Nepal 2008: Facts on the Conflict
ICG Nepal's Election: A Peaceful Revolution?
The Uncertain Future of the New Republic
July 2008
Nepal's Election: A Peaceful Revolution?
The Uncertain Future of the New Republic

Kathmandu/Brussels, 3 July 2008

Nepal's major parties should cooperate in a coalition government led by the Maoists, who won the April Constituent Assembly (CA) elections (see also Constituent Assembly (CA) elections) , to help the world's newest republic avoid political instability.

The International Crisis Group today released companion reports: Nepal's Election: A Peaceful Revolution?, an extensive analysis of the 10 April vote, and Nepal's New Political Landscape, which examines the major challenges remaining in a peace process that has made considerable progress but is still incomplete.

The voters in the CA elections (see also Constituent Assembly (CA) elections) delivered a mandate for peace and change, giving the Maoists a clear victory but leaving them without an absolute majority. The major established parties, shocked by their defeat, have stalled the formation of a Maoist-led coalition government.

"The political landscape has changed irrevocably, but the old parties have not woken up to the new realities", says Rhoderick Chalmers, Crisis Group's South Asia Deputy Project Director. "The aftermath of the election has been marred by the behaviour of powerful losers, who are reluctant to keep the promise of working on the basis of consensus".

Nepal's Maoists crowned their transition from underground insurgency to open politics with an electoral victory that was impressive but insufficient to allow them to dominate the CA, which must both draft a new constitution and serve as a legislature. Overall, the elections were credible, and the CA is far more representative than any past parliament. But the Maoist's surprise success has thrown the traditionally dominant parties into confusion, as has the emergence of powerful new regional parties.

Multiple issues need to be tackled in order to build a sustainable peace, most critically security sector reform. The continuing existence of both the People's Liberation Army and the Nepal Army is inherently destabilising. The national army remains outside meaningful democratic control, and Maoist willingness to discuss compromise options has met with a brick wall.

All main parties must accept the election results and form a consensus-based government under a Maoist leadership that in turn still has a distance to go to prove that it is irrevocably committed to democratic behaviour. The CA and the new government must also rebuild law and order in the countryside, put an end to the culture of impunity that grew during the long civil war, do more to build peace at the local level and adjust to other changes in the political landscape such as the rise of identity politics.

"The way in which political leaders cope with the political challenges of the election aftermath will determine whether the remarkable result delivers peace and change or further conflict", says Robert Templer, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director.

Asia Report N°155: Nepal's Election: A Peaceful Revolution?


Nepal's constituent assembly (CA) elections (see also Constituent Assembly (CA) elections) marked a major step forward in the peace process, paving the way for the declaration of a federal democratic republic and the start of the constitution-writing process. Although falling short of an outright majority, the Maoists won a decisive victory at the 10 April 2008 polls, securing a mandate for peace and change. However, the largely peaceful and well-managed vote opened a messy new round of political haggling and obstruction. The Maoists have been unable to secure agreement on a new coalition government. Other parties, still struggling to accept their defeat, have set new conditions for supporting a Maoist-led administration.

The elections delivered a clear and, to many, surprising result. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist, CPN(M)), emerged as the largest party by a wide margin, winning more than one-third of CA seats. The largest established parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, UML), were not wiped out but have had difficulty coping with their relatively weak showing - their combined seats are less than those of the Maoists. The NC was particularly hard hit by the strong performance of new Madhesi parties, among which the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) (see also Madhesi) has secured a dominant position. Royalist parties failed to win a single first-past-the-post (FPTP) seat, only saving a toehold in the new assembly through the parallel proportional representation (PR) contest.

Party campaigning built the atmosphere for a lively and passionate contest. Long-suffering and politically sophisticated voters proved a testing audience, keen to hear what candidates had to say for themselves but well prepared to exercise their own judgement. It was not the cleanest of campaigns. The established parties resorted to old tricks to steal a march on their opponents. The Maoists, and to a lesser extent the MJF (see also Madhesi) , distinguished themselves primarily by outdoing their more experienced rivals at their own game. The CPN(M) did use intimidation and coercion but also exercised great restraint in the face of the possibly calculated killing of fifteen of its activists. At the same time it demonstrated formidable organisation and motivation - qualities which were deservedly reflected in its victory.

The vote itself and the complex parallel count went remarkably smoothly, with complete results (including repolling) ready within fifteen days. Still, final results, including the approved lists of parties' selections to fill PR seats, were published only on 8 May, almost a month after the election. Five by-elections, for seats resigned by individuals who won FPTP contests from two constituencies, will probably be held only in September. One declared FPTP result has been suspended by court order following an appeal by the (narrow) loser. The 26 individuals nominated by the cabinet, who will complete the complement of 601 CA members, have yet to be decided thanks to the elusiveness of the required inter-party "consensus".

Whatever the broad political breakdown, the CA is a remarkably inclusive body, far more representative of Nepal's caste, ethnic, religious and regional diversity than any past parliament. One third of its members are women, catapulting the country into regional leadership on gender representation. Thanks largely to the PR component, no fewer than 25 parties have secured CA seats, reflecting a kaleidoscope of ideological and regional or community-specific agendas. The MJF proved that it was more than just a brand name for a vague sense of Madhesi grievance but a viable political machine able to mobilise votes and put identity politics on the map - probably for the foreseeable future.

The Maoist victory was not unsullied. The CPN(M) engaged in orchestrated strong-arm tactics, generally facing down other parties, which embraced similar means. Some resounding constituency results would have embarrassed the more modest political bosses who engineer realistic-looking margins of victory. Nevertheless, its strong showing was not manufactured. Voters were willing to give credit for its struggle and sacrifice, recognising that the Maoists were the architects of the federal republican agenda. They struck a chord with popular aspirations that the old parties had not even woken up to. In this, as in their more dubious techniques, they made full use of the fact that they had stayed in close touch with ordinary people and not lost their heads in Kathmandu politicking. Meanwhile, their convincing victories in many urban constituencies - the CPN(M) emerged the clear winner in the greater Kathmandu area - demonstrated that they did not profit solely by preying on vulnerable rural voters beyond the eyes of observers.

All in all, the elections were credible and a credit to those who organised, fought and voted in them. Although some disruption and intimidation took place, it was far less than predicted. Voters were offered a genuine political debate and real choices. In return, they took their responsibilities seriously and turned out in large numbers to have their say. For all the losers' public petulance, very few collected evidence to file formal complaints. What remains is for the political elite to digest the message that Nepal's citizens have at last been allowed to send them.

This report describes the campaign and vote, assesses the credibility of the election and analyses the results. A companion policy report published simultaneously surveys the new political landscape and examines the remaining transitional challenges. The CA has to deliver a functioning government, act as a legislature and also write a new constitution. Each of these would be a tough task in its own right; managing all simultaneously while seeing the peace process through to a stable conclusion will require further commitment and patience.

Source: International Crisis Group 2008
External links
International Crisis Group (ICG) ICG


Madhesi factbox
Nepal's largest ethnic group; make up about one third of Nepal's 27 million people
Concentrated in the lowland Terai region, southern Nepal, the country's industrial and agricultural heartland
Traditionally, their main ethnic rivals are the politically dominant hill people known as Pahades
Comprised of various sub-groups with several different languages and dialects and have only recently developed a political consciousness and unity of purpose
Campaign for regional autonomy for the Terai, a federal Nepal, and greater representation in parliament
Militant factions such as the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) and the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) have carried out violent acts
Not allied in any way to the Maoists who have separate political goals
Include some of the most impoverished and disadvantaged castes in Nepal such as Badis (traditional sex workers) and Kamaiyas (bonded labourers)
According to rights activists, Maoist leaders are unable to control their supporters.


More Information
Ethnic Groups & Nationalities
Constituent Assembly (CA) elections