Amendment bill hangs in the balance as RPP wavers

Published On: August 21, 2017 07:09 AM NPT By: Roshan Sedhai

KATHMANDU, August 21:The constitution amendment bill registered by the erstwhile Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government and supported by most of the parties in the ruling coalition hangs in the balance as the House remains divided along political lines for and against the proposed revision ahead of the final vote. 

After months of political bickering, the parliament is scheduled to vote on Monday on the constitution amendment bill to revise key constitutional provisions on citizenship, language, representation in upper house and federal boundaries, according to NC Cheif Whip Chin Kaji Shrestha.

 The bill, if approved by the parliament, would for now end the tarai crisis and set tone for implementation of the new constitution.

Even if the bill fails, it will spare the blushes of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) and give the agitating party a strong agenda to take part in the elections, leaders of the ruling alliance said. 

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has promised to ‘use all cards’ at his disposable to push the bill through the House. The government will need votes of two-thirds parliamentarians or 396 votes in the 593-strong parliament to pass the bill. The government seems in control of 359 votes including NC’s 207 votes, Maoist Center’s 82 votes, RJPN’s 25 votes, Nepal Loktantrik Forum’s 17 and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal’s 15.  
Should all the parties supporting the government agree to back it, the bill will not face any hurdle in the parliament. But it is not clear whether all parties in the coalition will support the bill.

RPP chairman Kamal Thapa on Saturday told reporters that his party was planning to vote against the bill. The party has 25 votes. An offshoot of RPP led by Pashupati Shumshere Rana has pledged to back the amendment.   

The last effort to pass the bill had failed after around ten lawmakers of royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party suddenly disappeared just before the voting process. 
NC leaders said that Deuba was still trying to bring Thapa on board the amendment process. If Thapa refuses, Deuba is planning to seek support from other small parties in exchange for ministerial portfolios. 

Despite pressure from the Madhesi leaders in the party, UML leadership has dismissed the possibility of voting on the bill. UML has 181 votes in the parliament.   
Speaking in the parliament on Sunday, UML parliamentarians had asked the government to withdraw the bill. 

“The purpose of the proposed amendment bill is to weaken the constitution and federalism by curtailing the rights endowed by the constitution to provincial and local government,” UML lawmaker Rabindra Adhikari told parliament while questioning the significance of the amendment. 

UML has long been accusing the ruling parties of keeping their individual interests above the national interests by championing the agendas that are against the nation. The ruling parties have been blaming the UML of not being sincere to the concerns of Madhes. 
More than anything else, the ruling parties’ desperation to pass the bill and UML’s wish to foil the bill is driven by their larger electoral interests. Despite their initial reluctance, the NC and Maoist Center want to appease the Madhesi constituencies by taking credit of the amendment. After suffering poll setbacks, the NC and Maoist Center are looking to strengthen their grip on Madhes, which both party see as major support base.

UML, on the other hand, looks to cash in on the sympathy of people against the amendment. Many UML leaders have credited the party’s nationalistic agendas for the success in the first and the second phase of elections. 

Regardless of the final outcome, vote on the amendment bill is expected to give a face-saver for the RJPN as it joins elections. RJPN leader Rajendra Mahato said the party wants to see the government make a sincere effort to pass the bill. 

“Give me a single reason why the bill should fail. If it fails, we will decide what to do through a meeting,” said Mahato.

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