Despite some forward momentum toward local elections due to start in May, impeachment motion filed against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki 30 April by Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (Maoist Centre) MPs created fresh uncertainty regarding polls and future of ruling coalition. Following motion, which claims Karki interfered in govt’s appointment of police chief, senior NC leader and Deputy PM Bimalendra Nidhi resigned in protest; ruling coalition partner Rastriya Prajatantra Party also regarded as likely to withdraw support from govt. Prospect of holding polls in May had previously improved with 22 April agreement between govt and dissenting Madhesi parties to hold elections in two phases and to address most Madhesi demands through constitutional amendments increasing electoral constituencies in Tarai plains and creating federal commission to resolve issue of provincial boundaries; initial election phase to be held 14 May in three of seven provinces and second phase – under new NC-led govt following handover of power – to be conducted 14 June in remaining four provinces which include key Tarai constituencies. Six of seven dissenting Madhesi parties unified to form Rastriya Janata Party 21 April and, following agreement with govt, cancelled month-long protests planned to disrupt elections. However, postponement until 4 May of parliamentary discussions on govt’s new 11 April constitution amendment proposal – which mandates forming a commission to recommend provincial boundary revisions within three months – created further doubts about election timing; opposition UML party strongly opposed new proposal; parties have until 2 May to announce candidates. Three ex-army officers convicted 16 April of 2004 killing of fifteen-year old girl detained for supposed links to rebels. Supreme Court 30 April sentenced several former senior police officials including three former chiefs to prison for misuse of state funds.
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.