Nepal Conflict Alert
Nepal Conflict Alert
Report 57 / Asia 2 minutes

Nepal: Obstacles to Peace

Despite King Gyanendra’s appointment of a new prime minister in June 2003, Nepal remains in a deepening political crisis.

Executive Summary

Despite King Gyanendra’s appointment of a new prime minister in June 2003, Nepal remains in a deepening political crisis. By turns conciliatory and confrontational, its royalist government, the Maoist insurgents and the recently ousted political parties have all proven capable of derailing the peace process if their concerns are not addressed. With political parties shut out of peace talks and the palace continuing efforts to keep them off balance and marginalised, party activists have increasingly taken to the streets. This has left the king in an awkward position: wishing to retain control of the government without appearing to be doing so. Such an approach is ultimately untenable, as the controversial appointment of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa makes clear.

A large number of constitutional issues will have to be tackled if Nepal hopes to resolve either the war with the Maoists or its constitutional crisis. However, it will not be possible to forge a broad consensus on these issues if the king remains the supreme decision-maker and the peace talks remain solely a dialogue between palace representatives and the Maoists. Establishing an all-party government is an essential step in beginning the march back toward a genuine democratic process regardless of the Maoists’ relative sincerity about peace.

It is also incumbent upon the political parties to act more responsibly. They should forge an agreement on the composition of an all-party government and present this to the palace before an all-party government is formed. Only by curtailing their perpetual internal feuding can they demonstrate to the people of Nepal that they are serious about governance and to be trusted with a seat at the negotiating table.

With the broad range of issues that have been opened by the war and the constitutional crisis, a lasting solution demands the support and input of an array of social forces well beyond the king, the parties and the Maoists. Efforts to tackle the country’s deep economic and social disparities should be paramount in constitutional reform. Consensus must be developed on several broad issues: the need for substantial and well-structured decentralisation of power and budgetary authority; stronger civilian control over the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA); a more representative electoral system; and ensuring that no one, including the king, is deemed above the law. All these are areas where reasonable compromise can create a broad convergence of opinion not only between the Maoists, the parties and the palace, but across society as a whole.

It is also crucial that the peace process itself be managed more professionally. The unsteady pace of negotiations, changes in personnel, failures of communication and lack of adequately trained negotiators and facilitators all have the potential to unravel an already uncertain process. Yet another change of both government and negotiators in the middle of talks has only hardened suspicions and further slowed matters. The government and the international community should explore ways to provide negotiators with the tools they need to make talks successful. Small numbers of UN experts from neutral countries could be deployed to assist local groups observe the code of conduct signed by the government and the Maoists to go90vern their behaviour during the ceasefire, and trained facilitators could be brought behind the scenes to ensure that negotiations proceed in a more orderly and professional manner. Peace can only be made and secured by the Nepalese, but the international community can and should play an important supporting role.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 17 June 2003

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