Federalism is not supposed to function like this. In the federal system Nepal has adopted, each of the three tiers of government—federal, provincial and local—is autonomous, free to exercise a range of rights except in a few constitutionally-defined domains. The three tiers are independently elected as well. But what we see is the heads of major national parties chopping and changing not just the federal but also provincial governments at their will.
The chief ministers of five of the seven provinces have changed following the ouster of the KP Oli government in Kathmandu and the elevation of Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new prime minister. And the ceremonial heads of all seven provinces have also been changed—and repeatedly—well before the expiry of their five-year term. The party heads clearly see the provincial governments as no more than extensions of the government in Kathmandu, making Nepal a unitary state in all but name. It also boosts those who have always argued that the federal system is unsuited for Nepal.
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But we would know about the desirability of the federal system only after it comes into operation. The leaders of major parties seem determined not to devolve powers and to continue to be kingmakers at the provincial level as well. This not only makes the federal system unstable. It also lessens the salience of regional issues. If the provincial chief ministers and governors have to spend most of their time keeping their bosses in Kathmandu happy, they will be able to do little meaningful work in the provinces. They will also tend to ignore provincial issues that aren’t directly tied to national politics.
One could treat all these as teething problems of the new federal republic and hope they are resolved as federalism in Nepal matures. But how can it mature if its progenitors are determined to keep it in infancy? Things in fact will get worse unless our top leaders internalize the importance of federalism for Nepal.