Nepali Federalism: Quasi, Pseudo or Real?
The provincial government chief ministers and ministers have complained that they have not been able to deliver because the federal government has not devolved the constitutionally allocated power and resources. While this may be true, some add that the problem with Nepali federalism is that the constitution itself does not give much power to the provinces. Others contend that in holding together federalism, even though the center is stronger, provinces do enjoy substantive power, and Nepal is no exception.
Federalism is a structure that constitutionally divides power between the center and provinces. It is a structure to constrain the democratic majority’s tyrannical tendencies through structural means. However, the practice has varied. There are “federal” labelled polities where constitutions have not awarded provinces with substantial power. Scholars have floated the terms, such as pseudo federalism, quasi federalism, hybrid federalism, centralized federalism, and so on to describe them. Where does Nepal stand comparatively in terms of constitutional power division between the federal and provincial governments? This paper will first analyze the institutional power structure by analyzing the articles of Constitution of Nepal. Following Stepan (2004), Watts (2006), Lijphart (2012), it will analyze various variables that contribute in constraining the polity-wide majority. 1. The degree of overrepresentation in the territorial chamber; 2. The “policy scope” of the territorial chamber; 3. The degree to which policy-making is constitutionally allocated to subunits of the federation; 4. The degree to which the party-system is polity-wide in its orientation and incentive systems; 5. Distribution of finances; 6. Constitutional amendment procedure; 7. Judicial Review System; and 8. Other variables that may appear significant upon further analyzing the Nepali Constitution. In the second step, the paper will analyze the socio-cultural and historical aspect that has affected the reluctance to devolve power to the provinces, such as the absence of historical discourse on federalism, the pervasive cultural of centralization, mono-ethnicization of the polity (Lawoti 2007; Lecours 2015).
Finally, the paper will combine the institutional and cultural-historical analysis to establish whether the Nepali structure is a real, quasi, or pseudo federalism. An assessment of the federal model would allow us some insights on what might we expect in terms of delivery, including federal success or failure. It will also allow us to identify what institutional reforms might be necessary for salvaging the current model to make it work.