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Nepal's Peace Process Needs Elections

By Jimmy Carter

This op-ed by Jimmy Carter was published in the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur newspaper.

I have a great interest in the future of this beautiful country, and was honored to visit Nepal three times in the year leading up to the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. Since that time we have monitored the peace process continually, in Kathmandu and throughout all other regions. Observers from The Carter Center have been deployed in Nepal since 2007. Our observers find that Nepali citizens remain passionate supporters of democracy but are increasingly frustrated with their leadership for breaking its promises time after time. It is disappointing to realize that the continuing political deadlock in Nepal is an obstacle to making further progress in the country's peace process.

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2006, Nepal's political leaders pledged their commitment to forging a consensus in the search for a just, inclusive future. Today, the hope and spirit in which the agreement was made is threatened by deepening political brinkmanship, cynicism, and mistrust.

Nepal has taken great strides toward implementing the CPA, notably integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist's People's Liberation Army and declaration of a federal democratic republican state, among others. The Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 and dissolved in May 2012 was also the most inclusive and representative governing legislature in Nepal's history, with leaders chosen by all parties and with more women parliamentarians than any equivalent ruling body in South Asia.

But these historic achievements are at risk. Nepal has been mired in a political and constitutional crisis since the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in May 2012. Key positions in constitutional bodies – including the Election Commission of Nepal, the Supreme Court, and the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority – are going to be vacant in the near future. Commissioners and judges in those bodies are needed urgently.

The political stalemate is of particular concern given that major issues of the CPA are yet to be resolved. The most intractable of these is the promulgation of a new constitution, which would enshrine Nepal's commitment to good governance, inclusiveness, the rule of law, justice, and political and media freedoms. That the current government, like its predecessors, has failed to take substantive action on human rights abuses committed during and after the decade-long conflict is also of concern and should be a priority of the next executive.

An expedited resolution to the political stalemate and the holding of elections in Spring 2013 would give the peace process much needed impetus, and would provide the government with a fresh mandate to complete the constitution. Tragically, delaying the vote until November 2013 or spring 2014 would leave the country without an elected government for more than twelve months.

The opportunity to hold elections this spring is diminishing rapidly. The Election Commission must first be filled with commissioners before numerous logistical and operational decisions about the election can be finalized. These include finalizing the voter registration list, deciding the type of electoral system, redrawing electoral constituencies if necessary, and further administrative logistics.

After an election date is set, the Election Commission of Nepal has requested at least 120 days to organize elections. An independent body led by a full board of commissioners is critical to the credibility of Nepal's next election.

Holding timely elections is a political, constitutional, and democratic obligation for Nepal's political leadership. A demand to choose a government via the ballot box was the people's message during the pro-democracy protests of the 1990s, as well as popular movements that helped to end the conflict in 2006. A new election would give Nepali citizens an opportunity to re-engage with their democracy and institutionalize social inclusion.

Nepal has overcome numerous challenges during recent years on its path to peace. Those who have been frustrated by the lack of progress in recent months should not lose sight of Nepal's recent historic achievements. In my visits to Nepal I have experienced the intense desire of the people for the great future that such a richly endowed nation deserves.

Nepal's political leaders should take this precious opportunity to move boldly and with courage to hold elections in Spring 2013 and to energize the peace process once more.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is founder of The Carter Center, which works to advance peace and health worldwide.

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