INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP – NEW REPORT
Kathmandu/Brussels, 2 April 2008: Elections for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly on 10 April could be marred by political violence, but if all parties cooperate, it will open the next stage in the peace process.
Nepal’s Election and Beyond,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the positive signs and challenges in the run-up to the elections and calls upon the current seven-party coalition, including the Maoists, to prepare for difficult negotiations in the post-poll period in order to manage a transition to a new unity government.
There are many encouraging indications for the upcoming elections. Party campaigning has built up momentum and, combined with critical media scrutiny, has been boosting public awareness of the electoral system and party positions. The country has considerable experience of elections, although this is the first time Nepalis will elect a constitution-drafting body.
“It will be hard for any major party to back out of the elections now”, says Rhoderick Chalmers, Crisis Group’s South Asia Deputy Project Director. “But the vote itself is only one step: in the days and weeks afterward, leaders will need to respect the outcome of the poll, cope with challenges to the results and then prepare a unity government”.
The 23-point agreement of December 2007 committed the governing parties to make Nepal a federal democratic republic as soon as the Constituent Assembly (which will both write a constitution and serve as interim parliament) convenes and to implement still incomplete aspects of the peace process.
The main challenges concern the violence and intimidation that have dogged the campaign. Public security has been dismal throughout the ceasefire. Armed groups active in the Tarai plains have vowed to disrupt the elections, and the main parties have also engaged in misconduct. The Maoists are responsible for the most systematic attacks on other parties, but they have also been the greatest victims, with eight of their activists killed. The widely respected Election Commission has to manage a complex parallel electoral system, which poses considerable technical and logistical challenges, as well as dealing with likely appeals.
The post-poll period will likely be difficult and dangerous. Under the best of circumstances, it will probably take three weeks to determine final results, and the behaviour of powerful losers will shape the immediate aftermath. Therefore, the parties’ first commitment must be to respect the election’s outcome, as long as it is broadly free and fair. Whatever the results, seven-party cohesion would smooth the way forward, but leaders will need to prepare for a broader unity government that includes other parties that do well at the polls. The priority will then be to tackle the sensitive remaining parts of the peace deal, starting with grasping the nettle of security sector reform and converting the extended military ceasefire into structural support for sustainable peace.
“Surviving the rocky road to the polls and their probably turbulent aftermath will require cooperation and forward planning from the main parties”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director.
Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601
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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org