Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 27, 2021
Nepal: Can democracy recover in the Himalayan nation?

Internal dissension heightens in Nepal as Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal hints at the establishment of a new government in the country. In a bid to remove the present K. P Sharma leadership from the centre, coalition of three major political parties—the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and the Janta Samajbadi Party, through an electoral alliance, has been mentioned by the veteran leader, consequently, creating a dubious situation that may or may not refurbish democracy. Adding to this dilemma, there is yet another set of contention where the primary agenda of the coalition parties in question—of manifesting the lost political stability—has been overshadowed by the urge to lead. While the Janta Samajbadi Party is undoubtedly trying to be the new wheel in the chariot to run the nation, it’s support is undeniable for both Oli as well as the new force, given the thirty-two seats that the former has in the Parliament. As this labyrinth of decision-making convolutes with each passing day, what remains in question is the country’s inherent nature of not being able to sustain stable democratic systems and how this could be detrimental for its economic and global status.

Locating the recent power struggle

Nepal was faced with an acute political hiccup when Prime Minister Oli dissolved the House of Representatives of the Parliament (20 December 2020), as implemented and supported by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, giving way to fresh elections in 2021. Naturally, it stirred up the entire nation and the political fraternity, leading to a fraction in the ruling party—the CPN—that was formed with a merger of the Maoist Centre and the United Marxist Leninist Party in 2018. Endangering federalism—a major part of the Constitution of 2015—this landmark decision bore repercussions that might have set the stage for the resurgence of ‘pro-monarchist and anti-democratic activities of fringe groups’ as noted by many policymakers.

Nonetheless, even after the House was reinstated in February, by a Constitutional Bench, led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, declaring the entire incident ‘unconstitutional,’ no constructive conclusion seems evident to restore the rule of a stable government. On the one hand, while Oli is being shouldered with the moral responsibility of stepping down from power under coercion of necessity, who will fill the vacuum is still a pressing concern, reflecting no consensus among the coalition members. In this situation, Oli’s call for an all-party meeting in his residence in Baluwatar on 17 April 2021, before the winter session of the federal Parliament, seems to be a welcome step.

Fragile democracy in the country

In 2019, Oli was in fact the first Prime Minister who had been able to retain his ‘Chair’ for at least an entire year, in a country that has seen 25 Prime Ministers, excluding the former King Gyanendra, in the past 29 years. The country has been witnessing turbulent political changes in the past three decades—including a decade long armed struggle (1996–2006) and seven Constitutions that have come and gone in the last 70 years. In this regard, the first ‘complex and protracted political transition’ to democracy came in 2006 with the peace accord and the promulgation of an interim constitution in 2007. Finally, when the last Constitution of 2015 transformed the country into a federal democratic republic with three government tiers (central, provincial, and local), it was indeed a ray of hope for resolute balance. However, Nepal could not sustain a single government since 2015 without complexities that came with it, including the challenge faced by the blockade with India, which is still remembered not only as a financial loggerhead but also a humanitarian crisis.

There are several factors that have led to an unstable government in Nepal. The first mention must be made of corruption that is often considered an ‘endemic’ in the nation. Nepal has been ranked with a score of 31 (where 100 is the least corrupt) by the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index of 2018. From the misappropriation of public resources to the strict laws related to the media that came in 2019, which ‘intended to stifle dissent and silence critical voices,’ as said by global and regional human rights groups, it can be noted that the rule of law is weak and ambiguous. This has also led to an agile civil society, media, and citizens’ organizations where the political system is ‘ridden with elite capture, political patronage, and corruption resulting in failing technical support for combating corruption’.

Secondly, a report by the Asian Development Bank titled, ‘Governance and Institutional Risks and Challenges in Nepal’ by Rachana Shrestha (December 2019) enlists factors such as poor implementation and enforcement of rules and regulations; weak institutional capacity; corrupt and weak judicial system; increased cost of doing business in Nepal with ‘facilitation payments’ as other critical reasons for the dainty and often unreliable government. Consequently, what a ‘fragile state’ like Nepal needs now is the citizen’s access to information, opportunities of coordination with the parties and better electoral quality with better electoral consciousness on part of the people.

It seems like there is a lack of political awareness in the country, among the common people at the grassroots, inevitably widening the gap between the political parties and them. Social and economic conditions like poverty and the retention of the age—old caste system with social stigma is often enlisted as reasons for this denied access. This is where the example of the Maoist movement—a political campaign launched in 1996—must be remembered that aimed to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s socialist republic. What came forward were ‘democracy dialogues’ along with crucial participations of marginalised groups such as ‘Dalits’ and also women with gender mainstreaming efforts. The five-year strategic plan of the National Women’s Commission (2009–2014) is testimony to this.

Again, this is not possible if the internal tension does not die down, for fresh elections that are seeming to be an absolute necessity, given the quality of rule, law and order. This is to avoid any sort of ‘violence or institutional dysfunction, combined with widespread poverty and underdevelopment’ which might take the country back to the past tumultuous years.


It has been often argued that Nepal’s transition to democracy is an ‘unfinished project’. It must be admitted that the country has been trying to stabilize itself time and again, given the nuanced circumstances it has been in. For instance, the Maoist insurgency, which ended only in 2006 and the present COVID-19 crisis, which can be a major setback for a lower-middle-income country like it.

The key solution to this issue may lie in sorting out the internal differences within the NCP first and then giving other parties like the Janta Samajbadi Party to make their points clear, finally leading to a coalition. Neither Oli can be forcefully made to resign nor can a new impromptu government spring without notice. The true essence of democracy lies in decision-making and consensus that can be achieved only through dialogue and subsequent elections that can save the day.  At the same time, the country must avoid the interference of external actors like India and China, nations which are often alleged to have a strong hand in the internal politics of Nepal. The country must strive to strike a balance in its demeanor vis-à-vis the strong neighbors and move beyond just the status of a ‘buffer’.  Inevitably, the threat of a precarious political framework in Nepal lurks with an uncertain future, if a well-informed choice is not made at the earliest.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Sohini Nayak

Sohini Nayak

Sohini Nayak was a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Presently she is working on Nepal-India and Bhutan-India bilateral relations along with sub regionalism and ...

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