Nepal: Formation of new government frustrated

July 12, 2008

While the historic elections for a constituent assembly were held in April — a product of the pro-democracy uprising that has ended Nepal's monarchy and created a republic — Nepal is still yet to have a new government sworn in.

Political manoeuvres and the wholesale disregard of previous agreements and precedents have delayed the formation of the new government, despite a clear mandate given to the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), who won the largest vote in the elections.

In particular, the Nepali Congress — the party of the traditional political elites — has actively sought to either exclude the Maoists from power or weaken any Maoist government to the point of irrelevance. The NC have even gone against the provisions of the peace agreements that ended a bloody civil war that lasted for more than a decade.

The April elections were the first time the people of Nepal directly elected a constitutional assembly, despite this being a basic demand of the people for more than 60 years. The former guerrillas of the CPN-M received almost a million more votes than their nearest rival.

Immediately following the elections, CPN-M chairperson Prachanda recommitted his party to a consensus-based government. On April 19, Kantipur Online reported the Maoist leader as saying "we are open to discussion and the next government will be formed through consensus". However, he argued that parallel power centres should not be allowed to exist.


However, creating a parallel power centre is exactly what the opposing forces have tried to achieve.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the media was suddenly flooded with contradictory reports. The Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the NC both tried to blame their electoral failures on the Maoist youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), and a supposed "terror campaign" across the country.

At the same time, all the electoral observers within the country were reporting that the elections were held in a more or less free and fair environment without any intimidation. In fact, according to Nepal News on April 12, former US president Jimmy Carter stated that "Seven people are dead, and 14 seriously wounded, all of them Maoist! … the Maoists were not armed — they were the victims of assassinations".

Two members of the newly elected assembly have been charged with vote rigging and electoral fraud, yet neither of these were Maoists, according to Kantipur Online on May 27.

Following the elections, the NC prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala was expected to step down, however he refused on a wide range of pretences. The NC put forth a series of demands to the Maoists including for them to disband their youth wing — ignoring the fact that the NC maintains its own youth wing — and "return land seized" during the "people's war" the CPN-M waged against the monarchy.

Threat of change

Other demands raised had already been agreed upon in prior peace agreements.

The CPN-UML and the NC also demanded an alteration to the interim constitution to scrap the provision that government be formed by a two-thirds majority. This was included specifically to prevent the political uncertainty and instability that had plagued Nepal's last parliament, however with the CPN-M controlling more than a third of the assembly, it meant that any government would require its approval — something unacceptable to these parties.

Koirala finally officially resigned from his post on June 27, but manoeuvred to remain as effective prime minister. According to Nepal Mountain News, he will legally "continue his role as head of the interim government".

The other parties are desperate to keep the Maoists out of power because they have mass support and the ability to drastically change the country. The NC's support base is made up largely of land owners and civil servant bureaucrats, who are threatened by the Maoists plans for land reform and crackdowns on corruption. The CPN-UML has its position as Nepal's main "leftist" party directly under threat, and it worries that its position in government and the political elite will be destroyed.

It is the threat of change that is feared and being resisted by the political establishment in Kathmandu.

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