Nepal’s New Parliament Must Settle Autonomy Demands

April 11, 2008 at 6:05 pm 5 comments

Nepal’s New Parliament Must Settle Autonomy Demands

By Jay Shankar

April 11 (Bloomberg) — Nepal’s new lawmakers, chosen in an election yesterday that restored multiparty democracy, will have to draft a constitution that meets demands by many of the country’s more than 40 ethnic groups for greater regional autonomy.

The ballot took place after the interim government in February ended 16 days of strikes and protests in the Terai region, on the main trade route to India, by agreeing to give ethnic Madhesis greater representation in state and local authorities.

“The situation is like an inferno waiting to blow up,” said Dinesh Prasain, founder of Collective Campaign for Peace, a network of human rights and peace activists based in the capital, Kathmandu. “The political implications of the problem will not be good for Nepal if left unattended.”

Nepal voted for an assembly that will write a new constitution as part of a November 2006 peace accord that ended a decade-long communist insurgency. That agreement prompted demands from ethnic groups, representing half of Nepal’s 26.4 million people, for greater political rights for minorities to be enshrined in the charter.

Yesterday’s ballot took place in a “generally orderly and peaceful atmosphere,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon said in a statement. He commended the Nepalese people for their “enthusiastic participation” after the Electoral Commission said 60 percent of the 17.6 million voters took part. Primary results are expected within 10 days.

Counting Started

“Counting has already started in many districts and the first result for Kathmandu for the first-past-the-post system has been announced,” Laxman Bhattarai, a spokesman for the commission, said. “The Nepali Congress candidate emerged as the winner. A few more results will be announced today.”

Nepali Congress, the country’s biggest party, the former rebel Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) are forecast to win most of the votes for the 601-member assembly.

India welcomed the election as a “historic step toward realizing the aspirations of the people of Nepal,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement from New Delhi.

“The Constituent Assembly provides a platform for the people of Nepal to determine the manner of their governance and their future,” the ministry said.

Minority groups need to be convinced that the new assembly will address their concerns, Ian Martin, the UN special representative in Nepal, said before the election.

New Struggle

“If the assembly does not grant Terai its autonomy then we will raise a new struggle, a sustained agitation,” said Updendra Yadav, president of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, a political party that contested the polls. “Promises have been made before. This time we are hopeful.”

Terai, the agricultural heartland of Nepal, accounts for 48 percent of the country’s population and 80 percent of its commercial and industrial activities, Yadav said. It has 23 percent of the nation’s cultivable land, accounting for 68 percent of the agricultural output.

In local administrations, government jobs, the army and other institutions, Madhesi people are facing discrimination, Yadav said. “It is a struggle for preserving our language and culture, which is under threat.”

Government Spending

Government spending in Nepal’s “hills” region is about 58 percent, compared with Terai where it is 30 percent of the total expenditure of $1.2 billion, said Rajib Upadhya, spokesman for the World Bank’s External Affairs Department.

“Given the low level of overall public investment, the Terai remains an area with the lowest per capita spending among the regions,” Upadhya said in Kathmandu. “Timely and adequate delivery of public services remains a challenge in Terai.”

The region accounts for more than 60 percent of the nation’s imports and exports and is the link to India, Nepal’s biggest trading partner.

“Nepal is India-locked and Terai-locked,” said Anil Kumar Jha, general-secretary of the Sadbhawana Party, which is seeking autonomy in Terai. “It does not mean much if you have economic clout and no political power.”

Armed groups such as the Terai Tigers, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha group and Terai Cobra operate in the region, he said. At the moment “the moderates are in control.”

The Madhesis threatened new disruptions before yesterday’s ballot when they refused to register to participate and vowed to block campaigning in Terai unless their demands were met.

Better Representation

The UN wants those who follow “what they regard as the Madhesi cause” to pursue their grievances within the Constituent Assembly where they will be better represented than they have been in any previously elected body, Martin said. They should use peaceful means, not violence, to influence the decisions of the assembly, he added.

In the new political scenario, demands for autonomy may not be met, said J.P. Yadav, joint secretary of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.

“If not, non-violent strikes and protests are the only way out to fulfill our demands,” he said.

“This is the time to think out of the box,” said Bishnu Bhusal, general-secretary of the Kathmandu-based independent Institute of Conflict Management, Peace and Development. “Issues which were under the carpet need to come onto the table. The assembly will have the mandate to handle them. It is an historic opportunity for Nepal.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay Shankar in Kathmandu at jshankar1@bloomberg.net.

source::http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601091&sid=a7FTGQXg.z8M&refer=india

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Entry filed under: Articles.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. DIVAS  |  April 16, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Sorry, i strongly object the Madhesis for killing & torturing innocent Pahadis in Terai to put pressure on the state, at the same time, electing a feudal Pahadi opportunists like Sharad Singh Bhandari as Madhesi representative.

  • 2. DIVAS  |  April 16, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Sorry, i strongly object the Madhesis for killing & torturing innocent Pahadis in Terai to put pressure on the state, at the same time, electing a feudal Pahadi opportunists like Sharad Singh Bhandari as Madhesi representative.
    http://drdivas.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/test-of-courage/

  • 3. MMM  |  April 18, 2008 at 9:12 am

    DIVAS Ji
    Winning Pahadis like Sharad singh Bhandary is good message to pahadi community that Madhesi is not killing & torturing innocent Pahadi and in favour of them but killing & torturing to those pahadi who is living in Madhesh but is agent of Pahadi ruler and destroying image of Madhesh image what they did for Gorkhali image.

  • 4. lakpa  |  April 21, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Iit is showing the harmonies among madhesi and pahadi in madhes, which were and are being misinterpreted by some crooks. The bahunism in Congress and UML and their activists are trying to destablise the relation between pahadia and madhesi by giving wrong information.

    We as a pahadi would like to congratulate madhesi parties (united) for being successful for being the second largest parties in Nepal. Now bahunist totally dominated rule is in danger and going to swept away from Nepal. But we Nepali should be careful about the tricks to destablise the nation from these crook politicians and those benefited from brahmin rules.

  • 5. Son of of Tirhut  |  April 23, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I support Lakpa Ji,
    The one and only enemy of maginalized groups like Madhesi, Dalit, Janjati is Khas Bahunism and Kshetris. We have to work together to acheive our geographical, culture and language dominated Fully autonomous state.

    Jai Madhes/Tharuhat!!!!!

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