Nepal in Transition: Terai Gets Tonnes of Seats in Constituent Assembly

With a smiling Prachanda, Maoist Chairman, on his left and a satisfied Madhav Kumar Nepal, CPN UML General Secretary, on his right, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala appeared in front of cameras (which was nationally broadcast on Radio Nepal) 11 PM yesterday to declare that the eight parties have agreed to guarantee the Terai region representation in the constituent assembly in proportion to its population. Addressing the nation for the second time in less than a week, PM Koirala said, “The constituencies in the terai region will be increased in proportion to its population and the seats to be elected through a proportional representation system will also be increased accordingly.”

Leaders involved in the negotiations said that the 20 districts in the southern strip with 48.4 percent of the country’s population will get 49 percent seats in the Constituent Assembly, while 51 percent seats will be divided among the 55 hilly and Himalayan districts that have 51.6 percent of the population. Koirala also said that all the groups in the country including Madhesi, dalits, janajatis, women, laborers, peasants and backward classes and regions will be included in the state organs on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion. Koirala said the government will make necessary arrangements to address the issues of a federal system of governance and delineation of electoral constituencies through immediate amendment in the Interim Constitution.

“The government is committed to fulfilling the legitimate demands raised (by Madhesi people) during the movement. It is our collective commitment to hold constituent assembly elections by mid-June, for which the constituencies will be delineated on the basis of equal population, geographical feasibility and specialty.”

Koirala also appealed to all the agitating groups to end their protests and explore solutions to their problems through dialogue. Koirala applauded the role of the Madhesi people in past democratic movements and said he respects the spirit of the Madhesi people. He also expressed sorrow over the demise of civilians and security personnel during the three-week-long movement. The prime minister also pledged relief to all the victims’ families, wished for the speedy recovery of the injured, assured their treatment, and regretted the loss of property. The prime minister also appealed to the people for their goodwill, tolerance and harmony in order to hold constituent assembly elections as a way to consolidate the democratic system in the country.
The terai unrest, which sparked from Lahan on January 19, claimed the lives of 21 people and left hundreds injured. Similarly, hundreds of government offices and private properties have been vandalized during the last three weeks. The violence began after a Maoist cadre escorting party leader Ram Karki shot dead Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum activist Ramesh Kumar Mahato in Lahan. The violence spread to other terai districts after Maoists seized Mahato’s body and forced family members to cremate the body.

Now everyone is happy

Leaders of the eight parties have voiced their collective support for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s address to the nation and said it will put an end to the terai unrest. The leaders have also made a written commitment that they are serious about and sensitive towards the movement in the terai and want to resolve the problem by addressing the Madhesi people’s demands and aspirations.

“We support and agree with the issues addressed by the prime minister, to amend the constitution to ensure a federal structure, and provide for more constituencies in the terai districts based on population,” said the commitment paper signed by the eight party leaders. Sushil Koirala of Nepali Congress, Madhav Nepal of the CPN-UML, Prachanda of CPN (Maoist), Gopal Man Shrestha of NC (Democratic), Amik Sherchan of People’s Front Nepal, Bharat Bimal Yadav of Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandi Devi), Narayan Man Bijukchhe of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party and CP Mainali of United Left Font signed the commitment.

“This was a unanimous decision. It has addressed the demands of the terai and the protests would come to an end,” said Rajendra Mahato, general secretary of NSP(A). Dr Ram Baran Yadav of NC said all the demands of the Madhesi people have been addressed. Bimalendra Nidhi, general secretary of NC(D), said the address by the prime minister has fulfilled the demands of the Madhesi people. He said, “Now we should stop the agitation and work to amend the Interim Constitution.” Similarly, UML General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal said the prime minister’s address was complete unlike his previous address. “This address has amended the weaknesses of the last address,” he said.