May 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2008
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ASIA

Nepal

Expected Council Action
A briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal and head of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), Ian Martin, is expected in early May. A key issue will be the UNMIN’s future activities. (Resolution 1796 extended UNMIN until 23 July 2008.)

Recent Key Developments
The Council was briefed by Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on 21 April on the 10 April constituent assembly elections. The Council president made a statement to the press on behalf of the Council that congratulated the people of Nepal on the largely peaceful elections, urged all Nepalese parties to respect the will of the people and the rule of law, looked forward to the formation of the constituent assembly and government and noted UNMIN’s important supportive role in the elections.

The turnout at the elections was sixty percent. Re-polling was needed in 98 stations out of the twenty thousand across the country where voting had been cancelled or suspended as a result of violations of the election law or the code of conduct for political parties participating in the elections. The elections were a key component of the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and will produce a 601-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The constituent assembly will also govern Nepal over the next two years while the constitution is drafted.

The Maoists may be emerging as the single largest party following the elections. At the time of writing, initial results suggest the Maoists had won 120 of the directly-elected 240 seats and about 100 of the 335 seats elected by proportional representation. A further 26 seats will be allocated by the new government.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the people of Nepal for their “enthusiastic participation” in the constituent assembly elections. The head of UNMIN, Ian Martin, praised the Nepalese for demonstrating their commitment to democracy by turning out in such large numbers. International election observer groups acknowledged that the polling had been technically sound and that voters had turned out in significant numbers. Although unable to declare the elections as “free and fair” until the counting was concluded, most of the international observers said the initial signs were that the elections were successful and credible.

Nonetheless, four people were killed on polling day, and the lead-up to the election was filled with violence and intimidation. The increase in incidents of obstruction and violence by the Maoists and other militant groups raised concerns about voter intimidation. On 9 April, the eve of the election, six members of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) were killed by security personnel protecting the Nepali Congress party. Earlier in the week a United Marxist Leninist party candidate was killed and a protestor shot to death for defying a curfew. UNMIN urged all parties to exercise restraint while the Secretary-General voiced concern about the pre-election violence.

With the Maoists playing an important role in the newly elected assembly, an early decision on abolition of the 240-year old monarchy is likely. (An agreement was signed between the government and the Maoists in September to get the Maoists back into the peace process under which it was agreed that an end to the monarchy would be an early task for the constituent assembly.) On 18 April, Maoist leader Prachanda offered to meet with the King. He noted that if the King were to resign, he would have the opportunity to remain in Nepal as a private citizen, pursuing “business affairs or other activities.” The royal palace denied that the King was planning to resign or go into exile, indicating that this would be “premature” and that it was necessary to allow “legal procedure (to) take its course.”

The Maoists are also likely to press for an executive president and redrawing the provinces along ethnic lines.

Demonstrations by Tibetan protestors in front of the Chinese embassy have continued. (Protestors refrained from demonstrating during the week of the constituent assembly elections.) The Nepalese police detained several hundred protestors.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is weighing the risks to Nepal’s stability if UNMIN is asked to close down completely in July.

A related issue is that the election may not of itself provide an answer to how an executive government is actually formed after the election. As events in Kenya have shown recently even agreement to share power can be difficult to implement.

Another related issue is whether the Maoists will remain cohesive. Their more militant wing, the Young Communist League, may have a separate agenda. If there is a divide within the CPN-M, this could destabilise the security situation.

A further issue is whether an immediate move to remove the monarchy could lead to action by its supporters, some of whom may argue that this should properly be included as an element in the new constitution and be addressed in the context of an overall package of new constitutional measures.

Also an issue will be implementation of the pre-election promises made to the Madhesi groups from Nepal’s Terai region such as giving them autonomous regions under a federal structure. If progress on this is slow, more strikes and protests seem likely.

A potential issue is the possibility that by the end of UNMIN’s mandate in July a new executive government will not yet be in place or not be in a position to make a decision on UNMIN’s future role in Nepal. A rollover of UNMIN at the request of the Seven-Party Alliance (made up of the political parties that signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and asked for UNMIN to be set up) might be the only option and would give a new government time to come to a decision on UNMIN.

Another future issue is how the Maoists’ promises of land reform and wiping out corruption made during the elections will be addressed in the short term—given the potential instability if they do not deliver.

Options
One option in May is for the Council to simply receive the briefing by the Secretariat and use this review to start discussions on UNMIN’s future at the expert level.

A second option might be for members to agree that UNMIN should be immediately downsized as suggested in the last Secretary-General’s report, but to request the Secretary-General to provide a roadmap in early June of how he plans to do this leading to the end of its mandate in mid-July.

If the new government indicates that it is open to UNMIN remaining in Nepal, a possible option is a smaller UNMIN continuing with its arms monitoring role but with enhanced peacebuilding tasks.

A further possible option is to schedule an open debate in June in active consultation with the Nepalese government so its views can be clearly conveyed to the Council well ahead of Council discussions on the mandate renewal in July.

Council Dynamics
In January 2007, when UNMIN was set up, most Council members, and notably China, made it clear that it should be a focused mission of limited duration. Extending UNMIN beyond July is unlikely unless there is clear support for this from Kathmandu. Those who see value in UNMIN continuing past July want to see a new focused mandate which gives UNMIN a clear and appropriate role in the post-election environment. Most members feel that now that the elections are over a lot of UNMIN capacity that was focused on that process can be downsized.

Members like China, Indonesia and Vietnam will take a clear lead from the Nepalese themselves.

Members are uncertain as to how the Maoists will play the post election situation including continuing with integrating the People’s Liberation Army and the Nepalese army.

The Maoists are still listed as a terrorist organisation in the US. This could affect its perception of developments in Nepal.

India is expected to be wary of a Maoist-led government, given its problems with Maoist insurgents, but has said that it will accept the decision of the people. Prachanda, leader of the CPN-M, has stated that he is ready to develop relations with both China and India, a possible first indication of a new equilibrium in Nepal’s relationships with its neighbours.

The UK is the lead in the Council on Nepal.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution

  • S/RES/1796 (23 January 2008) extended UNMIN until 23 July 2008.
  • S/RES/1740 (23 January 2007) established UNMIN for 12 months.

Secretary General’s Reports

  • S/2008/5 (3 January 2008) was the last report of the Secretary-General on the request of Nepal for UN assistance in support of its peace process.

Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2006/49 (1 December 2006) expressed support for the Secretary-General’s intention to send a technical assessment team to Nepal and noted that the Council would await formal proposals.

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Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Ian Martin (UK)

Size and Composition

871 staff (208 international staff, 126 UN volunteers, 387 national staff, 144 arms monitors and six police advisers as of end of January 2008)

Duration

23 January 2007 to 23 July 2008

Cost

$88.8 million

Useful Additional Sources

  • UNMIN Election Report, No. 1, 22 March 2008
  • UNMIN Election Report, No. 2, 30 March 2008
  • UNMIN Election Report, No. 3, 6 April 2008

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