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Inside Story

Nepal: Ending the political deadlock?

As millions of Nepalese head to the polls, we ask if politicians will finally be able to agree on a new constitution.

Last updated: 19 Nov 2013 13:01
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Millions are heading to the polls in Nepal to vote for a new government that many hope will end the political stalemate that has kept the Himalayan nation in gridlock since 2008. 

Campaigners are out in force while every political party is trying to get its message across. There are 6,000 candidates, 240 constituencies and 100 different political parties.

The transport strikes CPN Maoists called for the last ten days have remained effective…However, there is not much support for the CPN Maoists. Recently, I travelled to about eight districts in the southern plains and talked to over 200 voters, none of them supported the idea of boycotting the polls ... So far they [CPN] haven't said that they will go back to war, they haven't said they will pick up arms but the question is what they will do in the days to come… There is a kind of war-fatigue among Nepali people so I don't see any chance for them to go back to war or pick up arms.

Ameet Dhakal, the editor of Setopati, an online newspaper based in Nepal

Nepal has been in a political deadlock for years. In 2008, it became a republic after King Gyanendra, whose dynasty dates back to 1768, lost popular support. As part of a peace deal, the Maoist leader known as Prachanda formed a coalition government, but resigned just a year later.

The government has since changed five times, while a special assembly has struggled to reach a consensus on both the structure of the republic and the constitution. Elections have been delayed numerous times as a result.

The country's unpopular monarchy was replaced by a multi-party system. But there have been no municipal elections since 2001 and Nepal remains in a political vacuum.

"Some want to establish a number of states, that is divisive, I don't want that," says one voter while another feels that "politicians make promises. Those that do what we want and need will get my vote."

And that is the central problem – how to satisfy an increasingly bitter and cynical electorate.

"There needs to be a constitution, the transition needs a better framework and Nepali aspirations need to be reflected in the constitution that what's really at stake here, what the future the Nepali state looks like," says Anagha Neelakatan of International Crisis Group.

The current legislature has had four years to draft a constitution, as part of a peace deal reached with former Maoists rebels but still nothing has changed.

Interim Prime Minister and Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, who is charged with overseeing this ballot, has refused to say whether he will step down after the elections.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's poll, several people have been hurt in election-related violence. Thousands of soldiers who had been confined to barracks have now been called back to not only secure the capital Kathmandu but also the rest of the country.

Representatives from the EU, Thailand and the US are just some of the international observers who are in Nepal for the elections. But there is a real concern that if no progress is made now, the country may experience another long period of instability which may well turn violent.

Over 30 political parties have boycotted the current polls and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is calling for strikes to disrupt polls.

So what are the challenges to this election? Will politicians finally be able to agree on a new constitution? Or will the Himalayan nation continue to suffer from the current political deadlock?

Inside Story presenter Jane Dutton is joined by guests: Ameet Dhakal, the editor of Setopati, an online newspaper based in Nepal; Prashant Jha, a former Nepal correspondent with the Indian daily newspaper, The Hindu; and Michael Hutt, a professor of Nepali and Himalayan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

"The big picture is that the country has moved from war to peace, monarchy to a republic, from a Hindu state to a secular state, from a unitary state to a potentially federal state all in the span of the last six years. Now these achievements are on the table but they have not been able to institutionalise it. So the election provides an opportunity to the Nepali political class to institutionalise these achievements ... delivering on the big issues. The constitution and also improving governance to improve livelihoods, I think, are the two fundamental issues that this election is all about ... Also the number of voters this time has dipped from 2008 ... Because so many people are outside the country."

Prashant Jha, a former Nepal correspondent with the Indian daily newspaper, The Hindu

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