Govt 20 Feb announced first post-conflict local elections to be held 14 May despite unresolved disputes over amendments to 2015 constitution; last local polls held in 1997. After claiming PM Dahal should resign if govt fails to hold elections by June, opposition UML party welcomed announcement but continued to oppose endorsement of amendment bill registered in parliament Nov 2016 that partially addresses dissenting Madhesi parties’ demands. Coalition of Madhesi parties criticised govt for “betraying” assurances that constitution would be amended prior to election-date decision, unveiled month-long protests throughout Tarai plains. Coalition activists clashed 22 Feb with UML cadres in Dhanusha district during coalition-enforced eastern Tarai strike; coalition supporters clashed with police 26 Feb in Rautahat district while attempting to disrupt UML gathering. Coalition discussing withdrawing support from ruling coalition. Controversial activist and proponent of “independent Madhes” CK Raut arrested 2 Feb in Rupandehi district; seventeen Raut supporters arrested 18 Feb in ensuing clashes with police. Govt 9 Feb extended terms of two transitional justice mechanisms on truth and reconciliation and disappearances one year until Feb 2018; new complaint registration period began 15 Feb; over 61,000 total complaints already received by both bodies.
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.