2016 ends crises but mess remains

Published On: January 2, 2017 09:35 AM NPT By: Kosh Raj Koirala/Ashok Dahal

KATHMANDU, Jan 2: When Nepal entered  the year 2016, it had been already three months since the duly-elected Constituent Assembly (CA) promulgated a new constitution amidst boycott by Madhes-based parties. The fallout of this-i.e. border blockade- left life across the country crippled, with acute shortages of petroleum products including cooking gas and other daily essentials. As the border-centric protest by Madhes-based parties was tacitly supported by India, it also took Nepal-India relations to its lowest since 1989.

The new year brought relief, with the agitating Madhes parties withdrawing their months-long protest at various border points in early February once the constitution was amended by Parliament on January 23. The amendment broadened the provisions concerning inclusive proportional representation of backward communities in all state organs and revised the basis for delineation of the electoral constituencies. Population was taken as the main basis and geography as a secondary basis. 

While the amendment helped end the protests by Madhes-based parties, the visit of then prime minister K P Sharma Oli to India on February 19 sought to mend relations with the southern neighbor. During his visit, Oli signed a transit agreement with India, allowing Nepali vehicles to travel to Bangladesh through the Kakarvitta-Bangbandhu corridor, and separate agreements for the use of Vishakhapatnam port and the import of an additional 80 MW of electricity. But India still refrained from welcoming the new statute, wishing that ‘other outstanding issues are similarly addressed in a constructive spirit’. 

While relations with India were still sour, Nepal signed a number of key agreements with China, including a trade and transit treaty, during Oli’s subsequent visit to the northern neighbor. The Trade and Transit Treaty in principle paved the way for landlocked Nepal’s access to third countries, breaking the sole reliance on India. Oli also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the construction of a railway link between the two countries through Tibet. This earned him huge kudos back in Nepal. 

Although Oli’s popularity soared because of his nationalistic stance in the face of the months-long unofficial economic blockade, his failure to bring the agitating Madhes-based parties on board the constitution amendment process not only continued to sour relations with India, but also created a rift within the ruling coalition. As such, the CPN (Maoist Center) decided to withdraw its support from the government in July, and forged an alliance with the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC). The Maoists cited Oli’s failure to address the grievances of Madhes-based parties and maintain balanced relations with both India and China as reasons for withdrawing their support from the government. 

Prime Minister Oli tendered his resignation before voting was to take place in Parliament on a no-confidence motion jointly sponsored by the NC and Maoist Center. This paved the way for Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal to become  prime minister of the country a second time, on August 3. While the new government faced a backlash from the public as Oli’s ouster was widely deemed to  have been engineered by  the Indians, the agitating Madhes-based parties also declined to join the government until their demands were addressed. This although they had helped Dahal reach the prime ministerial berth.

The sour relations between the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) after the fall of the Oli government seemingly improved after lawmakers of both parties joined hands to register an impeachment motion against chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) Lok Man Singh Karki on October 20. However, the bonhomie came to an abrupt end after the ruling parties registered a seven-point constitution amendment bill in Parliament on November 29, amid opposition by the UML. The amendment bill that among other things proposes to take five hill districts out of Province 5 ignited street protests, leaving the government still unable to table it in Parliament and the Madhes-based parties still agitating in the streets. 

With the course of politics failing to move smoothly even as the January 2018 deadline for holding all three tiers of elections  fast approached, 2016 remained a mixed year on the diplomatic front. “With things blurred by domestic politics, there is visible inconsistency in our foreign policy. We must be working hard to restore our lost credibility in the eyes of our immediate neighbors,” said Dr Dinesh  Bhattarai, former ambassador and foreign relations advisor to then prime minister Sushil Koirala.  Nepal welcomed the visit of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on November 3, but the much-anticipated visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping could not take place. Relations with China following the fall of the Oli government seem troubled as China appears apprehensive of the activities of Nepal’s political actors. 

Chinese dissatisfaction seems to have stemmed also from the failure of the Dahal government to expedite the deals with China reached  by his predecessor.

As the country embarks on the year 2017, many challenges lie ahead. While there is a need to put in extra efforts to address some of the concerns of the northern neighbor in order to maintain balanced relations with both immediate neighbors, the most important challenge this new year is to hold the three tiers of elections by the January, 2018 deadline, in order to implement the Constitution and institutionalize republicanism, federalism and secularism. The clock is ticking away.

16 happenings of 2016

· January 23: Parliament amended the constitution four months after its promulgation making changes to the provisions related to inclusion and delineation of electoral constituency.

· February 5: Over four-month-long disruption along the Nepal-India border points ended just ahead of the then Prime Minister K P Oli's India visit. 

· February 9: Former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress (NC) President Sushil Koirala passed away, ahead of the NC general convention.

· February 19: The then PM Oli visited India, signed an agreement with the Indian side allowing Nepali vehicles' movement to Bangladesh through Kakarvitta-Bangabandhu corridor and on using Vishakhapatnam port. 

· March 19: UK Prince Harry arrived in Kathmandu on a five-day visit to Nepal.

· March 20: Oli visited China, signed historic trade and transit treaty, and agreement on construction of railway link between the two countries through Tibet. 

· June 20: Fifteen Nepali security guards killed in suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan's capital Kabul. 

· July 13: Nepali Congress and Maoist lawmakers filed a no-confidence motion against PM K P Oli.

· July 24: Oli resigned from the prime ministerial post ahead of voting on no-confidence motion.

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