By S. Binodkumar Singh*
Though the insurgency has ended in Nepal, political violence continued through 2016. However, not a single insurgency-related fatality was recorded in 2016, and this has been the case since 2013, with not a single insurgency-related fatality on record. At the peak of insurgency, Nepal had seen 4,896 fatalities in 2002 alone, including 3,992 Maoists, 666 Security Force (SF) personnel and 238 civilians.
Political violence, on the other hand, has escalated since July 1, 2015, when cadres of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), a four party alliance of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum Nepal (MPRF-N), Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Sadbhavana Party (SP) and National Madhes Shadbhavana Party (NMSP), burnt copies of the preliminary draft of the new Constitution in Kathmandu, the Capital city, because it failed to incorporate their demands. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), six persons, including five civilians and one Security Force (SF) trooper, were killed and another 16, including 13 civilians and three SF personnel, were injured in violent protests across the country in 2016. In 2015, at least 57 persons, including 38 civilians and 19 SF personnel were killed and another 700, including 544 civilians and 156 SF personnel, were injured in violent protests.
Of late, on January 3, 2017, the Legislature-Parliament meeting was postponed till January 8, 2017, as the main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), had been obstructing the meeting since the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Centre)-led Government, registered a seven-point Constitution Amendment Bill at the Parliament Secretariat on November 29, 2016, to address the concerns of Madhes-based parties. The Constitution had been adopted in a historical step on September 20, 2015. The most significant aspect of the Amendment Bill was the proposal to leave only six Districts, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilbastu, Dang, Banke and Bardiya, in Province 5, excluding the six hill Districts of Palpa, Arghakhanchi, Gulmi, Rukum, Rolpa and Pyuthan, to add them to Province 4. The proposed Amendment provides for two Madhes dominated Provinces: Province 2 and Province 5, as demanded in the 11-point demands of the UDMF. Province 2 was already Madhes dominated. The Bill also seeks to amend the Constitutional provisions pertaining to citizenship, provincial border, and proportional representation, among other aspects.
On December 1, 2016, CPN-UML blocked Parliamentary proceedings, terming the Constitution Amendment Bill anti-national. Further, on December 13, 2016, a joint meeting of eight political parties, including CPN-UML, Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist (CPN-ML), Rastriya Janamorcha (RJ), Nepal Workers and Peasants’ Party (NWPP), Nepal Parivar Dal (NPD) Nepa Party (NP), Janamukti Loktantrik Party (JLP) and Madhesi Samata Party (MSP), decided to continue the ‘House obstruction’ and intensify their protests until the Bill was withdrawn. Threatening not to let Parliament endorse the Constitution Amendment Bill at any cost, CPN-UML Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli, while addressing a mass rally of opposition parties at Exhibition Road in Kathmandu on January 6, 2017, asserted, “The UML will not allow through Parliament any proposal which is against the national interest. Rest assured that the national interest will not be let down as long as the UML is there.”
Separately, the agitating Madhesi parties to meet other demands had expressed their own demands. National Madhes Socialist Party (NMSP) General Secretary Keshav Jha, expressed serious dissatisfaction over the possible number of local units in the Terai, declaring, on December 20, 2016, “The Madhes-based parties can settle for at least 46 percent of local units in the Terai Districts. We are not saying the number should be directly proportionate with the population. We can consider four to five percent for geography; otherwise population should be the major factor for fixing the number of local units.” Worse, warning of secessionist forces that would rise in the country if the Constitution Amendment move and federalism failed, SP Chairperson Rajendra Mahato observed, on January 1, 2017, “As Constitution amendment is a must to address the concerns of Madhesi communities, it must happen at any cost for the welfare of the large community (sic).” Further, on January 3, 2017, Mahato added “The delineation of the provinces as it is in the Constitution works against the will of the Madhesi and indigenous people here. The UML has been a prime hindrance in our attempt to correct it through an amendment. It is only fair to kick the UML out from the Madhes, since it has been restricting the Madhesis in their own ground.”
Meanwhile, at a time when the main opposition party, CPN-UML, is piling pressure on the Government to withdraw the Bill, Prime Minister Pusha Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda on December 7, 2016, argued, “The UML will realize its mistake of starting protests against the Bill that seeks to unify hills, mountains and plains; and further strengthens the national unity and geographical indivisibleness.” Reaffirming the Government’s stand, Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi added on December 30, 2016, “The UML stance on the Constitution Amendment Bill is against democracy, the parliamentary system and constitutional norms. I would like to urge UML to back down from its stance.”
In order to end the ongoing Parliamentary stalemate, Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar gave a three-day ultimatum on December 29, 2016, to secure a consensus, disclosing, “The parties have informed me that they are close to consensus. I have given them a time of three days so that they can have more serious discussions.” The Speaker also warned that the Parliament would follow set procedures to resume its business if the parties failed to clear the way. Moreover, in order to ensure that the Legislative applied its collective wisdom in the formulation of legislation on the basis of the principle of separation of powers, the Supreme Court (SC), on January 2, 2017, cleared the decks for the Government to endorse the Constitution Amendment Bill.
While no consensus could be reached within the Speaker’s deadline, the SC’s ruling has cleared the path to take the Bill forward in the House. On January 8, 2017, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center)-led Government tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill amid protests from opposition party lawmakers. Earlier, Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-Maoist Center and UDMF, during a tripartite meeting held at the Prime Minister’s residence in Kathmandu on January 5, 2017, consequently decided to table the Constitution Amendment Bill at the Parliament meeting scheduled for January 8, 2017. The parties also agreed that the Government would receive the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission (LBRC)’s report at the earliest and move ahead for local, provincial and federal elections.
The holding of three elections – local, provincial and federal – by December 2017, as envisaged in the new Constitution, is another challenge confronting Nepal. The last time local elections were held in the country was some 19 years ago, in 1997. Since then, the local bodies – Village Development Committees (VDCs), municipalities, District Development Committees (DDCs) and Metropolitan Councils – have been without people’s representatives. Significantly, on January 6, 2017, the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission (LBRC) submitted its 1,718-page report in 16 volumes, to Minister of Local Development Hitraj Pandey in the presence of Prime Minister Dahal, recommending four Metropolitan Cities – Kathmandu, Chitwan, Lalitpur and Kaski Districts – 12 Sub-Metropolitan Cities, 241 municipalities, 462 village units and 719 local units with 6,553 VDCs. The report was a milestone as far as the implementation of the Constitution and federalism was concerned. The commission, which has two more months left do its work before it expires on March 13, 2017, will prepare blueprints of special clusters and autonomous zones according to the Terms of Reference (ToR) given by the Government.
Another dilemma for the present Government is the issue of transitional justice. Resolving outstanding transitional justice issues through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) was one of Dahal’s proclaimed priorities when he was sworn as Prime Minister on August 3, 2016. TRC had started recording testimonies regarding insurgency-era rights’ violations and crimes from April 17, 2016, at District Peace Committee Offices in all 75 Districts, and has received 57,753 complaints from victims of the insurgency. Similarly, CIEDP, the commission formed to investigate conflict-related disappearances cases, which started receiving complaints on April 14, 2016, has received over 2,800 complaints from those whose kin had disappeared during the 10-year insurgency. Herculean tasks lie ahead for TRC and CIEDP, to establish the truth, investigate violations of human rights and make recommendations for action, as the terms of the transitional mechanisms expire on February 10, 2017. Moreover, on November 26, 2016, TRC Chairman Surya Kiran Gurung and CIEDP Chairman Lokendra Mallick accused the Government of weakening the two bodies by not providing legal and financial support. TRC and CIEDP were formed on February 10, 2015, in the spirit of the Interim Constitution of 2007 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of November 12, 2006, to probe instances of serious violations of human rights and find the status of those who were disappeared in the course of the armed conflict between the State and the then Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) from February 13, 1996, to November 21, 2006.
Earlier, at a time when the victims and international human rights agencies were urging the Government to bring the Transitional Justice Act on par with international standards, five Maoist parties – New Force Nepal led by Baburam Bhattarai, CPN-Revolutionary Maoist led by Mohan Baidya, CPN (Maoist) led by Matrika Yadav and Revolutionary Communist Party Nepal led by Mani Chandra Thapa, besides then Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal – in a joint statement on April 21, 2016, called on the then KP Sharma-led Government to scrap conflict-era cases, claiming that such cases violated the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) of 2006. Further, on May 19, 2016, ten Maoist parties, at a joint convention in Kathmandu, united to form a new force under former rebel commander Pushpa Kamal Dahal, to give birth to what they decided to call the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Centre). Addressing the function organized to announce the unification, Chairman Dahal declared, “The days of conspiracy against the revolutionary agenda of republic, secularism and proportional representation are over. This unification is a message loud and clear that the days of people’s victory are here. This unification guarantees that the transitional justice mechanisms will function in line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”
The Dahal-led Government is facing a possible crisis, as the Constitution Amendment Bill requires at least a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament. As the main opposition party CPN-UML and seven other parties object to the Amendment, it is uncertain whether the Bill can secure passage through Parliament. Moreover, despite the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms, impunity for violations committed both during the conflict and in the post-conflict era remains entrenched in the country’s political culture. It remains to be seen whether Nepal is able to reconcile the demands of political stability and continuity, on the one hand, and of justice for war era excesses, on the other, to establish an enduring constitutional and political order that will meet the demands of equity and governance.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management