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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Asia > South Asia > Nepal > Nepal’s New Political Landscape

Nepal’s New Political Landscape

Asia Report N°156 3 Jul 2008

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

This is one of two companion reports published simultaneously. The other, Nepal’s Election: A Peaceful Revolution? , is an extensive analysis of the 10 April 2008 constituent assembly (CA) elections.

Nepal’s Maoists crowned their transition from underground insurgency to open politics with a convincing victory in 10 April 2008 constituent assembly (CA) elections. Their surprise win has thrown other parties into confusion, with the major mainstream ones unwilling to recognise their defeat and participate in a Maoist-led government, despite clear pre-election and constitutional commitments to maintaining cross-party unity. The CA nearly unanimously ended the monarchy at its first sitting and gave birth to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. However, extended, unedifying haggling over government-formation suggests the consensus-based approach to the constitutional process will be hard to implement. Building a lasting peace and delivering the change voters called for requires all parties to accept the new situation and cooperate under a Maoist-led government, in particular to deal with issues scarcely yet addressed including the security sector, reestablishment of law and order in some districts, land and local government.

For once, a rarity in Nepali politics, the political landscape has changed irrevocably. The country has managed a peaceful republican transition, and the Maoists – the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN(M)) – and regional parties are here to stay. While old-style politicking will continue, the shape of politics has been seriously revised. The new CA is the most inclusive body Nepal has ever elected, with much greater representation of the many castes, ethnic groups and regional communities than past parliaments. Women make up a third of the assembly, placing Nepal well ahead of other countries in the region. However, the elections produced not only a mandate for change but also a recipe for deadlock.

The old parties have not woken up to the new realities. The popular mandate was not for a one-party minority administration but for cooperation on a path for peace and change. The Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML) went into the election with a clear commitment to working on the basis of consensus and cooperation after the polls, regardless of the outcome. Their reluctance to keep that promise may be partly a bargaining position but risks harming the process and further reducing their already low public esteem. They are in danger of being seen as sulking spoilers instead of constructive participants in a constitutional process that would benefit from healthy debate and different policy positions. The longer they delay internal reforms to make themselves more representative, the longer it will take to reconnect with disillusioned former supporters.

The Maoist leadership has also not made full use of the opportunity to lever its position of strength internally and decisively reject the politics of violence and coercion. The “peaceful revolution” strategy, much questioned within the movement, appears to have delivered a greater success than even its architects expected. Still, they face internal debates and external pressures. They are capable of working in coalition – indeed, Maoist leader Prachanda has a much better track record of managing his own party’s internal disputes through consensus than Girija Prasad Koirala of the NC, who announced on 26 June that he would resign as prime minister. But winning trust will require action as well as words, starting with a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law and an end to the parallel policing functions of the Young Communist League (YCL).

The security sector remains the critical problem. The continuing existence of two standing armies is inherently destabilising. There are widespread and sensible concerns over a Maoist government commanding both the Nepal Army (NA) and its own forces. But it is the NA and the mainstream parties who created this situation by spending two years determinedly resisting every overture to discuss the future of the security sector. The national army remains outside any meaningful democratic control – and hence without checks and balances to safeguard a smooth handover of power. This is a legacy of ex-Prime Minister Koirala and army chief Rookmangad Katwal’s preference to use the army as a tool for personal political interest. Maoist willingness to discuss compromise options has met with an unyielding brick wall.

Beyond the security sector, other pressing challenges need to be addressed. Law and order is in tatters, particularly in some Tarai districts, and the culture of impunity remains intact. There has been no progress on the twin questions of returning land seized during the conflict and establishing a committee to plan promised land reforms. Securing the peace will require serious attention to measures at the district and village level, but so far there has not even been consensus on reestablishing the rudiments of local government.

In a final irony of the republican transition, ex-King Gyanendra’s dignified exit suggested that he understood the popular mood better than the old parties. Every indication is that party leaders, however, have little respect for the supposed sovereignty of the CA and wish to keep all decision-making powers in a few hands. This bodes ill for the legitimacy of the constitution-writing process.

A companion report, published simultaneously, describes the CA campaign and vote, assesses the credibility of the election and analyses the results.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Seven Governing Parties and the Other Major Parties Represented in the Constituent
Assembly:

1.  Form a consensus-based government under Maoist (CPN(M)) leadership, with as broad participation as possible.

2.  Resolve any remaining election disputes through established, and functional, formal mechanisms, such as the Constituent Assembly Elections Court, rather than by trading unsubstantiated allegations in public.

3.  Start discussions on the future of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nepal Army (NA), including by:

a) setting up a multi-party committee, along the lines of the interim legislature’s defunct “146 Committee”, to discuss the future of the security sector;

b) starting a genuine national debate on Nepal’s security requirements and how state security forces should be organised to meet them – rather than the other way around;

c) beginning work on building a capable ministry of defence and setting up the National Security Council; and

d) developing plans for making the army and police more representative of Nepal’s caste, ethnic and regional diversity, including measures promised in past agreements.

4.  Set up a mechanism, such as a commission, to handle the twin issues of returning land seized during the conflict and preparing for land reform.

5.  Move forward with other remaining elements of the peace process, including by:

a) implementing the December 2007 23-point agreement and other accords;

b) abiding by the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and ceasefire code of conduct; and

c) paying attention to the need for local peacebuilding, for example by reestablishing local government bodies and facilitating discussions between all parties and local communities at the district level.

6.  Decide on the need for further UN assistance and request it as soon as possible to enable a smooth transition from the current mission (UNMIN), whose mandate expires on 22 July.

7.  Prepare for the constitution-writing process by:

a) establishing, with as broad a consensus as possible, permanent rules of procedure to replace the current temporary provisions;

b) forming appropriate CA subcommittees and agreeing on how to manage the division of business between the CA as a constitution-drafting body and as a legislature;

c) making clear commitments for public participation, as most major parties promised in election manifestos without spelling out details.

8.  Take immediate steps towards ending the culture of impunity, for example by:

a) completing investigations already underway into wartime atrocities and demanding compliance from all witnesses and suspects;

b) investigating and prosecuting other well-documented cases of rights violations, such as the torture and disappearances allegedly carried out by the army at Maharajgunj and the Maoists’ bombing of a civilian bus at Madi; and

c) investigating and informing families of the fate of people disappeared during the conflict, as promised in the CPA, and ordering the cooperation of state security agencies and the CPN(M) in probing the whereabouts of the hundreds who are still unaccounted for.

9.  Respect and promote the role of women, not only the one third of CA members, in the peace process and strive to implement all of UN Security Council Resolution 1325’s recommendations, building on Nepal’s new reputation as the regional leader in women’s political representation.

10.  Respect the pre-election deals with protesting groups by implementing fully the agreements with the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) and the Federal Republican National Front and continue to pursue negotiations with armed militant groups.

11.  Move beyond solely seven-party cooperation to involve all parties represented in the CA in the constitution-writing process, and consider revising the interim constitution to remove the special status accorded to the governing seven parties.

To the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), CPN(M):

12.  End the use of violence, intimidation and extortion by:

a) bringing the YCL under control and ensuring its activities are limited to those of a legitimate, non-violent political party youth wing; and

b) cooperating with investigations into alleged crimes carried out by Maoist cadres (including the April 2008 murder of Ram Hari Shrestha) and surrendering suspects to the state authorities.

13.  Dismantle parallel governance structures such as “people’s courts”, the United Revolutionary People’s Council and other “people’s government” bodies.

To the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML):

14.  Accept the election results and use the sizeable number of CA seats voters did deliver con­struc­tively.

15.  Recognise the need for serious structural and policy reform to reconnect with voters, for example by:

a) improving internal democracy (which is particularly weak in the NC);

b) making party structures at all levels more representative of Nepal’s diversity; and

c) increasing progressively the level of women’s representation in party offices.

To the Nepal Army:

16.  Fulfil repeated commitments to democracy by:

a) staying out of politics;

b) assisting in steps towards meaningful democratic control of the security sector; and

c) providing professional input to discussions on the shape of future national security strategy.

To the International Community, in particular India, China, the U.S., EU and UN:

17.  Assist in the post-election period by:

a) reminding all parties they must accept the outcome and only use formal procedures to resolve any outstanding complaints; and

b) urging and supporting the formation of a power-sharing unity government.

18.  Offer technical and financial assistance for establishing mechanisms to ensure public partic­ipation in the constitutional process and work to coordinate proposed training and orientation programs for CA members, if the CA desires such efforts.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 3 July 2008