KATHMANDU, May 12: Leaders of the three major parties and the United Democratic Masheshi Front (UDMF) on Friday said they have narrowed down their differences on federalism and are likely to agree on an 11-province model.
The leaders discussed the 11-province model floated by the Maoists on Friday, and nearly reached an agreement on number of provinces but they differed over naming them. They said they would make a last-ditch effort on Saturday.
“We are close to settling for 11 provinces, but differ over naming them,” Maoist Vice-chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha told Republica.
According to Shrestha, the model proposes to give three names to each province—one based on single ethnic identity, another that is identity-neutral and the third a combination of both names—leaving each provincial assembly to choose one name. Alternately, the provincial assembly can pick a completely new name for the province later on, according to the proposal.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Vice-chairman and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Vice-Chairman and Deputy prime Minister Shrestha had floated the 11-province model during their meeting with Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, Vice-President Ram Chandra Paudel and General Secretary Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Sitaula, Friday morning.
Though the NC leaders are said to be flexible on the number of provinces, NC leaders said they still have reservations.
“As things stand today, we are nowhere close to an agreement on the model for federalism,” said NC leader Minendra Rijal, adding, “We will make a last-ditch effort on Saturday.”
The NC leaders argued at their meeting with Maoist leaders and later at the joint meeting of three parties and the UDMF that the names of the provinces should be identity-neutral and reflect multiple identities.
“We are ready to accept combined names—ethnic and neutral names---if the Maoist party is ready to accept the eight province model. But if we are to accept the number of provinces as proposed by the Maoist party, the Maoists should be ready to accept neutral names for the provinces,” one leader quoted Nepali Congress leaders as arguing in the meeting.
Earlier, the Nepali Congress had floated a seven-province model and proposed to leave it to the provinces concerned to name their provinces.
Initially, during talks in the afternoon, the CPN UML leadership had ‘almost agreed’ with the Maoist leadership but did not support the proposed model during the all-party meeting in the evening as UML top leaders failed to endorse the proposal through the party’s Standing Committee, according to Shrestha.
CPN UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, senior leder Madhav Kumar Nepal and vice-chairman Bam Dev Gautam were in favor of the proposal but senior leader KP Oli, Vice-Chairman Bidhya Bhandari and General Secretary Ishwor Pokharel were against.
“Following talks with the CPN UML leadership, we had hoped an agreement would be signed in the evening (on Friday). But our hopes were dashed after CPN UML leaders told us that any decision on the proposal would be taken by the Standing Committee,” said Shrestha when asked what prevented the parties from striking a deal on the federalism model.
But CPN UML Chairman Khanal said that the negotiations were headed toward an understanding.
“Many differences have been resolved. Efforts will be made to reach an agreement tomorrow (Saturday),” Khanal told journalists, emerging from the meeting. “A proposal on 11-proivnes has been floated and we are holding discussions towards giving the provinces identity-neutral names.”
The proposal floats three provinces in the Tarai. But the Madhesi parties, which have been demanding a single province in the southern plains, have expressed reservations over the proposal to divide the Tarai districts among three provinces.
“We have requested them (Madhesi leaders) to accept the proposal. We are hopeful they will do so, bearing in mind the critical situation facing the country in recent days,” said Shrestha.