UN Report on Progress of Nepal Peace Process

Report of the Secretary-General on the request of Nepal for United Nations assistance in support of its peace process Part I of II [Here is the II part.]

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1796 (2008), by which the Council, following the request of the Government of Nepal and on the basis of the recommendation of the Secretary-General, renewed the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), as set out in resolution 1740 (2007), until 23 July 2008. UNMIN was established as a special political mission with a mandate to monitor the management of arms and armed personnel of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) and the Nepal Army, assist in monitoring ceasefire arrangements, provide technical support for the conduct of the election of a Constituent Assembly in a free and fair atmosphere and provide a small team of electoral monitors.

2. This report reviews progress in the peace process and the implementation of the mandate of UNMIN since my report to the Council of 3 January 2008 (S/2008/5).

II. Progress of the peace process

3. The twice-postponed election for a Constituent Assembly in Nepal, the centrepiece of the political transition charted in the twelve-point understanding of 22 November 2005 between the then Seven-Party Alliance and CPN(M) and in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 21 November 2006, was held on 10 April 2008 in a generally orderly and peaceful atmosphere. I congratulated the Nepalese on the election and commended their enthusiastic participation in this landmark event. Over 63 per cent of Nepal’s 17.6 million eligible voters participated in the polls, with a high turnout of women and young people. The Election Commission repeated the polling at 106 out of the total of 20,886 polling centres.

4. The election was the most observed in Nepal’s history: more than 60,000 national and nearly 800 international observers were deployed across the country. In public statements, major international observer groups, including the European Union, the Asian Network for Free Elections, the Carter Center and others, and major national observer groups concurred that the election was conducted in a relatively peaceful manner and that the administration of the polls had been well executed. The successful holding of the election and broad acceptance of the result is a significant achievement for the peace process and a tribute to the courage and will of the Nepalese people. It also demonstrates the commitment of its political leaders and the professionalism and integrity of the Election Commission.

5. The election had been made possible following the 23-point agreement signed by the parties on 23 December 2007, summarized in my previous report to the Council. The agreement committed the parties to amending the interim Constitution to state that Nepal shall be a federal democratic republic, and that the republic shall be implemented at the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, until which time the Prime Minister shall conduct all the duties of the Head of State. The mixed electoral system for the Constituent Assembly was to be amended, so as to retain 240 seats elected on a first-past-the-post constituency basis while increasing the number of seats elected on the basis of proportional representation from 240 to 335, and those to be nominated by the Council of Ministers from 17 to 26. The Constituent Assembly will thus have 601 members. On 4 January 2008 the interim Legislature-Parliament adopted the amendments in the electoral legislation. The 23-point agreement became the basis for the return of CPN(M) to the interim Government, allowed for cooperation within the Seven-Party Alliance, and made possible the commitment of the Alliance to holding the election on 10 April 2008.

6. The road to the Constituent Assembly election of 10 April was not an easy one. As explained in my previous reports, the political situation in Nepal had become increasingly complicated, many of the structural causes of conflict manifesting themselves as urgent demands by various communities and groups in the intense political climate that had emerged since the People’s Movement of April 2006. Chief among them were the demands of traditionally marginalized groups for adequate representation in determining the future constitution and the structures of the State at all levels. In particular, their desire for a federal system of government and control over their public affairs has been central to the political debate since early 2007.

7. The electoral formula contained in the 23-point agreement was decided by the Seven-Party Alliance without consultation with the Madhesi and Janajati groups, who felt that the agreement did not address their grievances. A number of Madhesi politicians split away from existing parties to form a new party, the Tarai-Madhesi Democratic Party. The party, together with the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) and the recently formed Sadbhawana Party, established the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), an alliance that launched a protest movement in support of a set of demands as a basis for their participation in the election of 10 April. The Government entered into negotiations with these groups in the latter half of February as Madhesi demonstrations and blockades intensified, resulting in nine fatalities and disruption of essential supplies. On 28 February, the Government and UDMF reached an eight-point agreement paving the way for the participation of the Madhesi parties in the April election. A similar agreement was signed on 1 March with the Federal Republican National Front, reflecting Janajati demands. The agreement with UDMF was generally welcomed by Madhesis across the Tarai, but most armed groups that had been operating in the Tarai rejected it and continued protests, including acts of violence, although with limited effect.

8. With these two agreements in place, the attention of the registered political parties turned to election campaigning that intensified through March and early April. Although campaigning was peaceful in many constituencies, credible and persistent reports of obstruction of the activities of other political parties by Maoist cadres, including the Young Communist League (YCL), were received throughout the period, particularly from hill districts. UNMIN expressed its concern to CPN(M) and urged respect for the code of conduct previously agreed upon by all parties contesting the polls, but intimidation and clashes continued in the hills with varying degrees of intensity. There was also election-related violence in Tarai constituencies, and significant breaches of the code of conduct by other political parties.

9. While Maoist cadres and youth were most widely involved in election-related violence, they suffered the largest number of fatalities in the weeks preceding the election. On 8 April, seven apparently unarmed Maoist cadres were killed and 12 others injured in Dang district, when they were fired upon by police accompanying a Nepali Congress candidate. This was the most serious incident in the run-up to the election, but the Maoist leadership showed restraint by vowing to press ahead with the ballot. Other serious incidents had included the killings of two candidates on separate occasions, and the bombing of a mosque in Biratnagar causing two deaths. There were four deaths, including that of a candidate, on polling day.

10. On election day, personnel of the Maoist army and the Nepal Army who were registered to vote in the proportional representation segment of the election cast their ballots in an orderly fashion at polling centres outside their cantonments and barracks. During the campaign there had been reports that some Maoist army combatants had left the cantonments to participate in activities related to the election. UNMIN conducted head counts at the cantonments and stressed to the leadership of CPN(M) and commanders of the Maoist army the importance of compliance with orders to remain in cantonments.

11. Despite reservations, the major parties have accepted the results. The counting of both the first-past-the-post and the proportional representation segments of the election was completed on 23 April, and the final allocation of seats won by each party was announced by the Election Commission on 25 April. CPN(M) has emerged as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly, winning 120 — exactly half — of the seats in the first-past-the-post race and 100 in the proportional representation portion, followed by the Nepali Congress with 37 first-past-the-post and 73 proportional representation seats, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (UML) with 33 first-past-the-post and 70 proportional representation seats. MPRF obtained 30 first-past-the-post and 22 proportional representation seats, while the other two UDMF parties between them won 13 first-past-the-post and 16 proportional representation seats.

12. Final official results were announced on 8 May after the political parties had nominated members from their proportional representation lists and the Election Commission had confirmed that their nominations conformed to the quota requirements of the electoral legislation. Twenty-six members remain to be nominated by the Council of Ministers. The 601-member Constituent Assembly will comprise people representing all of the major social groups in the country, with a greatly increased proportion of women and relatively younger members. Thirty women were elected in first-past-the-post races, all but six of them candidates of CPN(M). With the application of the 50 per cent quota in relation to proportional representation seats, women comprise 33 per cent of the elected members. This is a much higher percentage than the global average of 17.8 per cent of women representatives in elected bodies. Candidates representing a wide diversity of communities were elected from constituencies across the country in the first-past-the-post portion of the election. The constituency results, together with the requirements of the quotas for the proportional representation seats, ensured that the representation of historically marginalized groups — Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits and religious minorities — is greater than in any elected body in Nepal’s history. Although the most disadvantaged groups, Dalits, will remain proportionately underrepresented, the considerable overrepresentation of historically dominant groups has decreased.

13. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, which would double as the country’s legislature until new elections are held under a future constitution, is required by the interim Constitution to be convened within 21 days after the final results were made public by the Election Commission, which occurred on 8 May.

14. Although the Constituent Assembly election has been conducted, significant challenges remain. First and foremost is the formation of a new government. The interim Constitution provides that the Prime Minister shall be selected and portfolios allocated by political consensus among the seven political parties in alliance in November 2006, or that if consensus cannot be reached the Prime Minister shall be elected by a two-thirds majority. No formal agreement was made among the major parties before the election as to how its results would be reflected in the formation of a new government, but it was understood that the Nepali Congress, UML and CPN(M) would remain in coalition, and that political consensus should extend to other parties on the basis of their electoral performance. CPN(M) has made clear that, as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly, it expects to take the leading role in a new government, which it wishes to be a coalition including the Nepali Congress, UML and MPRF. These parties meanwhile have commenced internal discussions regarding their willingness to join with CPN(M) in a new government, and if so on what conditions.

15. A second challenge is the building of sufficient agreement on how to fulfil the commitment in the interim Constitution that the republic shall be implemented at the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, and interim arrangements made for the functions of Head of State during the drafting of the new Constitution.

16. A third challenge remains the completion of the peace process. Although the 23-point agreement provided the basis for going forward to the election, many of its commitments and those of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement remain unfulfilled. No progress was made during the election campaign regarding the discharge from the cantonments of minors and others found ineligible by UNMIN verification. As I have emphasized in previous reports, the agreed mechanisms for dealing with the future of the Maoist army and for the democratization of the Nepal Army need to develop the necessary plans, and the Maoist leadership also faces the task of ending the quasi-security role of YCL and taking responsibility for strengthening the rule of law with full respect for human rights.

The report continues here.

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