Nepal's Decade Long Political Transition

Early in 2005, when the king of Nepal pulled a military coup, three political forces seemed to be at loggerheads. The monarchists wanted direct rule by the king, and they felt they finally got it. There were seven democratic parties that were under siege, and in disarray. And the Maosits held sway across the countryside. After almost a decade of fighting, they were at their peak, but unable to make the final push into the capital city. They had been the most successful ultra left group on the planet since the end of the Cold War, and they wanted one party communist rule, as was prescribed in their books.

Two of the three forces needed to come together for the logjam to end. Most were trying to get the monarchists and the seven democratic parties to find common ground. Ultimately, with some help from the Delhi establishment, it was the Maoists and the seven democratic parties that formed an alliance. The point of compromise was that they would together fight for a democratic republic, and upon victory, they would hold elections to a constituent assembly to give the country a new, progressive constitution. This was not an easy move for either. The Maoists were abandoning the idea of one party rule, and the democrats were abandoing the idea of constitutional monarchy that they were wed to. They also were making peace with an armed group that had killed or maimed thousands of their party cadres over the years.

Two of the three forces coming together led to the defeat of the third. There was a massive uprising in April 2006, as fully one third of the country came out into the streets. The monarchy was toppled. An interim constitution was put in place. Girija Koirala, the oldest person in the alliance, took charge, even though in bad health, and often needing to be put on an oxygen mask.

The country was to see another major tumult as the Madhesis of the southern plains rose up in an agitation more fierce than the one in April 2006 because the interim constitution lacked the promise of federalism. The agitation had to be relaunched months later.

Elections to the constituent assembly were held in 2008. The Maoists and the Madhesis won. But the Maoist chief who became Prime Minister made one last attempt to bulley the Nepal Army into submission, in what many internal and external players saw as his still alive dreams for one party rule. His attempt failed, but that also pretty much derailed the work of the assembly for much of its term. Elections to the second constituent assembly were held four years later. This time the Maoists and the Madhesis lost, perhaps facing an anti-incumbency wave, and in no little measure because state security forces managed to rig the elections on a massive scale to favor the status quoists. This second assembly passed a constitution in the months after the devastating earthquake of 2015. The document has been considered regressive by the traditionally marginalized groups. And the Madhesis rose up again in their third uprising in a decade.

There is hope genuine federalism will get adopted through constitutional amendments. And the country will then move into an era of regular elections at central, state and local levels, and hopefully rapid economic growth.

There is a feeling the decade long political transition is almost over, although the Madhesi Kranti 3 has yet to see a safe, respectful landing, but the blockade at the major border entry points with India leaves the elite in Kathmandu with little choice but to go along and get along.

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