By S. Binodkumar Singh*
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center) was elected as the new Prime Minister of Nepal on August 3, 2016, after garnering 63.35 per cent of votes in Parliament. Remarkably, out of 595 lawmakers, 573 cast their votes in the poll, of which 363 were in Dahal’s favour. This is Dahal’s second stint as Prime Minister; he led the government after the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections from August 18, 2008, to May 25, 2009.
In fact, CPN-Maoist Center, a major coalition partner with 82 seats in the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)-led coalition government, on July 12, 2016, had withdrawn its support from the incumbent government on the grounds that CPN-UML was reluctant to implement the “gentlemen’s agreement” and the nine-point agreement made with it on May 5, 2016. According to the “gentleman’s agreement”, former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was to let Dahal take over the reins of government after the tabling of the fiscal budget, and the nine-point agreement provided blanket amnesty for human rights abusers over the decade-long Maoist insurgency, in order to save Maoist leaders from being implicated in war crimes. However, when Oli refused to step down even after the passage of the Appropriation Bill on July 9, 2016, the Maoists decided to withdraw support.
Significantly, on August 4, 2016, as promised in the seven-point agreement signed with Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba on July 13, 2016, to build a new coalition government, in his first speech as Prime Minister, Dahal declared that addressing the demands raised by the agitating Madhesis, Tharus and Janajatis to strengthen internal unity and increasing the acceptance of the Constitution, would be his top priority. The first point of the seven-point agreement is to amend the Constitution, if the need arises, to address the demands of these indigenous groups.
Notably, on August 9, 2016, Prime Minister Dahal presented a proposal to the Madhes-based parties for forming a Joint Task Force to prepare a constitutional amendment proposal. In a major development, during a Cabinet meeting on August 18, 2016, the government decided to declare 52 persons, including 41 Madhes protestors and 11 security force (SF) personnel killed during protests in 2015, as martyrs. Earlier, on August 6, 2016, the government had decided to provide Nepalese Rupee 1 million each to family members of individuals killed during the Madhes movement. Declaration of those killed in the Madhes protests as martyrs was one of the major demands of the agitating Madhes-based parties.
However, on August 6, 2016, Sarvendranath Shukla, Spokesperson of the Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), a constituent of United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), declared that UDMF could discuss its participation in the cabinet if a bill to amend the constitution was tabled in Parliament in the next two months. However, a delay would dampen the front’s chance of joining the government. Likewise, on August 17, 2016, Rajendra Mahato, Chairman of Sadbhawana Party (SP), another UDMF constituent, ruled out the possibility of joining the cabinet, declaring, “We want the government to address our concerns; we are in no hurry to join it.” UDMF has long been demanding constitutional amendments to meet its 11-point demands.
Assuring the Madhesi parties regarding constitutional amendments, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Bimalendra Nidhi stated, on August 11, 2016, “Now, the constitution will be amended in accordance with the agreement signed with the Madhesi Front. The ruling parties have already begun preparations for it. We are ready to amend the constitution to address demands of Madhesis, Janajatis, indigenous communities and Tharus among others.” Separately, on the same day, Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar observed, “We do not have option but to amend the constitution. Along with the amendment, we must implement the basics of the constitution now. Except for the clauses which cannot be amended, constitution is something that is always open for amendment. In fact, such amendment is a progress that goes on.”
Another dilemma for the government is the issue of transitional justice in the country. Two transitional justice bodies, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), were formed in February 2015 in the spirit of the Interim Constitution of 2007 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006, to probe instances of the serious violation of human rights and to discover the status of those who ‘disappeared’ in the course of the armed conflict between the State and the then CPN-Maoist. These bodies closed registration of complaints on August 10, 2016, with around 60,000 cases registered. However, TRC and CIEDP, now have only six months to establish the truth, investigate violations of human rights and make recommendations for action, as terms of the transitional mechanisms expire on February 10, 2017.
Sensing a Herculean task lying ahead, Surya Kiran Gurung, Chairman, TRC, which received over 55,000 complaints on human rights violations, noted, on August 11, 2016, that TRC had finalized a procedure to select war-era cases that could be put on hold on several grounds, including lack of evidence and inadequate details. Similarly, Bishnu Pathak, a member of CIEDP, which got 2,846 complaints, stated, on August 19, 2016, “The government seems reluctant to give us the needed resources so that it can later blame us for not doing our job. CIEDP’s work was much more challenging, as 25 per cent of cases out of 2,846 complaints could require excavation at suspected sites. Digging out one site could take at least one month and DNA test of degenerated bones could take 6 to 9 months. CIEDP would need at least 10 years to complete its assigned task.”
Meanwhile, reiterating the government’s commitment to providing necessary resources as well as the legal setup for the transitional justice mechanism, Prime Minister Dahal, during a meeting with the Chairman and Commissioners of TRC on August 15, 2016, gave an assurance that the government and his party were not seeking blanket amnesty in conflict-era cases of human rights violation. Earlier, on July 31, 2016, Attorney General Hari Phuyal asserted that Dahal was appreciative of the work carried out by the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, and the CPN-Maoist-Center was ready to face conflict-era cases.
For long, the game of toppling and forming governments dominates the national political arena and has badly hampered Nepal’s development and economic growth. Now, again, the CPN-Maoist center and NC, which joined forces against the CPN-UML-led government, have agreed to hold the leadership of government on a rotation basis. Moreover, there is deep conflict of interest on investigating cases relating to war era excesses, and it remains to be seen whether Nepal is able to reconcile the demands of political stability and continuity, on the one hand, and deliver justice for war era crimes, on the other.
*Dr. S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate at Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]