Federalism Risk Assessment
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Feb 2012
Today, 40 percent of the world population lives under the rule of a federal state, but 60 percent under unitary. 30 (16% out of 192 UN members) matured, emergent, and micro-federations practice federalism. They are comprised not only of powerful and developed nations, but developing countries as well; namely, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the USA, etc. Similarly, most of the 162 (84% out of 192 UN-member) nations such as China, France, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordon, South and North Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, etc. are unitary states. Federations are found both in advanced industrial nations (European American, or otherwise) to multi-cultural states (Asian nations such as India, Malaysia, and United Arab), to post communist European nations such as Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia to Asian Muslim countries like Pakistan. However, former communist countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and Pakistan are said to be failed federations due to balkanization or ongoing deep-rooted identity based conflict.
Despite the considerable national importance and political exertion over this very issue, research in Nepal comparing federal and unitary state systems has been thus-far severely lacking. Comparison of information advantageous and disadvantageous toward federalism stem taking into account unitary state alternatives has been given below:
The present world is increasingly adopting federal systems as the globe is being polarized between capitalist expansion vs. identity groups, as apposed to communist ideology, which has been virtually eliminated since the 1990s. Political suppression, or denial of the multiple identities (political, social, cultural, academic, economic, occupational, etc.) within a diverse society has almost perpetually led to contention (step I-discussion, step II – polarization, and step III – segregation), and secession or civil war (step IV – destruction). The essential element of federation is to encompass a diverse society, accepting the value of diversity and multiple authorities expressed in a government of constituent units of autonomy (self-rule) over the matters of the distinct identity.
Equality, the benefit of recognizing a diverse society within a federal system, can be ensured from shared objectives within the framework of parallel processes and shared-rule. Identity and its recognition within a diverse society can achieve considerable success. However, no single form of federation is applicable everywhere
The mature federations such as the United States (1789), Switzerland (1848), Canada (1867), and Australia (1901) are among the longest continually operating constitutional systems in the world today. The practice of federations teaches of the potential dangers, desirable goals, and appropriate/inappropriate processes for achieving objectives, similar to the unitary state. According to Human Development Report 2006, some federations rank among the world’s most livable countries: Australia ranks 3rd, Canada 6th, US 8th, Switzerland 9th, Austria 14th, Spain 19th, and Germany 21st. However; others do just as well. Norway ranks 1st, Iceland ranks 2nd, Ireland ranks 4th, Sweden ranks 5th, Japan ranks 7th, Netherlands rank 10th and so on
Many federal constituents practice unitary lower levels of government. The USA is a federal state, but its states devolve unitary systems such as municipalities through a state constitution or legislature. Nevertheless, none of such states can challenge the simple decision of the head of government. For example, Scotland of the UK (unitary state) has a wide degree of autonomy in terms of law-making power, but there is no right to challenge the constitution of the UK. In the case of Northern Ireland, the devolved powers have been suspended by a simple decision of the government on several occasions. The devolution of UK is asymmetrical owing to powers and status.
Palau is one of the world’s youngest and smallest nations, officially known as the Republic of Palau. It is a Pacific Ocean island which lies 500 miles or 800 km east of Philippines and 2,000 miles (3,200) South of Tokyo. Palau was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1994. In 1979, Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia due to differences on language and culture and associated with the US in 1994. The U.S. has been responsible for Palau’s defense for 50 years. In 1981, it voted for the world’s first nuclear-free constitution. The federal idea has now become popular due to world’s interest in their self-identity; however, federal system is a means, but not an end. It is a process for running the government. Federal systems are not a universal remedy for political problems intrinsic to humans and economic remedy (food and freedom).
Federalism needs liberal democracy which is found in both republic and monarchial countries. That means participatory-based inclusive democracy in cultural, linguistic, and regional nationalism for greater harmony and unity. This depends upon the particular form and whether it is adopted or adapted for new innovations in its purpose.
The sovereignty and geo-integrity of countries have been endangered in both unitary (Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China, Israel-Palestine, Philippines, Burma, etc.) and federal states (Pakistan, India, Sudan, Ethiopia, former USSR, former Yugoslavia, etc.). India’s Jharkhanda (November 15, 2000) from Bihar, Uttaranchal (November 9, 2000) from Uttar Pradesh, and Chhatisgad (November 1, 2000) from eastern Madhya Pradesh have already been declared autonomous states. Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1971 for its lingual identity in the face of ethno-Islamic federalism. Russia’s Chechen struggle, Sudan’s Muslim versus Christian armed conflict, India’s Kashmir Hindu versus Muslim violence, Assam’s Bodo clash, Croatia’s minority vs. majority fight, etc. are today’s major ethno-federal, religio-federal, and culturo-federal violence within federal states. Similarly, not all federations are uniform in nature. The pathology of bi-communal federation is evident in Pakistan (1947–71), Czechoslovakia (1948–92), and Serbia and Montenegro (1992–2006), of which each disintegrated into two successor states. Similar cases are found with the USSR (1918–91), Yugoslavia (1946–91), the West Indies Federation (1958–62), and Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953–63).
Nepali people have high hopes and expectations that the federal system will provide food, shelter, clothing, employment, education, freedom, and so forth. This is similar to when a great many people thought the new government formed after the Jana Andolan (people’s movement) I and II would fulfill their hopes and expectations of “food and freedom” for ever. However, the resulting governments have ensured only that people’s stomachs are free from food. The present CA and the Government, including civil society, should take the following measures in this priority. First, there must be enough debate and discussion among the people on what federal system is. What are the advantages and disadvantages of federal systems and unitary states? Where are the global ethnic, linguistic, and scientific administrative practices in federations? Why? Can’t indigenous minority populations enjoy their rights and privileges in sovereign and inclusive democratic country like Nepal? Does a country need to be republic before the announcement of federation? Etc. These questions are to be addressed properly before Nepal can go into federal practices.
Second, if Nepal were to introduce federal states without calculating the pros and cons of ethnic, linguistic, and regional federal states and without precaution, it would be more vulnerable to socio-cultural ‘identity-based’ conflict due to Nepal’s clear lacks of statesmanship and unclear concept of independence, integrity, sovereignty, federation, and so forth among the people. Even large numbers of politicians, CA members, senior bureaucrats, etc. are unclear on advantages and disadvantages of federal system. Such stakeholders do not wish to pursue more understanding on such critical issues from the concerned experts due to fear psychology. More than a few of the CA members don’t even read frequently.
Finally, Nepal is a country of minorities (only 14 districts out of 75 have a caste/ethnicity with more than 50% of the population) in terms of castes and ethnicities whose population have been scattered across the country, tarai, hill and mountain even unlike cluster populations of Assamese in Assam, Biharies in Bihar, Gujarathi in Gujarat, Kashmiries in Kashmir, Marathies in Maharastra, Manipuries in Manipur, Nagas in Nagaland, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Punjabi in Punjab, Rajasthani in Rajasthan, Bengali in West Bengal states in India. Besides, Nepal should be aware that India suffers identity-based conflict in 64 percent (18) of its states. Otherwise, Nepal may follow a similar path to the federal state of Belau/Palau.
The territorial and cooperative forms of federalism can probably be combined in a creative way for Nepal incorporating the best features of both systems screening out elements alien to our values and norms that may hamper the growth of a healthy republic.
Dr. Bishnu Pathak, a PhD holder in Conflict management and Human Rights, is the President and Director of Conflict Study Center. He is the Convener of South Asia; TRANSCEND International and Board Member of TRANSCEND Peace University. Besides penning of the book entitled “Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal”, he has published a number of research articles on issues related to Human Rights, UN, Security, Peace, Civil-Military Relations, Community Policing, and Federalism.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Feb 2012.
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