The parties to Nepal’s fitful peace process have less than eight weeks to agree on integration of Maoist combatants and federalism before the term of the Constituent Assembly elected to draft a new constitution expires.
Nepal’s Fitful Peace Process , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines this critical phase of Nepal’s political negotiations. If the Constituent Assembly (CA) cannot pass the new constitution by the 28 May deadline, the government will need to secure support from other parties to extend the CA’s term or defer decisions on federalism to another body, risking unrest and losing the chance to enact significant reforms.
“A constitution that any of the larger parties does not sign off on would be contested from the start”, says Anagha Neelakantan, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Nepal. “Visible progress is needed to reassure the fractured polity and public that the task of transforming the state has not been abandoned and to counter the threat of localised violence in the lead up to the 28 May deadline.”
A new government is in place that includes the largest party, the Maoists, but the second largest party and a significant bloc of Madhesi parties from the Tarai region are in opposition, and are threatening to block an extension of the CA. The critical elements of the peace process, integration and the constitution, have been reduced to bargaining chips in struggles over power sharing. Further brinksmanship could be destabilising, while hasty compromises made in a rush to “complete” the peace process could lead to abandonment of commitments to far-reaching institutional and political reform.
If extension of the CA is needed, it should be short and accompanied by a non-negotiable timeline for resolution of the federalism question, and public disclosure of at least a partial draft. The government must try hard to bring in the opposition parties, who in turn should seize the opportunity to share the political gains of success. Agreement on integration of Maoist combatants and dismantling of the People’s Liberation Army is essential to keep state restructuring and security sector reform on the agenda, and to ensure the new constitution is passed. But most parties are in the throes of factional struggles. Internal disagreements and potential splits complicate the outlook.
After fighting over access to power for the past 21 months, including sixteen unsuccessful votes to select a prime minister, and limited progress in the year before that, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a decade of conflict in 2006 has become a ragged document. Many commitments, particularly on addressing conflict-era abuses, have fallen by the wayside. But the major political actors will find it increasingly difficult to go back on those aimed at the future, such as promises of state restructuring, land reform and so-called democratisation of the Nepal Army. Sidelined groups have seen they can get Kathmandu’s attention by threatening violence. Multiple stress points remain.
“It is important that the parties put into practice the reforms they committed to through the new constitution,” says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Not doing so will mean prolonged, possibly heightened contestation and leave the door open to continued threats to Nepal’s democracy.”