October Analysis: Federalism

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With one month remaining for the elections, in October, political parties were occupied with forging coalitions and candidacy nominations. Two parties – Janata Samajwadi Party and Lokrantrik Samajwadi Party – switched coalitions, and this led to changes in the cabinet of ministry at the central level, and in the Madhes Pradhesh. Major political parties of the likes of Nepali Congress, CPN UML, CPN Maoist Centre and CPN Unified Socialist published their election manifestos. Although federalism is envisioned also to promote inclusivity, the major political parties have yet again failed to ensure proportional representation of the women, janajatis, dalits and other marginalised communities, particularly in candidates’ selection for the federal and provincial first-past-the-post (FPTP) polls. 

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvents
October 8Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) left the ruling electoral alliance and joined the alliance of the CPN UML and RPP.
October 9 Candidates filed their candidacy nominations for Federal and Provincial  FPTP polls. 
October 12The Election Commission published the final list of the candidates and allotted the election symbols to them. 
October 12Prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba fired four ministers from the Janata Samajwadi Party from the cabinet. 
October 13The chief minister of Madhesh Pradesh, Lal Babu Raut, sacked three ministers of Nepali Congress.

Coalition of the parties for election

Setting up Ballot Boxes for the Election – 2017. Photo RSS

For the upcoming election, the ruling alliance had earlier formed an electoral coalition of its five-member parties – Nepali Congress (NC), CPN Maoist Center, CPN (Unified Socialist), Rashtriya Nepali Janamorcha and Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP). However, the Janata Samajwadi Party left the ruling alliance and joined hands with the CPN UML; and then Loktrantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP) joined the NC-led ruling alliance.  Janata Samajwadi Party was part of the ruling alliance but it chose to change the alliance after it didn’t get expected seats for the provincial elections.

As soon as JSP decided to form an alliance with CPN UML for the election, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba dismissed four ministers of JSP from the cabinet. But as the election code of conduct was implemented, no political appointments could be made. In response to that, a day after, Lal Babu Raut, the chief minister of Province two, sacked three ministers from Nepali Congress.

For provincial elections, from the ruling alliance, UML fielded 285 candidates, Nepali Congress 179, CPN Maoist 112, CPN (Unified Socialist) 66, and LSP fielded 177 candidates – and on the opposition front, CPN UML 285 candidates and the JSP has fielded 140. 

According to the Election Commission, 36 parties have submitted 661 candidates in the closed list in Province 1, while in Madhesh Province, there are 948 candidates from 36 political parties. There are 825 candidates from 41 parties in Bagmati province and 368 candidates from 31 political parties in Gandaki province. Similarly, 657 candidates from 32 political parties in Lumbini province, 222 proportional candidates from 28 political parties in Karnali province and 376 candidates from 34 political parties in Sudurpaschim province are on the closed list.

Among 3226 candidates in the provincial level, 1094 candidates are independent. The number of independent candidates increased after quite a few independent candidates pulled off victories, to the surprise of many, in the local polls held last May. Also, this time around, the number of dissident candidates, even at the provincial level, has increased due to intraparty tensions induced by electoral coalitions. The electoral outcome at the provincial level, therefore, will also be determined by the dynamics of dissident and independent candidates at play. 

Although there are some early indications of provincial politics gaining prominence and exerting influence even at the centre, not enough emphasis has been put to institutionalise federalism – and this is reflective in the electoral dynamics of the forthcoming polls. The parties – although have adapted to the federal system, and have changed their internal administrating mechanism accordingly – the central leaders are the ones who take all the major decisions of the politics at province; particularly in the formation of coalition, in deciding the framework of seat-sharing amongst coalition partners and in the selection of candidates.

Federalism in Election Manifestos  

In October, almost all political parties published their manifestos for the election. Of all, major priority has been given to infrastructural development and economy – like in the past. In these formative years of the federal practice, it is imperative that the political parties give equal emphasis to issues concerning institutionalisation of federalism, its effective practice and measures to solve issues attached to federalism – however, that was not to be. Despite this, manifestos have promised to strengthen federal practice – Nepali Congress has vowed to strengthen Interprovincial Council to effectively institutionalise federalism and ensure a cordial relationship between federal, provincial and local government. Likewise, other parties have also put forth some measures to better the federal practice. Some conservative parties of the likes of Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RaPraPa) have asked to scrap the federal system altogether but those fringe parties have minimal foothold in the nation – and therefore, the demand to scrap federal practice isn’t bound to get any momentum.

Inclusion in Candidates’ Selection

One of the major aims of federalism is to ensure the inclusivity of historically marginalised groups in state institutions. Now that the country has been practising federalism for about seven years, there are some early indications that federalism has been effective at increasing inclusivity of those groups. For instance, compared to the federal level, percentage representation of Janajati candidates is considerably high at the provincial level. However, much work is yet to be done to ensure better inclusivity of all historically marginalised groups. Up until today, nearly half of the minority communities have had no representation at all in the federal parliament. According to the Election Commission, only 8.54% of the total FPTP candidates for provincial elections are females – and while the CPN UML has fielded 4 Dalit candidates, CPN Maoist has also fielded only 5 candidates for FPTP polls in the provincial level.

Even in the case of Proportional Representation nomination at the provincial level, political parties have selected those leaders who have been in the forefront of political leadership. The constitutional provision to ensure inclusivity of all has been used by political parties with the ulterior motive of serving their own interests. 

A brief overview of last five years of Provincial Governments 

In the last five years, two federal governments were formed and there were quite a few changes in provincial governments at each province – Madhesh Pradesh being the sole exception. And in all those changes in provincial government, politics and political calculations at the center – that is Kathmandu – had played a determining role. This alone is enough of evidence that the practice of Nepal has been perfunctory and political parties are yet to abide by the spirit of federalism. Despite having clear constitutional provisions about rights and responsibilities of the three tiers of government – federal, provincial and local – the provincial and local governments are yet to fully exercise their authority. The erstwhile KP Sharma Oli’s government had undermined provincial and local units – and it appears as if the Deuba-led government is following the footsteps of its predecessor. The interprovincial council which was established to manage the relationship and to facilitate coordination between federal, provincial and local level. But the Deuba led government hasn’t held a single meeting of the Interprovincial council in a year, whereas KP Oli led government held only two meetings in almost three years. Madhesh Pradesh filed several cases against the federal government for the issues concerning provincial police mobilisation, Sagarmatha Forest project and division forest officer under the province, irrigation projects among others. Bagmati Province too had given several warnings that it would file cases for issues surrounding provincial police and public transportation. These are just a few representative cases – the list is long. In nutshell, Nepal is still in a transition phase when it comes to effective and efficient practise of federalism – and the political parties should now put issues surrounding federalism at the top of their priority list.

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