There should be further revision of the bill if the government is sincere to our demands.
-- Hridayash Tripathi, vice-chair, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party
There hasn't been any consultation with the agitating parties on the content of the bill. They imposed the bill on us. So we are free to reject it.
-- Upendra Yadav, chief, Federal Socialist Forum Nepal
KATHMANDU, April 12: In a major setback to the government's latest attempt to bring the agitating Madhes-based parties on board the election process, the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) Wednesday refused to own the new constitution amendment bill registered in parliament. The UDMF said the new bill still falls short of addressing their demands. UDMF, a bloc of seven regional parties, has also announced that it would not take part in the local elections scheduled for May 14.
The government on Tuesday had registered an 11-point bill with a view to accommodating the concerns of the Madhes-based parties over some disputed issues of the constitution. A meeting of the UDMF parties on Wednesday concluded that the new bill had completely disregarded the accord reached between the front and the ruling coalition and numerous other similar 'agreements and understanding reached in the past'.
Talking to reporters after the meeting held at the central office of the Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party in Kathmandu, UDMF leaders described the new bill as "even more regressive" than the previous bill, which was withdrawn before registering the new bill on Tuesday.
"This bill is aimed at appeasing the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Center leaders who were opposing formation of a new province in the western tarai. This is a clear betrayal. There should be further revision of the bill if the government is sincere to our demands," Tarai Madhes Democratic Party Vice-Chair Hridayash Tripathi told Republica.
The amendment bill registered on Tuesday seeks to address the Madhesi parties' concerns over representation in the upper house, citizenship and language. It also seeks to allow the federal parliament to change the boundaries of a province without the consent of the province concerned until the formation of the provincial assembly. It also seeks to form a federal commission to settle disputes related to provincial delineations.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the UDMF has announced new forms of protest against the bill. The protests include mass demonstration in the tarai districts for Thursday and sit-ins in all the district offices of the Election Commission for Sunday. Madhesi leaders said that further programs of protest would be unveiled after holding another round of negotiation with the government. A Madhesi leader said the meeting decided to not to announce full programs of protest to keep the door for talks open.
"There's a possibility of agreement if the major parties agree to increase the number of local units in proportion to the population," said the leader.
Wednesday's development comes as a big blow to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's government which registered the bill with the view to resolve the Madhes crisis. UDMF's renewed stance has also cast fresh doubt over the possibility of conducting the elections throughout the country on the scheduled date.
Interlocutors from the ruling parties claim that the UDMF's Wednesday decision could just be posturing aimed at public consumption. They say that it could be a tactic to mount pressure on the main opposition UML to back the bill.
The bill was drafted in close consultation with top leaders of the Madhesi parties and was tabled following approval of top Madhesi leaders, according to Chakrapani Khanal, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's chief political advisor.
Federal Socialist Forum Nepal Chairman Upendra Yadav told Republica that the Madhes-based parties were kept in the dark about the content of the amendment proposal.
"There hasn't been any consultation with the agitating parties on the content of the bill. They imposed the bill on us. So we are free to reject it," said Yadav.