Preparations for 14 May local elections continued despite clashes and deaths in Tarai plains over unaddressed constitutional demands, boycott threats from disgruntled Madhesi parties and Election Commission concerns over lack of consensus between parties. Opposition Communist Party of Nepal (UML) launched electoral campaign across most of southern belt; four died and several injured in police firing after Madhesi coalition obstructed UML’s 6 March Saptari district campaign event. Several protestors shot above waist, reigniting criticism of govt response to 2015 Tarai constitutional protests. Madhesi coalition enforced strikes across several Tarai districts and 15 March withdrew support from govt. PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal 15 March proposed amending constitution to address most Madhesi demands but deferring decision on contentious provincial boundaries. Monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) — opposed to proposed constitutional amendments — joined govt 9 March, further aggravating Madhesi coalition. RPP renewed calls for restoration of Hinduism as state religion. Govt decided to deploy 226,000 security personnel for election security; heavy security presence likely in eight Tarai districts categorised as “sensitive” due to potential disruptions. Foreign Ministry called on India to investigate 9 March killing of Nepali citizen in SW Kanchanpur district allegedly by Indian border security forces during dispute over construction on border.
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.