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Nepal's deadlocked election threatens political turmoil

Lekhanath Pandey Kathmandu
November 28, 2022

After no party emerged as a clear victor in national elections, Nepal is again facing a hung parliament, raising fears of protracted governmental instability.

A woman sits in front of various stacks of ballots
There is no alliance or party with a clear majority more than a week after election dayImage: Amit Machamasi/Zuma/picture alliance

Nepal is set for a hung parliament following its general election on November 20. This raises fears of instability in the Himalayan nation, which has witnessed 30 governments in as many years.

Since transitioning from a monarchy to a democracy in 1990, Nepal has frequently experienced hung parliaments. This has led to political instability, short-lived governments and the failure to deliver on policy.

Although the final result has yet to be released, it is already clear no political party or alliance will win a majority of seats in the 375-member House of Representatives. 

The ruling center-left alliance, led by the Nepali Congress, and a left-conservative alliance led by the main opposition party, CPN-UML, are Nepal's two top political forces. 

However, neither is projected to win a majority of seats required to form a government.

The NC will take an estimated 90 seats, with CPN-UML taking around 80, according to polls data shared by the election commission. The Maoist Center — a former rebel force and now part of the ruling coalition — has maintained a distant third position with 32 projected seats.

Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya has said the final result would come out by Tuesday.

Smaller parties make themselves heard

Both the ruling and the opposition alliances had claimed they would secure enough votes to form a government.

However, the rise of a newly formed National Independent Party (NIP) — led by firebrand journalist-turned-politician Rabi Lamichhane and the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) — dashed their hopes.

The NIP is set to secure fourth place in the seat count after campaigning on a platform of good governance and leadership change.

The RPP is projected to take fifth place, after campaigning on a conservative platform of restoring the monarchy and abolishing secularism.

Altogether, nine political parties and a few independent candidates are projected to win seats in the parliament. With the lack of a clear mandate for any party or alliance, forming a government promises to be complicated.

Anil Giri, a Kathmandu-based journalist, told DW it could take months to form a new government, as any coalition will need support from the RPP, NIP or other more fringe parties.

International implications of Nepal's election

Chandra Dev Bhatta, a geopolitical analyst, said the election could trigger ongoing political instability in Nepal with the rise of many new political forces having different goals and ideologies.

He added that a dysfunctional government will negatively affect Nepal's position in dealing with large, powerful countries like China, India and the United States.

Sher Bahadur Deuba and Narendra Modi
Nepal maintains strong ties with India — here Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is seen with Indian counterpart Narendra ModiImage: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

"The next government will face a daunting challenge to better negotiate with foreign powers to deal with tricky issues, commence new projects and check their influences," Bhatta told DW.

"A weak coalition having partners of different ideologies and priorities will have difficulty conducting consensus-based foreign policy and serving national interests," he added.

Apeksha Shah, an assistant professor of international relations at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, said Nepal's relations with China, India and the West will depend on the outcome of coalition talks.

She said Nepal's primary interest is to maintain stable relationships with more powerful countries in order to attract support and investment.

"As a donor-dependent country, we do not have much room to maneuver in foreign policy and diplomatic fronts," she told DW.

China, India key allies

Especially important is Nepal's relationship with neighboring India and China.

Arindam Bagchi, an Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson, said last week that New Delhi will maintain a "very close relationship with the government the people of Nepal choose."

The Indian ambassador in Kathmandu, Naveen Srivastava, met with Nepal's Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist Center chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal in recent days, which some analysts said is a sign that New Delhi seeks continuation of the current ruling coalition.

A board that says "welcome to Nepal" in Manebhanjyang, India
Nepal and India share a long borderImage: Nishal Lama/NurPhoto/picture alliance

All the major political parties in Nepal uphold the "One China" principle — that is, that Taiwan is part of China — and want to maintain a good relationship with Beijing.

However, the current ruling coalition irked Beijing after agreeing to a $500 million (€482 million) foreign aid grant from the Millennium Challenge Compact, a US government foreign aid agency, to build road and electricity networks. 

China has openly advocated and maneuvered for unity among Nepalese left-wing parties, which have a perceived ideological affinity with communist China, whose goals in Nepal include infrastructure investment in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn