One Step For­ward, Two Steps Back

The for­mer Hi­malayan king­dom of Nepal has trans­formed into a democ­racy but is still grop­ing in the dark for a Con­sti­tu­tion that would have the back­ing of all po­lit­i­cal play­ers.

Southasia - - Region - By Rizwan Zeb

Nepal, a land­locked coun­try bor­der­ing two gi­ants: In­dia and China is of­ten ig­nored by South Asia watch­ers as they pay per­haps too much at­ten­tion to In­dia and Pak­istan. How­ever, in keep­ing with Nepal’s in­creas­ing strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance in the larger geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape of Asia, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand this coun­try.

Nepal was a monar­chy un­til re­cently as it was ruled by the Shah dy­nasty of kings since 1768. How­ever, by 2005, it was a con­sen­sus among all that Nepal should be­come a repub­lic. In Novem­ber 2005, all ac­tors in­clud­ing the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal agreed on a ten point agree­ment. The move­ment proved ef­fec­tive and in April 2006, an in­terim con­sti­tu­tion was pro­mul­gated. An in­terim house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives was es­tab­lished and the King had to give up a num­ber of his pow­ers to the house. Maoist rebels joined this set up in April 2007 af­ter suc­cess­ful peace talks. On April 10, 2008, the first ever elec­tions in Nepal took place. The elec­tions re­sulted in a some­what hung par­lia­ment as no party man­aged to get a sim­ple ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment. The Com­mu­nist Party which got the high­est num­ber of seats formed a coali­tion gov­ern­ment. It is in­ter­est­ing to see how armed guer­ril- las be­came politi­cians and ran for of­fice. The ques­tion how rebels or in­sur­gents can be in­cor­po­rated into the main­stream needs fur­ther re­search and study and the lessons can be use­ful for other South Asian states, es­pe­cially for In­dia and Pak­istan.

The par­lia­ment de­cided on May 28, 2008 to ab­di­cate from the monar­chy and make Nepal a demo­cratic repub­lic. Ram Baran Yadae be­came the first Pres­i­dent of Nepal when he as­sumed of­fice on July 23, 2008.

The first ma­jor task for the new­ly­elected con­stituent assem­bly mem­bers was the draft­ing of a con­sti­tu­tion for the coun­try. Some 11 the­matic com­mit­tees were es­tab­lished to work on var­i­ous as­pects of the con­sti­tu­tion. It was de­cided that the draft­ing would be done in two years and May 28, 2010 was set as the dead­line for the fi­nal­iza­tion of the draft.

An­other im­por­tant is­sue for the new po­lit­i­cal setup in Nepal to ad­dress was the fate of the Maoist guer­ril­las. Over this pe­riod, this be­came a bone of con­tention be­tween the Maoists and all other po­lit­i­cal ac­tors. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Da­hal or Prachanda, now as the prime min­is­ter of Nepal de­manded that all the guer­ril­las should be in­te­grated into the Nepalese Army. He viewed this in­te­gra­tion as the most vi­tal part of the peace deal. The Nepalese Army Chief Rook­man­gud Katawal, on the other hand in­sisted that only those gueril­las will be in­ducted who ful­fill the mil­i­tary se­lec­tion cri­te­ria and the rest should be fa­cil­i­tated to start afresh as civil­ians. Prachanda re­fused to ac­cept this and de­manded that the gen­eral should be dis­missed. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Ya­dav’s re­fusal to ac­cept this de­mand, Prachanda re­signed in May 2009.

This re­sulted in a pe­riod of in­creased un­cer­tainty in Nepalese poli-

tics. Due to the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, the dead­line for the draft­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion was missed. When the par­lia­ment de­cided to ex­tend its term by a year, it also ex­tended the dead­line for the draft­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion and set Fe­bru­ary 26, 2011 as the new dead­line. At the same time, it was de­cided that in­stead of unan­i­mous ap­proval of the draft, a two-thirds ma­jor­ity vote would be enough to pass the new con­sti­tu­tion.

Af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of the care­taker prime min­ster Mad­hav Ku­mar, in July 2010, the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis deep­ened. It was in Fe­bru­ary this year that Nepal fi­nally got a prime min­is­ter af­ter a long po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing and deals. Maoists once again showed their power as the elec­tion of a new prime min­is­ter be­came pos­si­ble only af­ter they agreed to sup­port him and with­draw their own can­di­date. The re­sponse to the elec­tion of the new prime min­is­ter has been mixed as many con­sider the new Prime Min­is­ter Mr. Jha­lanath Khanal, a Maoist, and that he ac­tu­ally cut a se­cret deal with the Maoists be­fore his elec­tion.

Nepal is head­ing to­wards fur­ther po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty and in­sta­bil­ity as the prob­lem of hav­ing a con­sti­tu­tion per­sists. It has been aptly put that a ma­jor chal­lenge is agree­ing on a new con­sti­tu­tion. With the cur­rent par­lia­ment’s man­date due to ex­pire on May 28, can Khanal muster the nec­es­sary two-thirds par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity? It has long been said that this will re­quire con­sen­sus across the three main par­ties in the con­stituent assem­bly – the Maoists (237 of a to­tal 601 seats), the Nepali Congress (114 seats) and Khanal’s CPN–UML party (108 seats). How­ever, fac­tional splits within par­ties com­pli­cate the arith­metic.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Nepal are ex­tremely di­vided and at least two, Nepali Congress and the Mad­he­sis, are known to have strong links and con­tacts with New Delhi. This fur­ther com­pli­cates the pic­ture. The fact is that both In­dia and China can­not ig­nore the de­vel­op­ments in Nepal as it is of im­mense strate­gic im­por­tance to them. This makes the sit­u­a­tion more com­plex. It is un­likely that the Nepalese par­ties would be able to find com­mon ground on po­lit­i­cal is­sues in­clud­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, hence the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in Nepal will con­tinue. A re­turn to large scale vi­o­lence is even un­likely. The writer is a doc­toral can­di­date at the depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Science and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia and a for­mer Ben­jamin Meaker Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor of Pol­i­tics, IAS, Univer­sity of Bris­tol, UK. He is also a vis­it­ing scholar at Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and is cur­rently work­ing on a book on the Strate­gic Cul­ture of Pak­istan.

Can peace ever be re­stored in Nepal?

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