What Political Parties, World Community Can Do in Nepal
Political parties must work together and the world community should provide practical help in the peace process, says an ICG report.
A Maoist walk-out from government on 18 September 2007 and mainstream political parties’ intransigence are threatening elections for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) scheduled for 22 November. Although a compromise to bring the Maoists back on board is possible, the heightened tensions add to longstanding problems including weak political will, poor governance and security, and continued claims for representation by marginalised groups. The Maoists could contest elections from outside government but polls without their participation would be meaningless, and they retain the capacity to make the country ungovernable if they oppose the process. Critical elements of the 2006 peace deal, such as security sector reform, remain to be tackled, while implementation and monitoring of past agreements have been minimal. Primary responsibility for steering the process lies with the mainstream parties, which need to demonstrate coherence, commitment and a will to reform their own behaviour if lasting peace is to be established.
Parties have started emphasising the importance of the election, and increased signs of commitment from most have added momentum to a process which had been suffering from dangerous drift. At the same time, the formerly confident Maoists have shown increasing nervousness at facing the electorate. Maintaining a sense of purpose, especially through nationwide campaigning, will increase public confidence and leave less room for spoilers to manoeuvre. Opponents of the process, especially royalists alarmed at the growing republican consensus, are desperate to derail it but have a chance only if the major parties are weak and divided.
Several armed groups have vowed to disrupt the election; mid-September communal violence following the killing of a former vigilante leader left around two dozen dead and illustrated how easily a fragile situation can tilt into dangerous unrest. More serious violence is a real risk. An election postponement will only reduce such dangers if major parties agree on urgent, substantive steps to address the grievances and governance failings that have fostered recent unrest. Failing this, further delays will only make solutions harder to find and invite unhelpful recrimination and finger-pointing.
The November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was never as comprehensive as its name implied, and it has been undermined by limited implementation and monitoring. Maoist discontent is partly a result of exaggerated expectations but has been exacerbated by the lack of effort on all sides to build genuine eight-party consensus and fulfil all parts of the peace deal. The mutual confidence that enabled the agreement to be reached had to increase to ensure its implementation; instead it has decreased in many areas, with parties unwilling to recognise their shared responsibilities to make it work. The ball is in the government’s court, with the mainstream parties needing to address reasonable Maoist concerns, hold firm to democratic principles and take sensible steps to engage CA opponents.
The government and its constituent parties should:
* sustain efforts to bring the Maoists back on board;
* start nationwide electoral campaigning, on a party basis but also emphasising a common agenda of peace and constitutional change, recognising unambiguously that an elected assembly, not the appointed body some politicians have quietly sought, is the only way to guarantee the process’ legitimacy;
* create a secure environment for free and fair polls by reaching cross-party consensus on security plans, engaging groups opposed to the polls in dialogue, and discussing the functioning of post-poll government and the CA, including how to guarantee roles for all stakeholders;
* develop mutually agreed mechanisms to implement the CPA and monitor parties’ fulfilment of their commitments;
* take on security sector reform, with both short-term measures to boost local accountability and trust in the police and by moving forward discussion of longer-term plans, including the future of the national and Maoist armies;
* deal sensibly with Maoist fighters in cantonments, resolving disputes over allowances and facilities and building on cooperation in these areas and the now resumed combatant verification process; and
* tackle impunity (for example, acting on disappearances while starting a genuine consultation on broader transitional justice issues) and restore trust in the judiciary (including by the Maoists stopping parallel people’s courts), and in institutions such as National Human Rights Commission.
The international community should:
* support the peace process and the elections, including by giving practical help through monitors and reminding all political actors, especially the Maoists, that obstructing progress will cost them international legitimacy;
* offer development assistance only in accordance with the spirit of the CPA, which includes recognising the Maoists’ party, the CPN(M), as a legitimate political actor (and part of the government, should it rejoin) and engaging it in donor programs, including in security sector reform and political training; and
* without raising expectations that it can resolve domestic political difficulties, be prepared to offer good offices to facilitate consensus if requested by the parties.
To read the full 11-page report, click here.
Posted by Editor on October 2, 2007 11:53 AM