Another coalition government has taken over in Nepal, where Parliament elected former communist rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, as prime minister on Wednesday. The change is unlikely to ease the political instability that has plagued this Himalayan nation for years. A look at 11 main challenges facing the tiny South Asian nation, home to the world’s tallest mountains:
The new government led by Dahal is the ninth in the past 10 years. It is also the 24th government over the last 26 years. Most have been coalition governments as squabbling over who gets to be prime minister or gets key ministerial portfolios has often ended partnerships.
A single political party has been unable to capture a majority of seats in parliamentary elections, forcing it to form a coalition with the second biggest vote getter. The main partners in the last government were the two largest communist parties, but their failed to overcome the differences between them. The Maoists are former communist rebels who came to power after giving up armed struggle, while the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) has been mainstream for decades. They are both competing for voters who believe in communist ideology. Dahal led the communist insurgency between 1996 and 2006, while his coalition partner Sher Bahadur Deuba (leader of the Nepali Congress party) once offered a $50,000 bounty for Dahal’s head when he was prime minister.
Nepal was ruled by kings for centuries until 2008, when the Constituent Assembly voted to abolish the monarchy and turn the country into a republic. The last king, Gyanendra Shah, left the royal palace and lives the life of a civilian. Kings were believed by many people to be the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, but in the past few decades they became unpopular for their authoritarian rule. After the massacre of 10 royal family members in 2001, when the crown prince gunned down his father, mother and relatives at a party, most people lost faith in the crown. Gyanendra was largely unpopular and his son even more so owing to drunken brawls and car crashes allegedly involving him that killed at least two people.
After the monarchy was abolished, political parties and Maoists attempted to draft a new constitution that would guarantee rights of citizens and those of marginalized groups. However, it took political parties seven years to complete the task. The first Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 with a two-year deadline, but was disbanded after four years. The second assembly, elected in 2013, managed to finish the job in September 2015, but the constitution was rejected by ethnic groups in southern Nepal.
The Madhesi ethnic group in southern Nepal bordering India clashed with police and imposed a general strike in the region. They also blocked border crossings, cutting off supplies that led to severe shortages of fuel and medicines. More than 50 people were killed in the protests, which ended in February without meeting the group’s key demands_ more land in the new federal state assigned to them by the new constitution. Other smaller ethnic groups also demanded their own separate states.
Street protests in 1990 forced King Birendra to give up the Panchayat system, where political parties were outlawed and the king was in full control of the rubber stamp government and parliament. After multiparty democracy was restored, political parties competed for power, position and money. Corruption was ever increasing and tainted political parties. When the Maoist rebels began fighting the government, King Gyanendra seized absolute power in 2004, jailing politicians, curbing fundamental rights and putting the army in charge.
MAOIST COMMUNIST INSURGENCY:
The Maoists began their insurgency in 1996 by attacking a small police station in a mountain village armed with just two old guns. By the time the rebels put their arms down in 2006, the fighting had spread to much of Nepal, leaving more than 17,000 dead and hundreds missing. The decade of war put Nepal’s development on hold. The Maoists entered a UN-monitored peace deal and joined mainstream politics, and in 2008, succeeded in their campaign to end the monarchy. However, their popularity suffered as leaders like Dahal, who had once walked village to village, eating simple food, moved to mansions in Kathmandu, driving around in expensive cars and are believed to have accumulated huge wealth for their families.
Nepal’s inflation rate this year hit 10.5 percent, while the economy grew barely 1.5 percent. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the region and imports most of its supplies and all of the oil products. Nepal’s main source of foreign currency is hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists and money sent by an estimated 4 million Nepalese working abroad. The India border blockade last year and early this year made the situation worse.
ENERGY AND WATER SHORTAGES:
Even though Nepal has several mountain rivers that can be used to produce electricity from hydropower plants, it continues to face huge power shortages. Consumers face up to 12 hours of daily rolling outages. It was not possible to build new plants during the communist insurgency and only a few have been built since then. Tap water for Kathmandu’s 3 million people is available only two hours a week on average.
The April 25, 2015, earthquake and aftershocks killed nearly 9,000 people and damaged 1 million buildings. Though the government and donors were quick to distribute plastic sheets, tents and food, reconstruction have been slow and nearly 4 million people are still homeless. It took nearly a year for the government to form the earthquake reconstruction authority and it managed to give the first grant installments to only a few thousand families. Foreign donors have pledged $4.1 billion in aid, but only half was made available. Nepal says it needs $7.9 billion over the next five years.
Nepal’s biggest asset is the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) -high Mount Everest. Nature, however, hasn’t been kind in the last few years. In April 2014, an avalanche swept through Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpa guides and ending the climbing season that year. A year later, the earthquake triggered another massive avalanche over base camp, killing 19 people. There were fears that the back-to-back disasters would drive away climbers and tourists, and the government waived climbing fees and announced an improved climbing management in a bid to reassure visitors. This year, another five climbers died on Everest, but hundreds were successful in reaching the summit.