Nepal’s Election May Not Lift Country’s Permanent Sense of Crisis

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Niranjan Shrestha / AP

A Nepalese policeman removes election-campaign posters from a wall near a polling booth in Bhaktapur, Nepal, on Nov. 18, 2013, one day before election day

For the second time in five years, Nepal goes to the polls to vote for a new government that many hope will end the political stalemate that has kept the former Himalayan kingdom in gridlock since 2008. The signs, though, point to more of the same dysfunction of the past five years.

Hopes were high when the impoverished Himalayan nation staged landmark elections in 2008 that led to the abolition of its centuries-old monarchy and saw the conversion of a Maoist guerrilla rebellion into a mainstream political party that took a leading role in what was the country’s first elected democratic government. But five years and several failed governments later, Nepal’s elected representatives have dithered and bickered, unable to find the necessary consensus to draft a new republican constitution to govern the country’s 27 million people. There has been a power vacuum ever since lawmakers failed to meet a May 2012 deadline to draft the constitution — a deadline that was, in recent years, extended time and time again.

Now, more than 100 parties are contesting Tuesday’s general elections, with analysts anticipating a jumbled, inconclusive outcome. Along with the prospect of a hung parliament, there are also fears of widespread Maoist unrest. The Maoists’ political party — led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who goes by his nom de guerre Prachanda — splintered last year. The offshoot Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which many in Nepal call the real Maoists, are boycotting the elections and have called for a 10-day strike until Nov. 20. They demand the dissolution of the present interim government — formed earlier this year — and elections at a later date. Before they came out of the cold, the Maoists had waged a decadelong insurgency against the Nepal’s long-ruling Hindu monarchy, spurred in part by the stultifying social inequities brought about by royal rule from Kathmandu. Some now see their revolutionary ambitions to be at odds with the country’s fledgling democratic project.

(MORE: Opposition Strikes Cripple Nepalese Capital)

“No party is going to get a simple majority even this time. It’s just going to be a repeat of 2008,” Surendra K.C., a Kathmandu-based independent political analyst, tells TIME. “Moreover the offshoot of the Maoist party, staying out of the elections, is going to be a problem. If this continues another Maoist insurgency cannot be ruled out.”

And while the political turmoil unfurls, the socioeconomic condition of Nepal has gone from bad to worse with constant fuel and water shortages and more than 14 hours of power cuts a day. Millions of Nepalese have voted with their feet, leaving the country for often dangerous migrant-worker jobs in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. According to World Bank data, Nepal’s annual GDP growth tumbled from 6% in 2008 to 5% last year. Economic growth dipped to 3.6 % in 2013. “Preoccupation with the prolonged political transition,” a World Bank overview on Nepal says, has meant not enough has been done to “improve the investment climate, stimulate growth, and create more private-sector jobs.” There are few signs, as of yet, that Nepal’s tortuous political transition — and the funk that it has set in place over this corner of the Himalayas — is about to end.

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