Thursday, October 6, 2022

Avoid politicking citizenship issue

Image credit: Deewash Shrestha

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Citizenship problem in Nepal has been going on for four decades. Since this is a political issue, there has been a lack of honesty to sort it out keeping 'stateless' people in mind. There is an ugly history of making citizenship a problem of a particular community which is a product of racist thinking.

This trend has continued even now. Last month, current Nepali Congress-led coalition government passed Citizenship Act from the Lower and Upper House. The Act was sent to the President for authentication as per the constitutional provision. The entire nation had pinned hopes that the president would validate the Act and end plights of the stateless people. Unfortunately, the president returned the Act to the parliament. 

Why has this issue become controversial? It's because of the CPN-UML leaders. UML is the major opposition party. On 22 May 2021, then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli-led government issued an ordinance related to citizenship just a day after dissolving the House of Representatives and declared flash elections. Oli had just done it to appease the Democratic Socialist Party led by Mahanta Thakur to receive endorsement of unconstitutional nullification of the sovereign parliament.

If Oli were sincere, he could have attempted to untangle the issue of citizenship as he enjoyed absolute majority with the support of the People's Socialist Party led by Upendra Yadav. In politics, action and timing matter a lot. 

Why has this issue become controversial? It's because of the CPN-UML leaders.

The citizenship ordinance sent by the Oli government was certified by the president before the 'ink of the ordinance ran dry.' Was not it brought to settle Oli's unconstitutional move? In that context why did the President not ponder upon the ordinance with her suggestions? 

This article does not try to compare the action of the President during the ordinance brought by KP Oli and the recent Citizenship Act drama. It's all about the 'intent' of the President that has been perceived with doubt by several people.

By dissolving the sovereign parliament KP Oli had torpedoed the basic doctrine of constitutionalism. In the name of justifying his immoral and illegal act, Oli tried to bring forth the ordinance related to citizenship and it was validated by the President without any serious concerns. This time, after sitting for 14 days on the Bill, President Bidya Devi Bhandari returned the Citizenship Bill to the parliament with 15 points of suggestions on seven provisions for review. 

The House of Representatives on Thursday endorsed the bill to amend the Citizenship Act 2006 after intensive discussion. Of the 195 lawmakers present in the House, 135 voted in favour of passing the Bill as it is, whereas 60 lawmakers voted against the Bill. Parliamentarians like Gagan Thapa and Dr Minendra Rijal thanked President Bhandari for her suggestions. 

Federal and provincial elections are to be held in November. As the elections are approaching, attempts are also being made to cast citizenship issue as controversial. This shows the ill intentions of the politicians of Nepal.

Why did the CPN-UML not strongly oppose the bill that was passed by both houses last time in the Parliament? Why didn't UML Supremo KP Oli protest the bill from the rostrum? After the court declared Oli's move to annul the parliament unethical and unconstitutional, he lost moral ground to remain in the post of Prime Minister. UML blocked the House proceedings for months after Sher Bahadur Deuba became the Prime Minister replacing Oli. Questions arise as to why the UML did not block the House again when the Bill was tabled this time.   

It is true that the constitution gives the President 'zero executive power' and the President is not allowed to interpret the political scenario as per their will. President must see whether the modus operandi is in the spirit of constitutionalism or not. 

Taking part in debate on the Bill, CPN-UML lawmakers demanded that there should be a seven-year waiting period for foreign women marrying Nepali citizens to obtain matrimonial naturalization. This provision of 'seven-year-waiting' is mere politicking. There is a section of people in Nepal who are afraid of being progressive toward the Citizenship Act. 

In this global village era, many people quit citizenship of her/his nation and choose to be the bona fide citizens of another country. This phenomenon is in practice throughout the world. 

In the last three years, tens of thousands of people have given up Indian citizenship and taken citizenship in 120 countries. They renounced their citizenship for personal reasons. In the last three years, 3,92,643 Indian citizens have renounced their citizenship. Out of this, 1,70,795 people took US citizenship while 64,071 took citizenship in Canada, 58,391 people in Australia, 35,435 people in Britain, 13,131 people in Italy and 8,882 people in New Zealand. Similarly, 7,046 have taken the citizenship of Singapore, 6,690 from Germany, 3754 from Switzerland and 48 people from Pakistan.

This figure has been presented by the Union Minister of State for Home Nityananda Rai in the Lok Sabha of India. Nepal's great nationalist leaders, civil society and media should tell how many Indian citizens took Nepalese citizenship? How many people from other countries have come to Nepal to become legitimate citizens? 

A research conducted by the Forum for Women, Law and Development FWLD shows that if the Citizenship Bill, which the President needs to validate, is ratified, at least 11 lakh people will be able to get citizenship.

The President of Nepal is at the center stage of the citizenship bill. The office of the President must not reflect its political motive on issues which the legislature has to furnish and execute. 

Let us hope the Citizenship Act would get authenticated by the President in the second attempt so that due process is completed. 

Published on 21 August 2022

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