Nepal: From People Power to Peace?
Nepal: From People Power to Peace?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Nepal Conflict Alert
Nepal Conflict Alert
Report / Asia 3 minutes

Nepal: From People Power to Peace?

King Gyanendra’s capitulation on 24 April 2006 in the face of a mass movement marked a victory for democracy in Nepal and, with a ceasefire between the new government and the Maoists now in place, the start of a serious peace process.

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Executive Summary

King Gyanendra’s capitulation on 24 April 2006 in the face of a mass movement marked a victory for democracy in Nepal and, with a ceasefire between the new government and the Maoists now in place, the start of a serious peace process. Forced to acknowledge the “spirit of the people’s movement”, Gyanendra accepted popular sovereignty, reinstated parliament and invited the mainstream seven-party alliance to implement its roadmap – including election of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution in line with the parties’ five-month-old agreement with the Maoists. The international community lost credibility by attempting to pressure the parties into an unworkable compromise with the king and must now work hard to support a difficult transition and peace process while avoiding similar mistakes.

The pro-democracy movement was a victory for the Nepali people on four fronts:

  • Over the king. Nepal witnessed changes in mood during the several weeks of protests and strikes in April but there had long been widespread discontent with the king and his direct rule. The mass defiance of curfews to march against the monarchy following the king’s misjudged first offer on 21 April was a decisive popular verdict which – even in the face of the massed ranks of loyal security forces – left the king with no option but surrender.
  • Over the parties. People remained suspicious of the parties, both on the basis of their mixed record in government and their perceived willingness to do a deal with the king against the country’s best interests. Nevertheless, most hoped sustained pressure would force the parties to provide representative political leadership in tune with public sentiment – an approach that has so far yielded concrete results.
  • Over the Maoists. Maoist support, much as mainstream democrats are loath to admit it, was crucial to the movement’s success. But people did not rally under the Maoist flag, even in rural areas where the insurgents had directly urged their participation. While most endorsed elements of the Maoist agenda they did not heed calls for a revolutionary insurrection and sent a strong signal that people power is a constraint on the actions of the rebels as well as the palace and parties.
  • Over the international community. Nepal is particularly exposed to external influence. Sandwiched between regional superpowers and long dependent on foreign aid, its leaders and people have often looked to outsiders at times of crisis. This time India, the U.S. and some European powers did help to create the environment for a democracy movement but were brushed off when they appeared to press for an unpopular solution to end the crisis.

The fact that the people at large, rather than purely party- or Maoist-organised action, forced the king’s final climb down puts them in their rightful place at the centre of Nepal’s politics and acts as a powerful constraint on misbehaviour by the major players. That they did so in the face of a coordinated international campaign to halt the protests means they need not be beholden to outside forces – this was a victory they won for themselves. That they successfully encouraged the parties to stand firm against the ill-advised external pressure bodes well for fostering genuine national ownership and direction of a peace process and constitutional reform.

The people’s movement vindicated the parties’ November 2005 twelve-point agreement with the Maoists, without which the movement would never have been possible. It also conclusively rejected the proposition that reconciliation between the palace and the parties to fight the Maoists was the only way forward. Encouragingly, the parties and the Maoists have reaffirmed their commitment to their joint peace plan. Solid self-interest underlies the twelve-point agreement; though there is no guarantee, implementing it successfully is still the most attractive option for both sides.

Nepal’s much maligned political parties have recovered much of the popular credit they had squandered while in office and while leading the earlier half-hearted “anti-regression” campaign against royal rule. However, the initial moves to form the new government were less inspiring, with squabbling over the allocation of ministerial portfolios delaying the process. The government of 84-year old Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who was sworn in on 30 April, is only an interim administration, with limited legitimacy to act in areas other than pursuing the existing roadmap for ending the conflict. It faces four immediate challenges:

  • keeping the peace process on track;
  • containing the king and controlling the army;
  • planning for constitutional change; and
  • responding to calls for transitional justice.

The international community will win back respect in Nepal if it helps the government as it tackles these challenges in an environment which remains precarious. The country is not yet back to business as usual. Donors must understand that their role should be to safeguard the difficult transition from people power to peace.

Kathmandu/Brussels, 10 May 2006

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