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President Silent to sign citizenship bill into law

KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 21 : President Bidhya Devi Bhandari refused to give her assent to the citizenship bill resent to her 15 days ago, dashing hopes of lakhs of eligible citizens who have been desperately waiting for the new citizenship law for the past seven years, in the absence of which they have not been able to apply for jobs or pursue higher studies.

The president’s refusal to assent the citizenship bill may land in court as the ruling alliance and many constitutional experts say the constitution does not give the president the right to refuse her assent to the bill resent for her assent.

Both houses of the Parliament had passed the bill as it is after the president had returned it to the House of Representatives on August 14 with her message asking the House to reconsider it and address her concerns, particularly about the dignity of single mothers, citizenship with provincial identity, and provisions relating to matrimonial naturalisation.

President’s Personnel Secretary Bhesh Raj Adhikari told THT that the president refused her assent as her concerns expressed in her message sent to the HoR on August 14 were not addressed by the Parliament. Asked if the president had refused to give her assent on grounds that the fiveyear tenure of the House had ended on September 17, as many had argued, before, Adhikari said the President did not give her assent because the President who had the obligation to protect the constitution believed that the bill did not respect some constitutional provisions..

In accordance with Article 113 (4) of the constitution, the president is mandated to give her assent to the bill in 15 days if it is repassed by the Parliament with or without amendments.

Article 113 (4) states that if any bill is sent back, along with a message by the president, and both Houses reconsider and adopt such bill as it was or with amendments and present it again, the president shall authenticate that bill within 15 days of such presentation.

Those who favour the president’s stance on the bill say the bill would now die as the fiveyear tenure of the House of Representatives ended on September 17, a day before the submission of proportional representation lists. Those who oppose the president’s move say a bill dies with the end of tenure of the HoR only if it is under consideration of the House. Since the House had already repassed the bill, it cannot be deemed under consideration of the House.

President Bhandari’s Political Adviser Lalbabu Yadav told BBC Nepali Service that the president, being the protector of the constitution, had the obligation to ensure that the constitutional provisions were not violated in the bill. He said the bill did not address the concerns expressed by the president about right to live with dignity.

He said the House did not debate the bill and the ruling alliance leaders interfered in the law-making process.

Yadav said the bill did not incorporate provisions related to provincial identity on the citizenship card nor did it respect Article 16 that ensured every citizen the right to live with dignity.

Article 28 gives people the right to privacy and Article 38 gives women the right of equal lineage without gender-based discrimination.

Yadav said the bill did not respect these rights. He said as per Article 61 (4), the president had the obligation to abide by and protect the constitution.

The president’s advisers have said publicly that the bill contradicts the constitution mainly because it does not ensure mention of provincial identity on citizenship card and it undermines the dignity of single mothers who are required to give details of the father of their children.

The government says that the president’s concerns will be addressed in the citizenship regulations to be framed later.

Ruling parties’ leaders have said that the president had endorsed the citizenship ordinance brought by the KP Sharma Oli government last year, but this time when the Sher Bahadur Deuba government brought the new citizenship bill incorporating almost the same provisions contained in the citizenship bill, the president is creating obstacles.

The president had asked the Parliament to settle citizenship issues by revisiting citizenship policies in the historical perspective thoroughly analysing citizenship policies post 1952 and to seek permanent solution to citizenship related questions.

The president had also asked the Parliament to tell the public why the old citizenship bill registered (by the KP Sharma Oli government) in the House and the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee’s report could not move ahead in the Parliament.

The president also asked the Parliament to find a durable solution to questions posed by matrimonial naturalisation, keeping in mind the best practices across the globe and suitability of the provision in the country’s own contexts.

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