Nepal’s peace process in turmoil
1 November 2007 7:00 pm
Nepal is heading for turmoil once again as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) left the interim coalition government. The suspension of the Constituent Assembly elections has made the path to peace increasingly difficult. The first victim of their action seems to be the disruption of the one-year-old peace agreement between the Communist Party of Nepal-(Maoists) and the Government of Nepal.
The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in Nepal decided on 5 October 2007 to suspend the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections after the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) (Maoist) withdrew from the coalition government. The CPN (Maoist) had been demanding the interim Parliament to adopt a proportional representation system and declare the country as a republic before the CA elections. Suspension of the CA election has created a confusing political atmosphere, adding uncertainty and confusion in the political arena of Nepal. Rise of ethnic conflicts, sectarianism and religious extremism have made the situation even more complex. The international community, including the UN, has expressed concern over this situation.
The CPN (Maoist) demanded to declare a republic through the Interim Parliament. This contravenes the Interim Constitution, which states that the Cabinet would submit a proposal in the House on declaring Nepal a republican state if the King is found to be disrupting the CA elections (article 159 (3) (a)). Similarly, the Interim Constitution has a provision for a mixed electoral system for the CA election (article 63 (3)). Thus, each of their demands grossly violates the letter and spirit of the Interim Constitution and the Agreement with the SPA.
CPN (Maoist) chairperson Puspa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) proposed on October 7 for a referendum to be held before the CA elections to gauge support for a full proportional representation system and a republic. He argued that "a referendum can be held not only to decide whether to declare a republic or retain the monarchy, but also to determine support for the proportional election system". However, the Nepali Congress (NC) is not ready for the referendum proposal since it believes it could potentially reactivate the King.
Prolonged deliberations were held in different party circles regarding CPN (Maoist)’s stand and non-negotiable preconditions for allowing the CA elections process to go forward. SPA leaders reiterated that the CA election is the best way to end the monarchy and want a new date set for the elections at the earliest.
After suspending the elections, the government called for a special session of the Parliament on 11 October to end the deadlock. At the very first meeting of the session, CPN (Maoist) filed proposals to declare a republic from the Interim parliament, proportional representative system and to call for the amendment of the Interim Constitution to set a new date for the CA elections. The CPN (Maoist) leaders urged Prime Minister Koirala to get their two proposals endorsed by the Parliament, but Koirala insisted that the country cannot be declared as a republic straightaway and a proportional electoral system cannot be accepted. The situation got attention of international community. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon voiced disappointment at the decision to postpone constituent assembly elections1. EU also said, “Setting out a clear plan for what will need to happen to enable free and fair elections to go ahead in the future will be an important part of building trust and confidence in the peace process. An agreed roadmap will be vital”2.
The Chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, Ian Martin, aptly remarked on 10 October that the current situation is “a result of weaknesses in the overall management of the peace process, particularly the failure to implement agreements"3, He also said, “This crisis is not just the consequence of those two demands but also stems from growing mistrust amongst the parties to the peace agreement that we have seen in recent weeks”4.
These statements highlight that the international community now wants a clear roadmap of the present government: will they strengthen law and order situations to ensure the timely CA elections or not?; and will they maintain the unity of the SPA? It is appropriate for the political parties to recognise the urgency of the situation and agree on a formula for its settlement.
However, even after the suspension of the elections and severe opposition from other parties, CPN (Maoist) has not shown any sign of compromise. The suspension of elections due to their obdurate stance indicates their huge influence on Nepal’s fate. The ongoing stalemate also casts doubt on the unity of the SPA , which is essential if the peace process is to move forward. The latest warning issued by Prachanda said the alliance may split if the special session of Parliament will fail to produce any result. This is a threat to SPA unity.
The ongoing political uncertainty raises question on the seriousness on the part of CPN (Maoist) to take the peace process ahead. The ongoing special session of Parliament, which is expected to vote on Maoists proposal, will decide the next stage of the country, which will carry forward the democratisation and peace process.
1 UN News Centre, Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal
2 Nepal News, US, EU disappointed at suspension of polls
3 United Nations Mission in Nepal, Press Statement of Ian Martin
4 United Nations Mission in Nepal, Security Council likely to extend UN’s Mission in Nepal – envoy