Leadership disputes escalated within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), threatening stability of PM KP Oli’s govt and drawing further attention to sluggish handling of COVID-19 pandemic. NCP Co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, among others, demanded Oli’s resignation as PM and party chair for ignoring views of other party members in relation to Oli’s controversial legal move to issue two ordinances 20 April aimed at easing the threshold for registration of new political parties and appointments to Constitutional Council. Ordinances widely criticised for politically exploiting COVID-19 pandemic during which parliament is suspended, and for neglecting dissenting members of Oli’s own cabinet; ordinances eventually repealed 24 April by President Bidya Devi Bhandari. NCP govt’s stifling of dissent was in focus again with 22 April arrest of former bureaucrat Bhim Upadhyaya, a vocal critic of NCP govt, for allegedly posting misinformation about COVID-19 pandemic and accused of defaming Oli and his cabinet members on social media; 13 other people charged under similar cybercrime offences over online posts related to COVID-19 during lockdown. World Food Programme 18 April warned of looming food insecurity due to significant reductions in harvest of wheat and other winter crops; govt seeking up to $860mn in new donor funding to cover healthcare costs. Govt’s continued refusal to re-admit Nepali citizens into country received widespread criticism with Supreme Court 17 April issuing interim order directing govt to rescue high-risk Nepali migrant workers stranded abroad following 22 March ban on incoming international flights; over 20,000 Nepali citizens in India remain unable to return due to border closure and thousands others stuck in lockdown in Gulf countries. Govt 26 April extended nationwide lockdown until 7 May.
Since it was passed amid deadly protests in September 2015, Nepal’s new constitution has deepened ethnic, social and political fractures. The country’s national parties and protesting groups need to find ways to address constitutional disagreements and underlying disputes. There is a clear risk of escalating violence unless all sides understand that without compromise and good faith Nepal faces an existential threat.
Nepal’s major political parties must urgently agree on a roadmap to negotiate on federalism and write the new constitution, whether by holding elections to a new Constituent Assembly or reviving the previous body.
With the future of the Maoist combatants finally settled, Nepal’s peace process has gained momentum after a long stalemate, but challenges remain, particularly the design of a new federal state and evolving coalition and factional dynamics of the parties.
Nepal’s Maoist combatants urgently need to be integrated into the national security forces and rehabilitated or retired to consolidate the peace process.
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.
International Crisis Group worked regularly on Nepal from 2003-2012, publishing 33 reports in the period leading up to and following the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the country’s decade-long civil war. Since 2012, Crisis Group has maintained a watching brief on the country.