Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led govt continued push to restrict civil liberties with parliamentary committee 29 Dec passing controversial Information Technology Bill first proposed Feb 2019; legislation, if adopted by full parliament, would criminalise social media interactions including with up to five years’ imprisonment; critics claimed move would limit free speech and give govt sweeping surveillance authority. Ruling coalition member Samajbadi Party Nepal quit NCP-led govt after cabinet rejected party leader and Deputy PM Upendra Yadav’s calls to amend 2015 constitution to meet long-standing demands of southern plains-based Madhesi including redrawing federal provincial boundaries and ensuring proportional representation in upper house of parliament. NCP reached agreement 18 Dec with Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) – another Madhesi-based party – to form electoral alliance in lead-up to March 2020 upper parliamentary polls and potentially paving way for RJPN to join ruling coalition. By-elections held 30 Nov produced mixed results for ruling NCP and opposition Nepali Congress with neither winning significant number of 52 vacant seats at federal, provincial and local levels. Govt’s donor relationships received considerable attention with some NCP members 22 Dec expressing concerns about $500 million U.S. energy and infrastructure grant approved Aug 2017 given competing views about Washington’s Indo Pacific Strategy in light of Nepal’s existing Belt and Road Initiative commitments with China.
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.