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Election Boycott in Nepal has the Potential to Cause Unrest

After many years of political unrest, Nepal is just days away from an election. But with thirty-three fringe parties threatening to boycott the election, a move that could incite violence, there is no guarantee of a peaceful day at the polls.

Background

Nepal is on the verge of institutionalising their new democratic system, with elections to be held on 19 November. Currently led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, Nepalese citizens will finally have the opportunity to vote, after repeated delays. It has been seven years since the Nepalese Civil War ended and although there is now far greater cooperation between the different factions of parliament, tensions are still running high in the lead-up to the election. Even though the election is set to go ahead, thirty-three minor parties, led by Mohan Baidya’s Communist Party Nepal (Maoist), look likely to boycott the poll and potentially incite violence during the election period.

Comment

From February 1996 to November 2006, Nepal was consumed by civil war, which ended when the Government of Nepal and Maoist guerrillas signed a peace accord. The ten-year rebel insurgency claimed the lives of around 15,000 people, while over 100,000 others were internally displaced. Putting down their weapons and moving into parliament, members of the Maoist group shrugged off the guerrilla mantle, creating the opportunity to bring about change in a peaceful manner. Along with this, the rebels agreed to allow the UN to monitor their weapons, prompting the UN to describe the deal as “another key step forward in the peace process”.

But since the ceasefire was announced in 2006, the transition has not been as smooth as was hoped. With mass strikes and rallies, violence and general unrest, major cities, such as the capital Kathmandu, have seen near total shut-downs. In 2010, a national strike was called by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). This particular strike crippled the country, with shops, businesses, schools and offices being ordered to shut down by the party. Supporters of the party filled the streets in protest against the government, saying they would not back down until the government resigned. The Maoist group did not achieve its goal of pressuring the prime minister and his government to step down, but did bring the country to a near standstill over the six-day duration of the strike.

Now, with the upcoming election, there are fears that a boycott by the Mohan Baidya-led CPN (M) could lead to unrest. The Baidya group has not only decided to boycott the election, but has also threatened to disrupt it. General Secretary for the CPN (M), Ram Bahadur Thapa, has not avoided the issue of the potential breakaway group’s violence, stating that they would launch a “second armed struggle” as the election draws near. In addition to this, a statement released by the party on 2 November put to rest any chance of cooperation. The statement showed that talks between the four major parties and the government had ended. It went on to say that: “The opposing 33-party alliance will carry out ‘political and publicity’ campaigns and effectively and strongly boycott the Nov 19 elections”.

The unrest and calls to disrupt the election come after certain demands by the CPN (M) were not met. The demands called for the current administration to be disbanded and that its leader, Khil Raj Regmi, resign from his post as Chief Justice. The party also sought to have the election postponed until May next year. There has been some debate as to whether some of these demands should have been met, to appease the party and avoid the potential conflict that may arise due to the boycott. But it would seem that, whether or not the demands are met, the thirty-three fringe parties are looking for an excuse to boycott the election, to bring about change by a less democratic process.

In reaction to the threats made by the CPN (M), it seems possible that the Nepalese armed forces will be deployed during the elections. Sixty-one troops have been prepared to deal with violence should conflict arise; with the party declaring they will stage a ten-day protest during the election, there are no guarantees that the troops will not be used. Now with the election just a few days away, all eyes in the region will be turned towards Nepal, to see how the process unfolds.

David Martin
Research Assistant
Indian Ocean Research Programme