Federalism redistributes powers: Dr Matthias
Organised by FES
Nepal Youth Network
4 August 2015, FES Office
Nepal has finally drawn up a six-state model under the new federal
set-up. Sorting out the complexities of federal system is a big
challenge for the country that has been under the centralized
and unitary form of governance for many centuries. Given its prolonged
transition and tumbling economy, the deal on the number and demarcation
of provinces can be seen as the feat of the key political actors.
They are now pulling out all the stops to sell the new map of
state restructuring to the people and other parties amidst the
protests from some disgruntled and strident ethnic and religious
groups. The latter have threatened to scuttle the entire constitution
writing project, arguing that the draft statute has failed to
address their demands and concerns. The Constituent Assembly has
started deliberations on the revised draft of constitution. Carving
a win-win model of federalism vis-à-vis the new national
charter is the key to stability, social inclusion, balanced economic
development and lasting peace.
As the raging debate on federalism was reaching a new decibel,
Dr Matthias Hartwig, a constitution expert from Germany, landed
in Kathmandu in the early week of August. Friedrick Ebert Stiftung,
Nepal Office invited Dr Hartwig to its office to share German's
experience of federalism with selected audiences at its office
in Lalitpur on August 4. He made enlightening remarks on the
topic and furnished replies to a few queries from listeners.
The following is the synopsis of his comments:
Firstly, federalism could bring deep changes to political culture
and distribution of powers. Since the Middle Age, Germany has
federal legacy. This is a reason why it has 25 to 30 states
out of total 193. There are minorities. Each has its own experiences
and type. However, Nepal should not imitate ours for several
reasons. The USA adopted the federal system in the 18th century
to reduce the power of centre. The legislative power of federal
states in the US is enormous compared to that of Germany. Switzerland
is a confederation of cantons. During the imperial period, Germany
also consisted of several states. It adopted the federal republic
for historical reasons but Nepal does not have this historical
rational for this.
Secondly, there exist cultural factors for the nation to adopt
federal system. There are cultural and linguistic differences.
In Spain, Catalonia is different from Basque. The people take
pride in language and cultural identity. Nepal has over 125
languages. Germany has only three languages. Many minorities
are interested in preserving their culture. Autonomy and self-determination
in language is important.
Thirdly, centre is in the faraway. Nepal is a big country in
terms of population and geography. Therefore, ensuring smooth
administration and service delivery is very important.
Lastly, it is democracy without which federalism does not sail
through. People can vote to ensure that there is check and balance
at horizontal and vertical level. The UK has been a centralized
state throughout its history. It has democracy. Democracy without
federalism can exists. In Soviet Union, the communist party
played its crucial role. In Germany, Nazi eliminated federalism.
Coup d'état can be easily be staged in a centralized
state. But, it is quite difficult in a federation with many
provincial governments. The people at the grassroots know better
for governance. The problem in Germany is to maintain balance
between the autonomous states for survival and competition.
In Nepal's case, economy and resources must be taken into account.
The strong should pay the weak. In Germany, Bremen has half
a million population while North Rhine-Westphalia contains 16
times bigger population than the former. The East Germany was
a poor and Bavaria has to finance Berlin. If the provinces lack
resources, it becomes difficult to sustain democracy. The rich
provinces have to fund for the poor ones. Rich countries are
reluctant to support. The EU' crisis is a crisis of inequality.
Germany has to finance Greece.
The key contents of federalism are self-determination and distribution
of powers. In Germany, about 90 per cent judges are from the
Landers. They should plumb the law of federation. In Spain,
it is centralized and the US has a different system. The countryside
judges can be elected. Administration is in the hand of regions
of provinces and municipalities. They are responsible for taxes.
About 300,000 police personnel are deployed for federal borders,
airport and road control. The police are in the command of Landers.
Public TVs, schools and universities also operate under the
Landers. Currency, foreign service and military services are
in the hand of centre. Legislation is the civil law. We have
Money makes the world go around. In Mexico, money comes from
the centre. Law cannot be implemented without it. In Nepal,
there is a danger. High degree of autonomy requires better funding.
Of total budget, 40 per cent is generated from revenues and
60 per cent from tax. If it is divided 50/50 per cent between
the centre and provinces, it can work.
From the floor
Pranab Kharel - The idea of federalism does not work
effectively in the South Asia with its history of centralized
rule. The region has nation-state not state-nation. Nepal too
has a history of unitary state and how can effectively implement
Reply from Dr Hartwig - The concept of nation-state
evolved in the 19th century. In France, there are Bask and German
people. German people also live in Poland. One-nation state
did not work. Tradition and culture can work. Control of power
and administration are other areas. In Russia, it did not work
and the president had to fire federal chief. No political clan
should run the affairs of the state. Autonomy is necessary for
cooperation. Tradition will require intellectual and financial
investment. Maybe that we can adopt is after 20 years.
Santosh Pariyar - How can mutual interdependence and
equality be maintained among the provinces?
Reply- Interdependence needs to be institutionalized.
The Landers participate in the president election. There is
no direct obligation. Ministers, police and judges prepare common
criteria. But, there is freedom of movement. The schooling system
is different. Incomes are divided 50/50 per cent. But the law
of population is applied in the valued added tax. If there is
inequality, the rich states have to pay. But this will not be
Kosh Raj Koirala - My query is about constitutional
court. Here the Supreme Court wants to set up a separate bench
within it. The major parties have agreed to form and keep it
for 10 years. What is you view on the Constitutional Court as
Nepal is entering into the federal set-up?
Dr Hartwig replies: Many countries have democracy without
constitutional court. The UK is an example. Judiciary must fulfill
it. There must be an independent organ to look after the federal
disputes. The constitutional chamber can do this. In Germany,
we have a good experience. The constitutional court is important
to fulfill fundamental rights. You should have long-term perspective,
not just of 10 years. Resources are important. In Germany, resources
lie in regions. In Russia, it is the property of the country.
It is centralized. The profit goes to the centre and then comes
Dev Raj Dahal, head of FES, Nepal Office
Political culture is prerequisite to the sustenance of federal
system and democracy. Political enlightenment and democratic
conduct are required to overcome the political crisis facing
Rajju Malla-Dhakal - There has been raging debate on
model of federalism. Should it be based on ethnic elements or
economic viability? The people want to fulfill a lot of aspirations
through the new statute. Whether we will be able to come through
the transition successfully is a moot question. We are in difficult
geopolitical situation too.
Surendra Chaudhary - We are facing similar challenges.
We need to understand history, geopolitics and the availability
of resources. Jürgen Habermas says democracy is derived
not from constitution but from the constitutional behaviours.
Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi