Nepal parties sign deal on six province federal model

Nepal's major political parties sign breakthrough deal to form new constitution that will divide Himalayan country into six federal states

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala

Nepal's rival parties have signed an agreement drawing up the country's internal borders in a breakthrough that paves the way for a new national constitution, the country's prime minister said Sunday.

Spurred by April's devastating quake, Nepal's parties struck a historic deal in June to divide the country into eight provinces but left the crucial task of delineating state borders to a federal commission.

The new agreement, signed after midnight Saturday, came after days of negotiation and resolves a major issue that has blocked progress on the charter since 2008. As a result, the commission will no longer be required to set state boundaries.

"A constitution with federalism and demarcation has been ensured," Prime Minister Sushil Koirala wrote in a post on Twitter.

"I call on everyone to not be stuck on minor disagreements and work to build and develop the country," Koirala said.

Information Minister Minendra Rijal told AFP that "the agreement was reached last night and it has moved the constitution writing process a step forward."

The deal comes after a series of public consultations held across the Himalayan nation last month.

In some cases, the consultations were marred by violence, especially in the southern plains, which are home to the Madhesi community, who expressed anger about a lack of detail on where and how new internal borders will be drawn.

"We have tried to understand the public stance and strike a balance on conflicting feedback responses," Rijal said.

New provinces

Opposition parties have long pushed for new provinces to be created along lines that could favour historically marginalised communities like the Madhesis. Other parties have attacked this model, calling it a threat to national unity.

As a result of the negotiations, the number of provinces was reduced to six and, under the new agreement, every province in the landlocked country will share a border with regional power India, allaying concerns about individual states' access to markets.

Experts said the latest move reflected demands of marginalised ethnic groups, especially the Madhesis, who argued that a constitution without demarcation would be incomplete.

"This is positive and has opened the road to ensure a new constitution for the country," said Guna Raj Luitel, editor of Nagarik Daily.

The deal also changes a controversial provision that required both parents to be Nepali in order for their child to get citizenship, sparking outrage among rights' activists who said the legislation would disproportionately affect single mothers.

The Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), a Nepalese pressure group, said the latest draft still does not guarantee citizenship when only one parent is Nepali, however.

"The language has been slightly changed to use the phrase 'father or mother,' but additional provisions again demand that both parents must be Nepali at the time of applying for a citizenship," Subin Mulmi of FWLD said.

Lawmakers began work on a new national constitution in 2008 following a decade-long Maoist insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the monarchy.

But bickering political parties were unable to reach agreement and the resulting uncertainty left Nepal - one of the world's poorest countries - in a state of political limbo.