COVID-19 fears dominated political discourse with Nepal Communist Party-led govt coming under criticism for sluggish preparedness and for not stemming spread of misinformation regarding coronavirus. Govt declared countrywide lockdown 24 March following second confirmed positive case – first one was in Jan; govt also closed borders with India and China 23 March, and banned all incoming flights starting 22 March. COVID-19 related measures introduced as local officials called for attention to lack of clear directives from federal govt, forcing them early March to issue separate directives for constituents to take precautions. NGO Human Rights Watch 31 Mar called out govt for denying migrant workers based in India right to return home, also drew attention to Nepali migrant labourers stranded in Gulf. As PM KP Oli underwent a second kidney transplant 4 March, concerns over his health further increased.
Since it was passed amid deadly protests in September 2015, Nepal’s new constitution has deepened ethnic, social and political fractures. The country’s national parties and protesting groups need to find ways to address constitutional disagreements and underlying disputes. There is a clear risk of escalating violence unless all sides understand that without compromise and good faith Nepal faces an existential threat.
Nepal’s major political parties must urgently agree on a roadmap to negotiate on federalism and write the new constitution, whether by holding elections to a new Constituent Assembly or reviving the previous body.
With the future of the Maoist combatants finally settled, Nepal’s peace process has gained momentum after a long stalemate, but challenges remain, particularly the design of a new federal state and evolving coalition and factional dynamics of the parties.
Nepal’s Maoist combatants urgently need to be integrated into the national security forces and rehabilitated or retired to consolidate the peace process.
The parties to Nepal’s fitful peace process have less than eight weeks to agree on integration of Maoist combatants and federalism before the term of the Constituent Assembly elected to draft a new constitution expires.
International Crisis Group worked regularly on Nepal from 2003-2012, publishing 33 reports in the period leading up to and following the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the country’s decade-long civil war. Since 2012, Crisis Group has maintained a watching brief on the country.