Nepal President's 'unconstitutional move' on citizenship bill sparks protest


Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari has refused to certify a key bill to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act within the stipulated deadline of 15 days. 

The bill was endorsed twice by both houses of Parliament. The President’s move is being seen as unconstitutional by experts. 

Stateless people staged a sit-in protest in Kathmandu against the President’s decision to not sign the bill. 

During the protest, the demonstrators chanted slogans against Bhandari, demanding her resignation and accusing her of taking away their constitutional rights. Stating that the citizenship bill is the driving force of their destiny and future, the demonstrators urged the President to abide by the constitution. 

“My father and husband both have citizenship, but I don’t. I am 25 years old and after getting married I was hopeful to get citizenship. My husband lives abroad and he is not able to send me money because I don’t have a bank account. I am not able to take a job or travel to see my husband because I don’t have citizenship. What future am I holding for my kids? Does the President even understand our pain?,” a protester told WION. 

The disapproval of the bill by the president has created an open confrontation between the government and the President.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba met with legal experts following the President’s move. 

The ruling coalition in a joint statement has expressed concern over the President’s decision not to certify the Citizenship Bill.

“This unconstitutional move has insulted and devalued the Federal Parliament elected by the people. By this move of the President, children of those parents who possess Nepali citizenship have been denied their Constitutional right to obtain the citizenship,” the statement said. 

Just like the state bodies, people also have different views on the bill. 

Members of the National Youth Federation of Nepal, an organisation considered close to the opposition party CPN-UML carried out a rally in support of their party member President Bhandari. 

“We support the President’s decision to not certify the bill. Nepal is fighting inflation and corruption and at the same, some foreign countries are eyeing the country to take over. If Nepali citizenship is granted to women at the earliest, they will take political positions and try to take control of the country,” Gomta Bista, Central member of the National Youth Federation of Nepal told WION at a separate protest.

“This is our country and we do not want others to intervene,” she added. 

Experts have said that President’s move is “unconstitutional” and “not in accordance with the law”.

“At this stage, the President does not have many options. As per the constitution, she must certify the bill within 15 days, but she withheld her consent on assent. So, that action or inaction we can say is a defective move from a constitutional standpoint. The constitution does not give her the liberty to withhold her consent in the way she has done this time,” Samanta Dahal, an advocate, and constitutional expert told WION. 

Speaking on what steps can be taken further, Dahal said, “first the speaker can state it as a deemed approval by the President and certify and publish it in the gazette. I don’t think this will be the right option to do because it will be seen as multiple steps of the constitution overreach. 

“The main option is to see the support of the Supreme Court, the remedy that is available to the judicial process. So, to get the remedy there are two options either the government can move to the Supreme Court challenging the President’s move, or PIL can be filed,” he added. 

With the filing of the PIL, Dahal said, “a mandamus order can be sought reinstating that the President has taken an incorrect move and require to certify the bill.”

The bill, Nepal Citizenship Act (2006) Amendment Bill 2022, passed by both the houses of the federal parliament is awaiting authentication by the president to become a law.

Although the constitution of Nepal says the children of parents who have acquired citizenship by birth will get citizenship by descent, hundreds of thousands of youths are deprived of citizenship for a lack of law.

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