Referendum redux: Labor’s two-step plan for a vote on becoming a republic has some precedents



File 20181112 194506 oytr3w.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Australia’s head of state Queen Elizabeth is aged 92. Source: Treasury.

Ron Levy, Australian National University

A recent report suggested Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, wants Australia to “get on with” moving towards becoming a republic rather than holding a morbid “death watch”. The queen is a sprightly 92 years of age, while her husband Prince Philip, 97, is in somewhat poorer health.

Federal Labor has announced its preference for not one, but two, new public votes on Australia becoming a republic, should the party win the next election. It would act in its first term in office. A republic is a system of government where the people, through their elected representatives, hold ultimate power.




Read more:
Shorten pledges republic vote in first term


The idea is to have an initial plebiscite to gauge Australians’ preferences – that is generally whether they are for or against dropping the British monarchy from our constitutional system. Then, if the answer to the first question is “yes”, a Labor government would hold another public vote, this time a binding constitutional referendum. If the answer were “no”, then no second vote would be necessary. Labor has not indicated specifics, such as how long after the first vote a second vote would be held.

The queen is generally regarded as Australia’s head of state, although some scholars suggest the governor-general, as the queen’s representative in Australia, is technically head of state.

Is Labor crazy to propose not one but two national votes? What about the cost – in both money and time? What could be the rationale? And is there another option?




Read more:
Nine things you should know about a potential Australian republic


The main problem Labor’s two-vote solution aims to solve is that even supporters of a republic might not agree on what kind of republic it should be. That helped scuttle the republic the last time around in 1999.

Polling data on the subject ebb and flow. For instance, an Essential poll from May indicated support of 48%, up from 44% in January. A recent Newspoll showed backing for a republic had fallen to 40%. In 1999 support stood at about three-quarters of the population.

But monarchists argued in 1999 that the precise model put to the people – appointment of an Australian president by two-thirds of parliament – wasn’t the right one. Their posters warned: “This Republic: don’t risk it” and “If you want to vote for the President … Vote No to the Politicians’ Republic”.

These arguments played on Australians’ doubts about the value of replacing the monarchy with just another elitist institution. Many republicans voted to reject the republic. With the vote split on the republican side, Australia remained a monarchy, essentially by default.

The queen attended the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day on November 11 at Westminster Abbey in London without her husband Prince Philip.
EPA

Labor’s two-vote approach avoids this trap through what some call a “mandate referendum” (or “mandate plebiscite” if it’s not binding). The initial vote shows whether there is popular support for a reform. Once that’s decided in the affirmative, all that is left is to choose the most popular specific option for reform.

Mandate referendums have worked. For instance, in South Africa, to push through reforms ending apartheid, President F.W. de Klerk first held a referendum. Defying the pundits’ cynical expectations, 68.7% of white South Africans voted for reform. Then the hard work of dismantling the old system could begin. The popular vote put wind in the sails of reform, and within a few years legal apartheid was gone.

Labor’s plan is somewhat different in that if the first vote is “yes”, then the next step is a binding referendum – not simply negotiations as occurred in South Africa. The reason is Australia’s constitution can be changed only if a referendum is carried, which requires a double majority – a majority of voters overall, and a majority of the states.

South Africa’s system of apartheid – separating the white and black populations – was ended by first securing public in-principle approval through a referendum.

So the idea of a mandate vote has some historical backing. (French President Charles de Gaulle’s 1961 referendum on Algerian independence from France is another example.)

However, there are two caveats. First, the cost of not one but two public votes is bound to be an issue. Yet, in my view, we should not begrudge the costs of democracy. For instance, though elections to parliament cost hundreds of millions, that is no reason to cut back on elections. Democracy is worth the cost.

That said, there may be cheaper alternatives. For example, the vote can be run as a “preferendum” – a referendum in which the voters rank a number of choices, much as we do in parliamentary elections. So, instead of two referendums, we could have just one in which every option – from the status quo to several republican models – is included. During vote counting, the least popular option would be eliminated, and preferences distributed, until a majority favoured just one. (Granted, this approach would take some amendments to the law of referendums in Australia.)

The second caveat is that there is an obvious problem with deliberation amid referendums. When we give consent – whether to a medical procedure or a constitutional reform – that consent has to be informed. Another prominent slogan of the 1999 referendum was “Don’t know – vote no”. This resonated with some voters who couldn’t tell whether a two-thirds-appointed or a directly elected president would be best. Many had little knowledge of constitutional pros and cons. And we saw, famously, something worse in the Brexit vote, which was marred by disinformation campaigns.




Read more:
A model for an Australian republic that can unite republicans and win a referendum


Fortunately, it isn’t too hard to regulate to avoid disinformation, and to teach the public more about constitutional issues. We just need to be creative. Beyond the traditional information booklet sent to voters, we can also employ interactive online tutorials, Q&A-style television specials to debate the models, and local town hall-style meetings. All these should run before each public vote.

And note how Labor’s proposed two-vote model might actually have some benefits for deliberation. Brexit, which after all was a mandate referendum, is telling. Once a first vote endorses reform, this can clarify the mind. Suddenly reform is no abstract matter. Now there is a movement for a second Brexit vote on the specifics of exiting the European Union.

Similarly, Labor’s two-vote model may seem cumbersome, but running two votes, separated by several months or even a year or two, might have benefits. It could allow voters to think hard and learn about constitutional details in the intervening time.The Conversation

Ron Levy, Associate professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart



File 20181105 83629 14vrjt8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, but nonetheless 80.63% turned out to vote in the independence referendum.
Shutterstock

Denise Fisher, Australian National University

The November 4 referendum in New Caledonia was a breathtaking example of democracy in action, with new consequences for the French territory, France and our region.

The vote had been long-deferred, long-awaited and for some, long-feared. It took place peacefully, a major and poignant achievement that was unimaginable 30 years ago, before the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed. They were designed to end civil war, promising the hand-over of a number of autonomies, to be followed by this referendum.

The result favoured staying with France by 56.4% to 43.6%. Key characteristics were the strong turnout, especially by young Kanaks, the relatively strong vote for independence, and bitter division between the two sides.




Read more:
Explainer: New Caledonia’s independence referendum, and how it could impact the region


Voting queues were long, with many waiting two hours to vote. Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, and the turnout was an extraordinary 80.63% of those eligible to vote (all Indigenous Kanaks, and a large proportion of those from other communities with longstanding residence in New Caledonia). This is the highest in recent history, with levels at the last French national elections 37% (2017) and provincial elections 67% (2014).

As French President Emmanuel Macron noted hours after the polls closed, France has fulfilled its promise and delivered a transparent process, legitimised by the unprecedented high turnout, the attendance of 13 UN observers and a Pacific Islands Forum observer team.

What does it mean for New Caledonia?

This relatively close result is probably the best all round for stability. The campaign has been bitter, and even commentary between leaders in television coverage of the results saw strong denunciation, particularly by loyalists.

While potentially stoking fear among loyalists for the future, the sizeable independence vote nonetheless may give pause to their tendency to triumphalism, challenging opinion polls and their own belief that they would win at least 60% and possibly 70% of the vote.

In their confidence, just days before the vote, the loyalists declared that with a massive win, they would seek to reverse the Noumea Accord guarantee of a second and potentially third referendum, an inflammatory step for independence supporters.

For independence leaders, the result vindicates their careful strategy of negotiating under the Noumea Accord for potentially two more votes in 2020 and 2022 in the event of a “no” vote, automatic participation for all Indigenous Kanaks, and mobilising the young.

Young Kanaks voted in large numbers, peacefully, and apparently for independence. This was so even in mainly European Noumea, which returned a surprising 26.29% “yes” vote.

With natural population growth, their numbers will increase as 18-year-olds become eligible to vote in 2020 and 2022. In contrast, the number of voters from other long-standing communities will vary little during this time-frame.

Independence leaders can also work to improve the vote from Kanak island communities, whose turnout remained at traditional lower levels, and those who may have responded this time to one independence party’s call for a boycott.

What does it mean for France?

The relatively close result means both sides may be more likely to participate constructively in the ongoing dialogue process set up by France.

Macron has urged New Caledonians to overcome division and continue the 30-year process “in favour of peace”, emphasising dialogue. He referred to a future within France and the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the territory on November 5 to continue dialogue and urge calm.

The task of France remains delicate: to manage, impartially, a process respecting the positions of both sides. It’s complicated by the fact the 43.6% favouring independence are largely Indigenous Kanaks. They are not leaving, they have regional support, and their interests must be considered in any long-term future.




Read more:
Rebel music: the protest songs of New Caledonia’s independence referendum


On the positive side, positions canvassed by independence and loyalist parties alike threw up areas of shared interest that can form the basis of future cooperation. Provincial elections in May 2019 will clarify their support, but risk being undermined by extremist parties on both sides.

What are the implications for the region?

The result guarantees continued regional and international interest in the next steps. Reports of the Pacific Islands Forum and UN observer teams will be considered by their organisations. New Caledonia continues to be represented by the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Separatists in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), set for their own independence referendum next year, and West Papua, both the subject of MSG attention, will take heart.

Macron’s invocation of his Indo-Pacific vision engaging New Caledonia specifically to counter China gives a new edge to the interest in the referendum process by regional countries and partners.

Australia, meanwhile, will continue to retain a close interest in stability in our near neighbour, respecting the process while continuing cooperation with France.The Conversation

Denise Fisher, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parliamentary report recommends referendum to solve the dual citizenship saga: Here’s why it won’t happen


File 20180517 155623 1n8q8hg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The dual citizenship saga that has rocked the parliament in recent months is unlikely to end any time soon.
Shutterstock

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

The release of the report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) into section 44 of the Australian Constitution is the latest chapter in the long-running dual citizenship saga. The committee was asked to consider the impact of section 44 and options for reform.

While the report emphasises it is for the Australian people to decide on the appropriate qualifications of their elected representatives, its very title – Excluded: The impact of section 44 on Australian democracy – is a clue to the final view adopted by the majority of JSCEM.

Is a referendum the answer?

The key recommendation of JSCEM is that there should be a referendum proposing either that sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution are repealed, or that the words “until the Parliament otherwise provides” be inserted into those sections.




Read more:
Explainer: what the High Court decision on Katy Gallagher is about and why it matters


The majority report states that the problems caused by section 44 are “wide-ranging” and “have significant and detrimental implications” for Australia’s democracy.

If either of the recommended referendum questions were passed, the effect would be to remove the disqualification criteria from the Constitution and instead leave it to the parliament to enact laws governing this area. This would supposedly allow for disqualification laws that better reflect modern community standards.

There are several practical problems with this, and that is without considering the underlying substantive question of whether section 44 should actually be changed.

The first problem is that it is highly unlikely a referendum would succeed, a point acknowledged by JSCEM. To succeed, a referendum question must be approved by not only a majority of voters across the country, but also a majority of voters in a majority of states. That means a referendum can be defeated with only 19.8% of Australians (being a majority of voters in each of the four smallest states) voting no.

It is highly unlikely that the Australian people would vote “yes” in a referendum that simply asks them to repeal section 44 – which is precisely what JSCEM has recommended. That would not only mean voting “yes” to allowing dual citizens to be elected (itself a controversial proposition), but would also allow individuals to be elected where they have been convicted of treason, are under sentence for a serious crime, or have a financial conflict of interest.

To be fair, JSCEM goes on to recommend that if the referendum passes, the parliament should enact laws to address matters of qualification and disqualification. Any such laws would most likely ensure that many of the circumstances described above would still result in disqualification.

But the difficulty with this is two-fold. The first is that – rightly or wrongly – many Australians blame our politicians for the problems with section 44. The idea they should put those same politicians in charge of deciding what disqualifications should apply to politicians in the future is unlikely to be met with great enthusiasm.

The second difficulty is that JSCEM is asking us to consider constitutional change in a vacuum. How can the Australian people judge whether or not to vote for repealing section 44 without knowing what, if anything, will replace it?

The committee suggests the removal or amendment of section 44 is a “necessary prerequisite” to a public debate on what constitutes appropriate parliamentary disqualifications.

I would suggest the opposite is true. A public debate on what constitutes appropriate parliamentary disqualifications is a necessary prerequisite to any referendum suggesting the removal or amendment of section 44.

In any event, the question of a referendum appears to be academic, with the government ruling out this option almost as soon as the JSCEM report was released.

The minority report

It is somewhat surprising that with recent polls suggesting a majority of Australians support the dual citizenship disqualification, only one committee member reflected this view and concluded constitutional change was not required.




Read more:
Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


In his minority report, Liberal Ben Morton stated “there has been no compelling argument” to remove the dual citizenship disqualification. He also confirmed he would campaign against any constitutional change attempting to remove this requirement.

This provides further insight into why a referendum will not occur. A government holding a one-seat majority simply cannot risk the distraction and destabilisation of a constitutional referendum that would divide its own members.

Other reform options?

Despite this, majority report did go on to recommend a number of practical strategies to “mitigate the impact of section 44” if constitutional change is not pursued.

These include the development of online self-assessment tools, additional education and support for candidates, formalising the parliamentary referral process, and working with foreign governments to streamline citizenship renunciations.

These are mostly sensible recommendations that will encourage greater compliance with the existing constitutional provisions. Given it is highly unlikely a referendum will happen, they are also the most important in practical terms.

The JSCEM report provides a number of practical recommendations to improve compliance with section 44. But it also confirms there is no easy fix.

The ConversationInstead, it looks as though the dual citizenship saga still has a long way to go.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A model for an Australian republic that can unite republicans and win a referendum



File 20180118 53302 1l2z3hv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A proposed model for an Australian republic encourages active citizenship while preserving the non-partisan, ceremonial role of the head of state.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian National University

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


The lesson of 1999 is that an Australian republic can only come about if republicans unite. Minimalists want a small-change republic, in which parliament appoints the head of state. This, they argue, will ensure the head of state does not have a popular mandate and will not interfere in day-to-day politics.

It will also preserve the character of the role. Like the current governor-general, minimalists want the role to be an honour bestowed on a worthy servant, not a prize sought through ambitious campaigning.

Direct electionists believe the spirit of republicanism is active participation. They do not want politicians to simply choose a head of state; instead, they desire a system in which the people are involved.

The hybrid model below, designed by Paul Pickering and I, aims to ensure the process is democratic but also that the dignity of the office of head of state is maintained. It harnesses the best features of minimalism and direct election.

A hybrid solution

Under our model, each state and territory parliament nominates an Australian citizen to be head of state. There is no obligation to nominate someone who was born in or who resides in that particular state.

In the opinion of at least two-thirds of sitting MPs, the nominee must:

  • be an Australian citizen over 18;

  • have served the nation with distinction in their chosen field or fields;

  • be of exemplary personal character and integrity; and

  • be willing to serve as head of state for a term of five years.

Each parliament must nominate a different person. The eight nominees are then put to a non-compulsory, first-past-the-post, national vote.

The vote is non-compulsory to emphasise this is a titular and ceremonial role. Australians do not currently vote for the governor-general or the Queen, and should not have to vote for the head of state in a republic, either.

This model deliberately casts a wide net but is protected by two hurdles. A nominee must be endorsed first by a parliamentary majority and second by a public vote.

Some minimalists argue that, under a direct-election model, an exploitative populist or crass former sports star might become head of state. The twin hurdles of our hybrid model serve as a bulwark against unbridled populism, but ultimately defer to democracy. If a nominee has the confidence of both an elected parliament and the people, they deserve to be the head of state, regardless of their critics.

The nominee with the most votes becomes the Australian head of state and serves a five-year term.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

To campaign or not?

In the lead-up to the vote, the merits of each nominee are explained on the Australian Electoral Commission website. A small education budget is allocated to introduce the nominees to the public without any preference shown.

There is no need for nominees to campaign, but no penalty if they do. If supporters of a particular nominee want to conduct a traditional campaign with slogans, posters, advertisements and the like, that is their prerogative.

Many Australians would consider electioneering to be beneath the dignity of the office of head of state. Ultimately, our model puts its faith in the Australian people. They will dictate what kind of behaviour is appropriate on election day.

Casting a wide net

One possible criticism of our model is that the people can choose from just eight nominees. Opening it up to all casts a wider net in theory, but in reality it excludes many worthy candidates.

A simple direct-election model would likely result in only the wealthy, former politicians, or those with support from powerful lobby groups being nominated. In many cases, the kind of person we want as head of state is not the kind of person who would seek out such an honour.

Needing a two-thirds majority, state and territory parliaments will look for worthy individuals in a bipartisan manner. It is then over to the people to choose.

It should also be remembered that citizens are free to petition their government to endorse any particular individual.

The best of both worlds

One of our model’s strengths is that it encourages active citizenship while preserving the non-partisan, ceremonial role of the head of state.

With nominations from across the states and territories, Australians will be presented with a diverse choice of distinguished individuals.

Like the nominations for Australian of the Year, it will be an opportunity to recognise and honour Australians from different walks of life. Citizens are encouraged but not coerced into deciding who they want as their representative on the international stage.

The most important feature of our model is that it preserves the current power relation between the head of state and parliament.

Like the present governor-general, the head of state under our model will be a guardian of the Constitution. They will hold important reserve powers but will be bound by convention and protocol to use them only in the event of a constitutional crisis. They should carry themselves in a manner that brings honour to the country and should tirelessly promote Australia at home and abroad.

Let democracy rule

It’s worth reiterating that republicans must unite and be committed, above all, to democracy. Only with this attitude can the lazy impulse to revert to the status quo be overcome.

An Australian should be the Australian head of state. Our Constitution should be thoroughly democratic and independent. We should be able to tell our kids that they can grow up to be anything, even the head of state.


Benjamin T. Jones’ new book This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future is published by Black Inc.


The ConversationCatch up on others in the series here.

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian Research Council Fellow, School of History, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shorten pledges republic vote in first term



File 20170728 1689 1o8gnbg
Bill Shorten will seek to elevate the issue of a republic by pledging.
a policy for quick action.
Julian Smith/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Shorten government would ask voters in its first term whether they supported Australia becoming a republic.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, addressing the Australian Republic Movement’s dinner on Saturday, will seek to elevate the issue by pledging
that “by the end of our first term, we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia: Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?

“If the yes vote prevails – and I’m optimistic it will – then we can consider how that head of state is chosen.”

He will say that in a Labor government a minister would be given direct responsibility for advancing the debate.

The Shorten policy for quick action on a republic contrasts with Malcolm Turnbull’s position, which is that the public will not want the issue back on the agenda until after the Queen’s reign ends.

Labor’s two-stage process – with the first stage a general plebiscite question about wanting a republic, followed by a referendum which would incorporate a model – is designed to maximise the chances of support.

But the issue of the model and the requirements of a referendum – which needs an overall majority and a majority of states to pass – would still remain the difficult hurdle.

The 1999 unsuccessful referendum proposed the president of the republic be chosen by parliament, but it is likely that these days people would want a directly elected president – a model that raises more issues.

Shorten will say in his speech: “We cannot risk being caught in a referendum like the last one, where Australians were given one vote to settle two questions. When a lot of people voted ‘no’ because of the model, not because of the republic.

“The first, clear question we ask the people should be whether we want an Australian head of state. And the debate should be about why. About our sense of Australia, our history and above all, our future.”

In London recently Malcolm Turnbull declared himself an “Elizabethan”. In contrast, Shorten will say: “I have tremendous regard for the Queen and her service. But I am not an Elizabethan. I’m a Victorian. I’m an Australian.”

He will say he is confident that if Australia became a republic, “Queen Elizabeth would farewell us with the same affection and good grace she has shown every time a Commonwealth nation has made the decision to cut its ties with the monarchy.

“We can vote for a republic and still respect Queen Elizabeth.”

Shorten will acknowledge that the republic issue “isn’t front of mind of everyone, but I don’t buy the argument that we can’t have this debate until every other problem in the nation has been solved.

“In these fractious times, governments age quickly and lead short lives.

The Conversation“It’s no good hoping for a popular groundswell – we must set a direction and bring people with us, and we have to do it early.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/axx2w-6d8662?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scotland: Independence Referendum in September 2014


The link below is to an article that reports on the Scottish Independence Referendum to be held on the 18th September 2014.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/21/scottish-independence-referendum-date

Prospects Dim for Religious Freedom in Nepal


Right to share faith could harm Nepal’s Hindu identity, lawmakers believe.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 29 (CDN) — A new constitution that Nepal’s parliament is scheduled to put into effect before May 28 may not include the right to propagate one’s faith.

The draft constitution, aimed at completing the country’s transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular democracy, contains provisions in its “religious freedom” section that prohibit anyone from converting others from one religion to another.

Most political leaders in the Himalayan country seemed unaware of how this prohibition would curb religious freedom.

“Nepal will be a secular state – there is no other way,” said Sushil Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress, Nepal’s “Grand Old Party,” but he added that he was not aware of the proposal to restrict the right to evangelism.

“Forcible conversions cannot be allowed, but the members of the Constituent Assembly [acting parliament] should be made aware of [the evangelism ban’s] implications,” Koirala, a veteran and one of the most influential politicians of the country, told Compass.

Gagan Thapa, another leader of the Nepali Congress, admitted that banning all evangelistic activities could lead to undue restrictions.

“Perhaps, the words, ‘force, inducement and coercion’ should be inserted to prevent only unlawful conversions,” he told Compass.

Man Bahadur Bishwakarma, also from the Nepali Congress, said that of all the faith communities in Nepal, Christians were most active in converting others, sometimes unethically.

“There are problems in Hinduism, such as the caste hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean you should convert out of it,” he said. “I believe in reforming one’s religion.”

Asked if the restriction on converting others violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Akal Bahadur of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) said, “It may, but there was a general consensus on it [the prohibition]. Besides, it is still a draft, not the final constitution.”

Nepal signed the ICCPR on May 14, 1991. Article 18 of the ICCPR includes the right to manifest one’s religion, which U.N. officials have interpreted as the right to evangelistic and missionary activities.

Akal Bahadur and Thapa are members of the Committee on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, which was tasked to propose the scope of religious freedom and other rights in the draft constitution. This committee, one of 11 thematic panels, last year submitted a preliminary draft to the Assembly suggesting that a person should be allowed to decide whether to convert from one religion to another, but that no one should convert anyone else.

Binda Pandey, chairperson of the fundamental rights committee and member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), told Compass that it was now up to the Assembly to decide whether this provision violates religious freedom.

The Constitution Committee is condensing the preliminary drafts by all the committees as one draft constitution. At least 288 contentious issues arose out of the 11 committees, and the Constitution Committee has resolved 175 of them, Raju Shakya of the Kathmandu-based Centre for Constitutional Dialogue (CCD) told Compass.

The “religious freedom” provision with its ban on evangelism did not raise an eyebrow, however, as it is among the issues listed under the “Area of Agreement” on the CCD Web site.

Once compiled, the draft constitution will be subject to a public consultation, after which another draft will be prepared for discussion of clauses in the Constitutional Assembly; provisions will be implemented on a two-thirds majority, Shakya said.

 

Hindu Identity

Thapa of the fundamental rights committee indicated that religious conversion could become a contentious issue if the proposed restriction is removed. Even the notion of a secular state is not wholly accepted in the country.

“If you hold a referendum on whether Nepal should become a secular state, the majority will vote against it,” Thapa said.

Most Hindus see their religion as an essential part of the country’s identity that they want to preserve, he added.

Dr. K.B. Rokaya, the only Christian member of Nepal’s National Commission for Human Rights, said Nepal’s former kings created and imposed a Hindu identity for around 240 years because it suited them; under the Hindu ethos, a king should be revered as a god. Most of the numerous Hindu temples of Nepal were built under the patronage of the kings.

Rokaya added that Christians needed to be more politically active. The Assembly does not have even one Christian member.

According to the 2001 census, over 80 percent of Nepal’s 30 million people are Hindu. Christians are officially .5 percent, but their actual number is believed to be much higher.

Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom until 2006, when a people’s movement led by former Maoist guerrillas and supported by political parties, including the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninist, ousted King Gyanendra.

An interim constitution was enacted in 2007, and the Constituent Assembly was elected through Nepal’s first fully democratic election a year later. The Assembly was supposed to promulgate a new constitution by May 28, 2010, but its term was extended by one year.

It is still uncertain, however, whether the approaching deadline will be met due to persistent disagreements among parties. The Maoist party has 220 members, the Nepali Congress 110, and the Unified Marxist Leninist 103 in the 575-member Assembly.

Rokaya, a member of the newly formed United Christians Alliance of Nepal, comprising a majority of Christian denominations, said Christians would continue to ask for full religious freedom. The use of inducement or force for conversions is deplorable, but the right to preach the tenets of one’s religion is a fundamental freedom, he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Police in Sudan Aid Muslim’s Effort to Take Over Church Plot


With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.

Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.

The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.

Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.

“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.

SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.

“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.

SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.

“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.

The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.

“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.

The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.

“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.

A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.

SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.

“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.

The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.

“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.

The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.

Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.

A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.

At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.

Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.

“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”

Report from Compass Direct News