Nepal's Government Considers Amendment to Resolve Constitutional Crisis

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Nepal’s months-long constitutional crisis appears to be winding down after the government indicated that it is willing to acquiesce to some of the core demands of protestors. At a meeting of the Nepali cabinet this weekend, the government agreed to back a bill including a constitutional amendment that, if ratified by the country’s parliament, would alter the new constitution to satisfy two of the three primary grievances of the protestors. Specifically, the amendment would address proportional representation and federal constituency delimitation issues in the constitution. The political crisis over Nepal’s constitution has been particularly bitter given that the nation is almost evenly split over the appropriateness of the new constitution.

“The bill has ensured proportional inclusive participation in various state organs as demanded by the agitating parties and has also proposed delimitation of the electoral constituencies based on population,” Nepal’s Minister for Industry Som Prasad Pandey told the press, according to the Hindu. He added that a political mechanism “will recommend solutions to disputes over the proposed provincial boundaries within three months of its formation.”

“Besides these issues, the demands related to citizenship and other issues can also be settled through negotiations. So, we urge them to withdraw the protests immediately,” Pandey added.

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Across the border to the south, in India, the Nepali government’s signaling has been met positively. Vikas Swarup, a spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry, in a tweet noted that “India welcomes develop’ts in Nepal as positive steps that help create the basis for a resolution of current impasse.” India, given its important interests in Nepal and historic ties, has sought to resolve Nepal’s constitutional crisis. Additionally, due to cross-border ethnic and cultural ties between the Nepalis of the Terai and Indians living along the Nepali border, the current instability, if prolonged, could destabilize the Indian border. The de facto blockade of the border is one symptom of the problems arising for India from the constitutional crisis.

The Indian government has worked closely with the new Nepali government, led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). After Oli was elected in early October, the Indian government has been diplomatically pursuing a political solution to the crisis. It appears, that with Sunday’s cabinet meeting, the crisis could be heading toward a resolution. It is unclear if the acute sense of disenfranchisement driving protests for the last four months will dissipate immediately following the proposed constitutional amendment. The broader social and political issues underpinning the divide in Nepal between Kathmandu elites and the people of the Terai are likely to persist.

Nepal’s constitutional crisis has now been ongoing for over four months. Following the promulgation of a historic new constitution earlier this autumn, protests broke out in the country, primarily among Nepal’s ethnic Madhesi and Tharu groups, who reside in the Terai plains in the south of the country. These groups alleged that the new constitution disenfranchised them, effectively relegating their status to that of second-class citizens. As the crisis continued, protesters in the Terai effectively blockaded Nepal’s border with India, resulting in a near-total cessation of land trade. Critical supplies, including fuel, medicine, and food were in short supply in Nepal as a result. The consequences of the blockade have grown particularly sharp as the winter sets in, forcing the government to consider compromise now.

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