Parties to put agreed issues in draft, talk federalism over

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KATHMANDU, APR 21 – Stating that they have narrowed down their differences, the three major parties on Monday decided to kick start drafting of the new constitution even though consensus on federalism remains elusive. The Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) have agreed to document the issues agreed so far and continue discussions on the disputed agendas.

In the run up to the missed January 22 deadline, the parties had agreed to prepare a draft on the agreed issues and hold discussions on federalism. With Monday’s understanding, the parties seem to have returned to the same model of agreement after a hiatus of three months.

During a meeting held at the PM’s official residence in Baluwatar, top leaders agreed to intensify negotiations to seek common ground for federating the country. As Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will remain out of the country for a week, he has authorised NC Vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel to hold discussions with UML Chairman KP Oli and Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

At the start of the meeting, PM Koirala floated the proposal of preparing a draft on the agreed issues and using additional time to settle the disputed issues.

Oli supported the proposal while Dahal said the agreed and disputed agendas should be sorted first even though his party agreed to the idea in principle. Leaders have voiced optimism that there will be consensus on federalism and the electoral system by Thursday, the date for the next CA meeting. “Chances are high for an agreement as the parties are close to consensus on federalism,” said Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha.

If the parties agree on the way forward, the UCPN (Maoist), which has been boycotting the CA since January 25, will join the meeting on Thursday. Unless something goes wrong, the parties now aim to promulgate the new national charter by mid-July.

Cross-party leaders said if federalism remains unresolved, the preliminary draft will incorporate the positions of all the parties on the issue. According to them, though some issues remain unsettled, an environment of trust has been created among the parties. Monday’s understanding has also averted a looming confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties.

The parties have differing takes on the settled and disputed issues. Ruling party leaders claim that there is accord except on federalism while the opposition says electoral system remains to be settled too.

Among four contentious issues, the row over judiciary has been settled. The UCPN (Maoist) has said it is ready to move ahead by registering a note of dissent on the forms of government if other issues are decided.

On the electoral system, the parties have already agreed to adopt a mixed model of the first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems. Parties are still divided over the percentage to be allocated to the FPTP and PR categories. The Maoists have demanded 50-50 allocation.

After a tentative agreement on the electoral system, interlocutors have said, a meeting of the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee led by Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai will be called to formalise the decision. The PDCC will then present its report to the CA. The Assembly will entrust the Drafting Committee led by Nepali Congress General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula to prepare a preliminary draft of the new constitution.

On federalism, the parties have agreed on six provinces but differences persist on the demarcation and names of the states. If no deal is reached even after the Drafting Committee completes its job, the parties’ positions would be listed as annex.

As the ultimate measure, the parties are also considering the possibility of forming a commission to sort the issue of federalism.

While the draft is made public for inputs, according to leaders privy to the developments, the parties could still use the time for intensive discussion on the tricky issue.