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Opinion: Nepal hopes elections will bring stability

Julia Strasheim, GIGA Hamburg Institute
Julia Strasheim
November 25, 2017

For the first time since 1999, parliamentary elections will be held in Nepal on Sunday. However, the vote may not change much in the politically unstable country, says Julia Strasheim from the Helmut Schmidt Foundation.

Nabindra Raj Joshi campaigning in Kathmandu, Nepal
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Mathema

International election monitoring teams have already arrived in Nepal ahead of the elections on November 26 and December 7. On those two days, Nepalese voters will go to the polls to cast their ballots for members of parliament and, ultimately, decide who will rule the country.

These elections are of great importance to Nepal, as the last parliamentary elections were held in 1999 in the midst of a civil war between the government and Maoist rebels. In 2008 and 2013, after the peace agreement reached in 2006, the Nepalese electorate voted for constitutional assemblies that carried out legislative duties but whose main purpose was to adopt a new constitution.

Julia Strasheim, GIGA Hamburg
Julia Strasheim is a Germany-based expert on NepalImage: GIGA Hamburg

The country has had a new constitution since 2015. The upcoming parliamentary elections will be the first to be held in 18 years. 

Does this mark the end of unending instability?

Will these elections help improve stability in the country? This is one of many questions that Nepalese voters are asking themselves. The 10-year civil war between the Maoists and the devastating earthquake in April 2015 dealt a blow to Nepal's development.

No government since 1990 has managed to complete a term. In the past 27 years, 24 prime ministers have been in office. In recent times, governments have often held power for less than a year. Urgent political and economic reforms have proved difficult to implement.

What can be expected of a left-wing alliance?

A left-wing alliance made up of Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal, the Unified Marxist–Leninist party, has drawn a great deal of attention. In last summer's municipal elections, these parties took first and third places, while the Nepali Congress came in second. Now the two left-wing parties have announced plans to form a unified Communist party.

The left-wing alliance will make it difficult for other political parties to achieve a majority in parliament and will likely not have a stabilizing influence. In the past, Nepal's communist parties were notoriously susceptible to infighting and divisions when it came to protecting the interests of the elites.

Nepal Wahlen
The Unified Marxist-Leninist party could form part of a ruling left-wing allianceImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Mathema

Since the end of the civil war, splinter groups, some of which were ultra left-wing, broke away from the Maoists in 2012, 2014 and 2015. One of the splinter parties could barely be distinguished from the main party, as the party acronyms were identical, save for the punctuation.

In the future, the risk of infighting in the Nepalese Communist movement will likely not diminish, as two of the most politically ambitious men in Nepal lead the alliance: Pushpa Kamal Dahal, still known under his nom de guerre "Prachanda" (the "fierce one" in Nepali) and the head of the Communist Party of Nepal, K.P. Oli.

Unsolved minority problem

Intra-party power relations do not top the list of the voters' concerns. The people finally want to see a stable government that will boost economic development, create jobs and invest money in education, road projects health care.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, resigns
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or 'Prachanda,' resigned in MayImage: Reuters/N. Chitrakar

Nepal's ethnic Madhesis, who live in the southern region of Nepal known as the Terai, would like a stronger voice in the political system. For two years now, they have been protesting against the current constitution, which they feel is discriminatory against them.

It is highly unlikely that the left-wing alliance will seek a solution to the ethnic conflict. In the past, Maoists and the Communist party have taken different stances on whether Nepal's federal system should reflect the ethnic dividing lines.

China is a keen observer

However, if the alliance does end up ruling, it will be particularly good news for China. Communist Party Chairman Oli and, to a certain extent, Prachanda from the Maoists are regarded as friends of China. Both politicians have opened the door to Chinese infrastructure projects in the past. China is primarily interested in protecting its interests in Nepal, for example, securing the border with Tibet.

Julia Strasheim has done research on Nepal and is a research associate at the Chancellor Helmut Schmidt Foundation in Hamburg.


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