with a new workplan. We are delaying the passage of key laws required for the smooth implementation of the Constitution. For example, the Election Commission needed election laws by mid-September to hold local, provincial and parliamentary elections by January 2018, but we have not even drafted the elections laws yet.

The new Constitution was amended shortly after its promulgation, and is likely to be amended once again. Is that normal?

The Constitution can and should be amended from time to time, and we are not against that. But it has to be justified. When the Constitution was amended for the first time in January, the parties that now run the government said in Parliament that the Madhesi and Janajati demands were addressed. They had caused an uproar when the amendment bill was delayed for a few days. But the same parties are now preparing to amend the Constitution once again. Why? They need to explain this.

Why are those who signed the Constitution last year now saying it is ‘discriminatory’?

Even those who rejected the Constitution took part in prime ministerial elections. They are now members of various parliamentary committees. Some of them are committee presidents, too and draw their legitimacy from the same Constitution. So there is no question about the legitimacy of the Constitution. It has already been accepted.

So what next?

There is no legitimate body that can pass another constitution to replace the Constitution endorsed by an elected assembly. So we have no choice but to implement it. The parties that passed the Constitution must be blamed for its slow implementation. Instead of blaming each other, they must stand united again until the end of political transition.

What if local, provincial and parliamentary elections are not held by January 2018?

The Constitution implementation process has certainly been slow, prompting people to doubt the parties’ ability to hold all three elections within the stipulated deadline. But it is still possible to meet this deadline. People must exert pressure on the parties to work harder and more swiftly. The parties must explain why they are delaying the process. They cannot get away with missing the election deadline, and pushing the country into uncertainty.


South Asia rising

Monday, September 19th, 2016
Women's right activist Abha Bhaiya and Kamla Bhasin hand over the Sangatee Grant Award to Nirmala Kumari Gupta and Badri Pun on Monday. Pic: Gopen Rai

Women’s right activist Abha Bhaiya and Kamla Bhasin hand over the Sangatee Grant Award to Nirmala Kumari Gupta and Badri Pun on Monday.
Pic: Gopen Rai

Leading feminist Kamla Bhasin launched the South Asian edition of the One Billion Rising (OBR) 2017, a global campaign against violence against women and girls, in an event in Kathmandu on Monday.

“We are rising to say enough is enough,” said Bhasin during the program. “Over one billion women around the world suffer violence every year. Do you know of any other war that affects one billion people?”

Since 2013, people in more than 200 countries have come together every year on 14 February to call for justice and equality for women through dance, music and other creative actions. This year OBR calls for solidarity against the exploitation of women.

Judge Sapana Pradhan Malla and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) member Bandana Rana were also felicitated during the South Asian celebration event.

Likewise, the first recipients of the Sangatee Grant Awards initiated by Nepali feminists and Civil Society Organisations to recognise organisations and individuals working in the field of women and minority issues were also announced during the event. Women Forum for Women, an organisation advocating for rights of women working in informal and entertainment sectors, LGBT rights activist Badri Pun and Dalit rights activist Nirmala Kumari Gupta  received the award.

This year’s Meeto Memorial Award for Young South Asian were awarded to Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala, the first person from Sri Lanka to climb Mount Everest and Wasfia Nazreen, the only Bangladeshi to have climbed the seven highest peaks in each continent.


Constitution in crisis

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

cover-cartoon2Santa Gaha Magar

On the first day of his visit to India last week, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal told a gathering in New Delhi that his government has taken key steps to implement the Constitution, including setting up of High Courts in all seven federal provinces.

He was trying to assure officials in New Delhi, who have taken a keen interest in Nepal’s new constitution, that everything is on track and that he has understood Indian sensibilities.

However, on the first anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution this week, there is a sense of foreboding and crisis. Not because of opposition from those who were against it, but those who voted for the document last year.

The Big Three parties who signed the charter despite protests by Madhesi dissenters and open dissatisfaction of India are now divided. They are unlikely to forge a consensus to amend the Constitution to make it more acceptable.

Nepal’s new Constitution is a radical departure from previous ones not only because it has institutionalised republicanism and secularism, but because it has divided the country into seven federal provinces. The Legislature therefore needs to pass as many as 138 new bills apart from amending 315 existing laws to make the Constitution functional.

However, only four bills have been passed and two laws amended in the past year. The most important ones necessary to hold local and provincial elections have not been passed and amended. The Election Commission had warned that it would not be able to hold all three elections by January 2018, the deadline stipulated in the Constitution, if the necessary laws were not passed by mid-September. But neither the ruling nor the opposition parties has shown any sense of urgency to meet that deadline.

“The full implementation of the Constitution will only be possible when the new Parliament, Federal Provinces and Local Bodies are elected, but our political parties look oblivious,” says constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari.

With the January 2018 deadline looming, the numbers and boundaries of municipalities, village councils and local autonomous zones have still not been determined. Only half the Technical Panels headed by Local Development Officers in the 75 districts have submitted their reports to a Commission set up to delineate boundaries of municipalities and village councils. The Commission has not received reports from any district of the Tarai, where Madhesi people had protested against the Constitution for nearly six months last year.

Another Commission envisaged in the Constitution to set up federal structures has not yet been formed. Without creating these structures, it will not be possible to elect provincial and local councils.

Constitution promulgation became possible last year only when the NC, the UML, the Maoists and the MJF (D) reached an eight-point deal. These four parties stood together to get the Constitution endorsed by the Constituent Assembly on 16 September and promulgated by then-President Ram Baran Yadav on 20 September.

One year down the line, the NC-Maoist coalition has been as vocal as the Madhesi dissenters on the issue of amendment to the Constitution. Even ex-President Yadav, who himself promulgated the Constitution, has time and again expressed his misgivings over it.

However, the UML is dead against amending the Constitution for a second time. UML Chair K P Oli says the Constitution has already been amended once to address Madhesi-Janajati grievances, and his party would not be ready again to change anything in it under external pressure -– a clear reference to India’s perceived role in backing the Madhesi parties, unseating his government and engineering the NC-Maoist coalition.

The Constitution is being criticised even by those legislators who signed it last year. Baburam Bhattarai, now coordinator of the Naya Shakti Party, was president of a key legislative committee that helped forge a consensus among major parties. But he demanded an amendment to the Constitution soon after signing it, possibly to win over the Madhesi constituency.

The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) President Nagendra Kumal and General Secretary Pemba Bhote were among the nominated legislators who signed the Constitution. But they are now leading the protests over the Constitution.

“Our Constitution is of course not flawless, and needs to be amended,” says political analyst Nilambar Acharya. “But what is not right is those who signed it just one year ago are now themselves pointing out its flaws.”

Constitutional lawyer Adhikari says the demand for the Constitution amendment is being pushed pretty blatantly by external rather than the internal forces. He adds: “If the Constitution is amended under external pressure, it will not fulfill aspirations of Nepalis.”


Dahal-Modi handshake

Friday, September 16th, 2016
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Photo: RSS

India on Friday urged Nepal to ‘accommodate aspirations of all sections of diverse (Nepali) society’ to implement the new Constitution. This is a direct reference to the new constitution that was promulgated by the Constituent Assembly last year and led to the unrest in the Tarai and the five-month Indian blockade.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also added at a joint press conference with Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal who is in New Delhi on a four-day state visit to India, that implementing the Constitution would only be possible through “inclusive dialogue”.

“Under your wise leadership, I am confident that Nepal will be successful in implementing the Constitution,” Modi said. “I wish you a success in this endeavour.”

Modi also hailed Dahal as “the catalyst force for peace”, and praised his role in strengthening democratic institutions in Nepal. In turn, Nepal’s Prime Minister thanked his Indian counterpart for the “warm welcome and generous hospitality”, and said the ‘kind words … mean a lot for me and my country”.

Dahal told the press meet that his government has made “serious efforts to bring everyone on board, as we enter the phase of the Constitution implementation in the interest of all sections of the Nepali society”.

This is Dahal’s second state visit to India as Nepal’s Prime Minister after his first visit after he was elected prime minister in 2008. After his return to Nepal then, he ignored India’s advice and unsuccessfully tried to sack the Army Chief in a bid to capture state power. As a result, he resigned, his party split into multiple factions and it suffered a humiliating defeat in the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013.

It took Dahal eight years to return to power, this time with support from India which urged the Maoists and the Nepali Congress to dump the UML-led government of Prime Minister K P Oli three months ago. Old was perceived as being supportive of Chinese overtures in Nepal following the blockade. He had also signed a trade and transit treaty with Beijing.

Oli had also invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal, and after Oli’s ouster Xi’s visit to Kathmandu is in limbo. Instead, Dahal has invited India’s President Pranab Mukherjee to Nepal.

Political analysts say India is uncomfortable with China’s growing influence in Nepal, and Modi is believed to have asked Dahal to keep a distance from Beijing during their one-on-one meeting before the joint press meet. At the press meet, Dahal assured Modi that “Nepal fully supports India’s aspirations for a greater role in international institutions”.