Turning Point

At a time when Sino-US and China-India relations have nosedived, Washington’s interest in courting Kathmandu away from Beijing has also peaked.

By Ambassador Naghmana A. Hashmi | July 2023

Just because Nepal’s social and political conflicts have subsided in recent years does not mean the underlying problems of the Himalayan nation have been addressed to a large degree. This was amply demonstrated in the Elections of November 2022 in Nepal which once again resulted in a hung parliament with no single political party gaining absolute majority. As a rule, the lack of a clear victor in the election add to political instability and result in a period of political readjustments and alliances.

The November 2022 election in Nepal represented a break from the past; it displayed some new facets. First, voters unambiguously expressed frustration at the establishment. About six current ministers and 60 former parliamentarians lost their bids to return to parliament. Though the three major parties avoided the worst outcome, many of their senior leaders failed to win their seats and independent candidates made significant gains, most of whom appear to be in favour of resurgent monarchist forces and a consolidation of upper-caste rule.

The election marked a comeback of social and political conservatism in Nepali politics. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), a monarchist and Hindu-nationalist party, won seven seats and almost 6 percent of the votes (in the 2017 election, it won one seat and 2 percent of the votes). Overall, the representation of Dalits and other marginalized groups in the current parliament is lower than in previous elections. People’s frustration was also manifested at the regional level. A new regional party, led by C.K. Raut, disrupted the established order in Madhes province in southern Nepal in national and provincial elections.

This was the second elections held in Nepal after the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2015 and confirmed the trend towards re-consolidation of political power on the part of historically privileged upper-caste minority groups. The 2015 constitution did not address Nepal’s deep-seated structural problems, particularly those of gender and social exclusion, various forms of inequalities, and governance, which fuelled the Maoist insurgency and the 2006 revolution. Instead, the constitution further consolidated the power of the dominant group, upper-caste Brahmins and Chhetris.

Political instability is not a new phenomenon in Nepal. The country has had a number of unstable governments, even when a single party obtained a comfortable majority in the parliament. The latest election has significantly increased short- and long-term uncertainty, affecting the everyday lives of most people in Nepal, as well as cast a shadow over the future of inclusive democracy in the country as a whole. Nepal’s constitution is the only modern-day constitution in which secularism is defined as state protection of Sanatan traditions, meaning Hinduism and the caste system. The outcomes of the current elections are proof of the dominant caste groups’ enduring power. It is noteworthy that the Nepali Congress Party, the largest party in Nepal with deep ties to India’s National Congress party, chose to ignore “secularism” in its recent election manifesto, a step that should be concerning to secularists in and beyond Nepal.

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