World, Asia - Pacific

Constitutional changes pave way for Nepal elections

First polls in 20 years to go ahead following agreement with southern regions

24.04.2017
Constitutional changes pave way for Nepal elections FILE PHOTO

By Deepak Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Nepal 

The government on Monday tabled a constitutional amendment as part of a breakthrough deal with opposition groups.

The proposal is one of the central demands of the Madhesis people from Nepal’s southern plains. They have been calling for changes to the electoral system to protect their rights.

The development paved the way for local elections in mid-May and followed a series of talks between government and opposition negotiators in Kathmandu over the weekend.

Manish Kumar Suman, a spokesman from the opposition Sadbhavana Party, said long-running protests had been postponed after the government agreed to table the amendment.

“We have verbally agreed on this with the government but a formal document is yet to come out,” he said.

“We have other demands such as compensation to those killed in protest, the withdrawal of court cases against our cadres. Our full withdrawal of the protests depends on how these will be met.”

Early last month, five protesters were killed in southeast Nepal, casting a shadow over the local elections that are crucial for implementing a new constitution.

Elections for more than 700 village and town councils are due on May 14 with a second stage to be held on June 14, the government said.

The voting will be Nepal’s first polls in 20 years, a period that has seen a 10-year Maoist insurgency in which more than 17,000 people were killed and the abolition of the monarchy by an assembly dominated by former guerrillas.

Groups like the Madhesis, whose region is home to more than half of the 28.6 million population, rejected a constitution approved by the main political parties in 2015, saying it concentrated power among the dominant elite.

A general election to the national parliament must be held by January 2018 to build a third government under the new constitution.

“This decision finally paves the way for healing the rifts between Kathmandu and Madhesis,” The Kathmandu Post newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.

“Alienation and anger towards the state among the Madhesis deepened in 2015, when the constitution was passed. Still, our optimism is tempered with caution. For this agreement is only the beginning of the process -- it doesn’t resolve all outstanding problems.”

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