By S. Binodkumar Singh*
Nepal, which recorded 13,301 insurgency related fatalities between 2000 and 2012, and saw 4,896 fatalities in a single year at peak in 2002, sustained the environment of peace that had been established in 2013. Not a single insurgency-related fatality is on record between 2013 and 2017. However, though the insurgency has subsided, Nepal continues to witness significant political turmoil and occasional violence.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 18 persons, including 17 civilians and one SF trooper, were killed and another 175, including 156 civilians and 19 SF personnel, were injured, in violent clashes across the country through 2017. In 2016, six persons, including five civilians and one SF trooper, were killed and another 16, including 13 civilians and three SF personnel, were injured in violent clashes.
Significantly, however, after an interregnum of 20 years, local level elections were held in Nepal in three phases in 2017. The first round was conducted on May 14, 2017, in 34 Districts of Province Nos. 3, 4 and 6, to elect representatives in 283 local level institutions, including four metropolitan cities, one sub-metropolitan city, 92 municipalities and 186 rural municipalities. 71 per cent of registered voters took part in these elections. The second phase of local elections was held on June 28, 2017, for 334 local units including one metropolitan city, seven sub-metropolitan cities, 111 municipalities and 215 rural municipalities in 35 Districts of Province 1, 5 and 7. 73.69 per cent of voters cast their votes in the elections. On September 18, 2017, the third and final phase of local elections was held for 136 local units including one metropolitan city, three sub-metropolii, 73 municipalities and 59 rural municipalities in the eight Districts of Province 2 in Nepal. Of the 2,664,950 registered voters, 73 per cent cast their votes. The last local elections in Nepal had been held in 1997.
Another remarkable development in 2017 was that, after a gap of 18 years, the House of Representative (HoR) and Provincial Assembly (PA) elections were held in two phases. The first phase for 37 HoR and 74 PA seats was held across 32 Hill Districts in six Provinces on November 26, 2017. 65 per cent of 3.19 million voters cast their votes. Voting for the remaining 128 HoR and 256 PA seats was held on December 7, 2017, in the second phase covering 45 Districts, including Kathmandu Valley and the southern plains of Nepal known as the Terai. 70 per cent of 12.21 million voters cast their votes in the second phase. This is for the first time that elections for HoR and PA are being conducted under the new Constitution adopted on September 20, 2015. The last parliamentary poll was held in 1999.
The counting of votes under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system to elect 165 HoR seats and 330 PA seats concluded on December 13, 2017, with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) emerging as the single largest party. The CPN-UML won 80 HoR seats and 167 PA seats. Its ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center), bagged 36 HoR seats and 74 PA seats. The two parties, which had formed the Left Alliance, have left the governing Nepali Congress (NC) far behind. NC managed to claim only 23 HoR constituencies and 41 PA constituencies. The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) won 11 HoR and 16 PA seats, while the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N) won 10 HoR and 24 PA seats. The Naya Shakti Party-Nepal (NSP-N), Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP), Rastriya Janamorcha, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and an independent candidate emerged victorious in one HoR constituency each. In PA elections, independent candidates registered wins in three constituencies, NSP-N and Rastriya Janamorcha in two each, and NWPP in one.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) announced the number of seats secured by the political parties under the Proportional Representation (PR) system on December 22, 2017. Among 220 seats allocated under the PR category, CPN-UML secured 75 seats, NC 72, CPN-Maoist Center 35. FSF-N 13, RPP 12, RJP-N and Bibeksheel Sajha Party three each, Rastriya Janamorcha two, while NSP-N, NWPP, Federal Democratic National Forum, Nepal Federal Socialist Party, and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Democratic) had to be satisfied with a single seat each. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Ayodhee Prasad Yadav speaking at a function organized in Kathmandu on December 31, 2017, clarified that the parliamentary seats under the PR system would be allocated only after the election of the National Assembly (NA), the upper house of Parliament.
However, NC and the CPN-UML are at odds as to whether the new Prime Minister should be elected prior to the formation of the NA. CPN-UML claims that the new Prime Minister can be appointed by the President even prior to the election of the NA. But NC, which has met with a humiliating defeat in the just concluded polls, insists that Parliament can’t take full shape without the election of the NA. NC leaders are also urging the EC to ensure at least 33 percent women’s representation in Parliament as a whole, including HoR and NA, arguing that if a sufficient number of women lawmakers are not elected to NA, the EC needs to ask political parties to make up the shortfall from the Lower House.
Significantly, on October 24, 2017, the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Government issued the National Assembly Election Ordinance, which contains provisions for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. The Ordinance had been pending at the Office of the President due to a dispute between parties over the electoral system. With a view to ending the political deadlock, President Bidya Devi Bhandari on December 29, 2017, authenticated the Ordinance. Accordingly, the Government on January 5, 2018, decided to hold the NA election on February 7, 2018.
On January 24, 2018, 83 candidates filed their nominations for the NA elections. On January 29, 2018, the EC announced that 24 candidates were elected to the NA unopposed from seven Provincial Assemblies, as no other contender filed nominations for those seats or some of the contenders withdrew their nominations. Eight candidates in Province-2, six candidates each in Province-1 and Province-7, three candidates in Province-5 and one candidate in Province-4 were elected unopposed. The election will be held for all eight seats in Province-3 and Province-6. Of the 59-member NA, three members will be nominated by the President on the recommendation of Government. The remaining 32 NA seats will be contested.
However, CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal in a meeting with Prime Minister Deuba, who heads the NC-led Government, at his official residence in Kathmandu on December 16, 2017, urged the Prime Minister to make political and constitutional appointments only on the basis of an agreement among the three major political parties. Stating that the elections had given a new mandate, the CPN-Maoist Center Chairman urged the Prime Minister not to make the political appointments, including that of the State Governors. Dahal also asked Prime Minister Deuba to initiate discussions among the major parties for a way out on the issue of NA elections. Similarly, accusing the NC of disrespecting and refusing to accept the people’s mandate, CPN-UML Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli observed on December 16, 2017, “The NC has indicated that it is reluctant to accept the popular mandate by raising the issue of legal hurdles. It is not appropriate to wrongly use and define a respected institution.” He also remarked that NC tabled an unconstitutional ordinance on the NA election so as to suit its own interests, following its electoral defeat in the local level elections.
Meanwhile, ignoring the objections of the Left Alliance, the Deuba-led Government recommended Governors of the seven provinces and named seven temporary provincial workstations on January 17, 2018. In another significant move toward implementing the federal set up as envisioned by the new Constitution, the newly-elected members of the PA in all seven provinces took the oath of office and secrecy on January 21, 2018. Outstandingly, the first ever meeting of the PA was held at the headquarters of Province 3 in Hetauda on February 1, 2018. All the 110 members elected from Sindhuli, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok, Kavre, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Chitwan and Makwanpur Districts attended the first session in Hetauda.
Accusing the Deuba-led Government of misinterpreting the Constitution and blocking formation of the new Government, CPN-UML, in a press release on January 8, 2018, observed “It is unbelievable that in a democratic system poll results are not announced and a new Government is not formed. The way the Government is misinterpreting the Constitution and blocking the formation of a new government is against the spirit of the Constitution.” Further, speaking at a press conference at CPN-UML’s headquarters in Kathmandu on January 25, 2018, CPN-UML Chairman Oli, declared, “The new Government would review all the decisions taken by the caretaker Government and revoke the ones that could be against the Constitution, law and national interest.”
Another dilemma for the Deuba-led Government was the issue of transitional justice. Representatives of the Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP), an association of 13 organizations working for conflict victims, gave ultimatum on January 10, 2018, to the Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) and Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) officials to complete investigations into the war-era cases on time, or quit. They said that they were not satisfied with the performance of the two transitional justice bodies, which have not yet completed the final investigation into a single case. TRC and CIEDP were formed on February 7, 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) between February 13, 1996, and November 21, 2006. The commissions were formed with a two-year term. They were awarded the first one-year extension in February 2017. Their extended tenure is set to expire on February 7, 2018.
Nine days before the end of their tenure, the TRC and the CIEDP, seeking political commitment from the major parties to the investigation process before requesting the Government for another extension of their term on January 30, 2017, blamed non-cooperation from the Government and the political parties for their poor performance in looking into the war-era cases of human rights’ violations. CIEDP has begun detailed investigation into just 207 cases among the 3,093 filed before it, while TRC, which received 60,298 cases, has completed a preliminary probe into just 827 cases. Consequently, on January 5, 2018, the Government decided to extend the tenure of CIEDP and TRC by another year.
In 2017, Nepal took to democracy in a big way after centuries of absolute monarchy followed by decades of chaos. The successful completion of local level elections paved the way for provincial and Parliamentary elections, indicating that the country’s political transition is likely to be completed in the foreseeable future, and the sway of the Constitution would be fully established. Though the final result is yet to be announced for the two phases of the polls, the winner is clear – a coalition of two communist parties, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre, who are set to control the Government.
* S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management