Despite reservations, 4 parties are able to sell 8-province deal

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KATHMANDU, JUN 10 – Four major parties–Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist) and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik–believe that the new 16-point deal will be effectively implemented despite some reservations from sections within their parties, and objections from some Madhes-based and ethnic parties.

The four parties command more than 465 seats in the 601-member Constituent Assembly, which is sufficient to endorse the new constitution. Besides, some fringe parties also back the deal. Leaders claim that support in favour of the 16-point deal would exceed 500.

Top leaders of the parties said the eight-provincedeal became possible after all the four parties adopted utmost flexibility in their stances, considering the crisis facing the country after the Great Earthquake.

Both the ruling and opposition leaders agree that some disputes had been put off for future consideration in view of the national crisis and “the need to stand together”.

Inside the NC, there is not much difference regarding the implementation of the agreement. Party Vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel objected to the deal saying that the country cannot afford eight provinces but he has said that he is committed to the pact.

According to NC General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula, there will not be any problems in implementing the deal as the Sher Bahadur Deuba faction does not have any reservations about it. According to Sitaula, there is an understanding among the top leaders that the NC should take “a firm stance” regarding the delineation of federal units.

Though the party was in favour of fewer provinces, NC leaders say, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s desire to promulgate a new constitution under his leadership, and his failure to convince the UCPN (Maoist) on a six-province model led them to accept the eight provinces.

UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, according to NC insiders, repeatedly urged Koirala to agree on eight provinces, stating that he was ready to drop the agenda of demarcation for now if the two ruling parties were ready to do so.

Coalition partners NC and UML also agreed to eight provinces with the hope that the Maoist-led 30-party alliance would come on board “in due course of time”.

“Top leaders have advised PM Koirala that the party should remain firm on its position while the decisions on demarcation are taken,” said Sitaula. A leader said Deuba will fully back Koirala for the implementation of the deal because he wants the PM out of power before the party’s general convention in September. Koirala has said he will step down as the prime minister once the constitution is promulgated, though he has specified no dates.

The UML was of the view that there should not be more than five or six provinces. Even a day before the agreement, a Standing Committee meeting of the party had decided to pitch for five states. Party Chairman KP Oli had been firm against the idea of increasing the number of provinces until Monday but he was compelled to agree as he was left with no option.

The opposition UCPN (Maoist) said some key issues of federalism such as delineation and names of provinces had been postponed for a few months. Senior leader Baburam Bhattarai said the party signed the deal in order to institutionalise the political achievements made so far while efforts should continue to achieve more.

Top party leaders–Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha–are on the same page regarding the signing of the agreement.

Bhattarai said the 30-party alliance had not cracked, though some of its leaders have expressed reservations about the agreement. Maoist leaders are trying to convince the alliance members that there is still the need for “collective struggle” to ensure identity-based federalism and other progressive agendas.

“The country was already in crisis; the April 25 earthquake added more challenges. We concluded that the government cannot handle the current crisis and signed the deal to give a way out of the crisis,” said Bhattarai.

Maoist leaders maintain that since there was no possibility of gaining political ground from the street agitation, there was no alternative to a compromise.

Some Madhes-based parties have objected to the deal saying that it is a serious blow to federalism. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik Chairman Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar singed the deal but the MJF-Nepal led by Upendra Yadav, Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party led by Mahantha Thakur and the Sadbhawana Party have objected to the deal.

Political commentator and former ambassador Vijaya Kanta Karna believes that with the deal the parties have lost yet another opportunity to promulgate a constitution acceptable to a large section of the population. “Madhesi parties and people have not taken the agreement in a positive way. The divided opinion might create problems in the implementation of the new constitution,” said Karna. “Parties have not given clear answers to why they had failed to settle the demarcation.”

Though the chances of a mass movement in the Madhes appear slim for now, he said, there will be agitation in the Tarai against the deal. “Demarcation of federal units was the key agenda for the Madhes-based parties, along with a number of provinces in the southern belt.”