Need and basis for Federalism

January 9, 2008 at 5:40 pm 2 comments

Need and basis for Federalism

Lal Babu Yadav, Associate Professor, Political Science, TU

Concept of Federalism

Federalism is that form of government where the component units of the political organization participate in sharing powers and functions in a cooperative manner though the combined forces of ethnic pluralism and cultural diversity, among others, tend to pull their people apart


In Nepal, people have misconception about federation. It is thought that federal structure is suitable only for large countries. There is a misjudgment prevalent among political leaders that because of its small size Nepal cannot accommodate federal system and therefore this system is not necessary here. However, demographically Nepal occupies 40th position among 227 countries in the world.


More than 100 countries have shown that federalism minimizes violence, insurgency where as unitary structure are more apt to exacerbate ethnic conflict (Frank S. Cohen:1997)

Federal structure has been applied mainly in places of diversity where it is believed that as far as practicable a certain area should be granted political autonomy. Diverse cultural and linguistic sections of Switzerland and Belgium can be cited as an example. Both the countries, which are far smaller in population and area than Nepal, have followed federal form of government.

Federal make-up of governance imparts a greater degree of autonomy and minimizes conflict among different sections and groups. This form of governance has helped establish peace in such places as Baraks of Spain, Moro of the Philipines, Miskito of Nicaragoa, the Chittgaon hill of Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Similarly, India has managed ethnic and linguistic conflict by creating separate states such as Andhra, Gujarat, Punjab, Hariyana, Jharkhanda, Arunachal, Mijoram, and Chattisgarh. By providing equal dignity and rights to all the minority and marginalized, federal structure has resolved conflict peacefully. It has been seen that rather than causing civil war, conflict or secession federal form of government has ensured stability, established sustained peace, and strengthened social unity in many countries. India, Malaysia, and Switzerland can be cited as an example

Challenges of Federation in Nepal

Historical evidence shows that many a time federal system has failed in solving national problem and chaotic situation. This system might incur a massive expenditure in maintaining parliamentarian and administrative section. In those countries where there is insufficient resource and means federal form of governance might suffer from the lack of sufficient budget. In case of different governments in the centre and province, there might not be proper coordination and cooperation between the two. Such anomalies contain the seed of conflict.

Political parties are unnecessarily apprehensive of the fact that federalism might lead to the disintegration of the nation. They also argue that federal structure will also cause additional financial burden towards maintaining administrative expenditure. No any ethnic or linguistic group is in absolute majority in any region. It is also seen that political democratization process might be overshadowed due to the issues of ethnicities, language and culture. Most of the time great politicians, businessmen and administrators think in a unitary fashion. Likewise, federal system cannot be said to maintain or ensure social conduciveness. Events in Spain, France, Russia and Yugoslavia proved this fact. Federal structure might also weaken national unity and specially, in case of conflict between and among the federal states the situation of law and order might worsen extremely. Because of the presence of one particular ethnic majority in a particular region, other minorities might be marginalized. In no part of the country is any particular ethnic group in absolutely the majority position and in this case there is the possibility for the minority to ascend to power, which can be opposed by the majority. Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Russia are the examples. In Russia, the Russian were in the majority that took decision in their favor. Similarly, in Yugoslavia the Serbs were predominant and so for fear of being wiped out by the majority, other marginalized groups sought independence. .

Formal Concept of Federalism in the Nepalese Context

On January 15, 2007 the interim legislation was formed and enacted in Nepal. Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum protested fiercely for not being included in this legislation. To address the demand of the people of Madhesh, PM Koirala, supported by the 8-party alliance, made a theoretical commitment for the federal form of state mechanism. By making necessary amendment in the constitution to authorize his announcement, it was decided that Nepal should be made a federal state.

Needs of Federal State

Armed and communal conflicts take place because of the political exclusion of a large social group. Federal structure minimizes such exclusion and enhances political participation and role. The government formed to take care of a particular group for its common benefit will definitely address structural conflict and violence. Federal structure allows the state power to reach the minimal unit of state mechanism. This automatically establishes mechanism to resolve conflict on the permanent basis. Identity-based issues like culture, ethnicity are given due recognition by the state. This helps a great deal in eradicating communal feeling and conflict.

At the local level, native people have full access to regional resources. Federal form of government enables and expands scope of the people of grass-root level to enjoy the full fruit of democracy. This also ensures and safeguards the rights of all groups of people by ending ethnic and religious discrimination through decentralization. To allow the resources to reach the grass-root people federal system is effective form of governance. Apart from imparting status and recognition to all ethnic, linguistic and regional groups, federal state structure guarantees the overall participation of the common people in the development and democratic process.

Types of Federal Forms

Although the government has decided to go for republic structure, no clear draft has been charted out in this direction. Even though there are different bases for federal structure such as regional, linguistic, ethnic, semi federal and full autonomy, the 8-party is yet to decide which one is appropriate for the country.

Possible Federal System

In Nepal federal state should be made on the basis of geography. Keeping the population, geography, language, ethnic group in view there should be between 15 to 20 federal states in Nepal. Before taking decision about federal system in the country, a wide ranging debate should be launched. The debate should justify three important questions about federal system: why, where, and for whom. In Nepal four levels of political or administrative division should be adopted. The division includes: central government, provincial government, district Municipality or village Development Committee, and local government. In the case of selecting provincial capital or district headquarters, all the concerned people and stakeholders should be consulted. In such issue it will be decided whether the authority will be given to the centre or referendum will be conducted to decide this.

Executive Power

Until the fate of monarchy is decided it is hard to say what type of system is appropriate in the country. However, if we are to adopt presidential or parliamentarian system, executive chief president or prime minister should be selected on the basis of direct election, first past the post system. The executive chief will have the full authority in forming and appointing the cabinet according to his own discretion. There will be a provision to remove the executive chief from his post by 2\3 majority on the impeachment basis. During the impeachment procedure, the parliament should be presided over by the Supreme Court judge. Should there arise any controversy regarding the jurisdiction between the parliamentarians and the executive chief, there should be a provision to settle this through referendum in which case the 51% majority will finalize the matter.

(The article above is the excerpts from the views expressed by the author at a seminar on Analysis of the Need, Challenges and Bases of Federal Structure, facilitated by Shrawan Sharma, Executive Director, CESOD)



Entry filed under: Articles.

Running out of time Nepal’s Terai calls for mature leadership

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Son of of Tirhut  |  January 14, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Good Work!
    The only that Madhesi people dreams is to have “Terai as Autonomous state having self decisive power”.

    Jai Madhes/Terai/Tharuhat!!!!!

  • 2. Dr. Rohit  |  January 16, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Lalbabu ji
    Your article on Federalism is really informative for everyone in Nepal and you have done very good analysis of current situation in nepal.Now madhesh need a mature, you may be one of them.
    Best of luck

    Jai Madhesh

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