Anyone keeping an eye on Nepal will be aware that Sunday was a big day; the numerous strikes and recent unrest have all been focussed on one thing - getting a new constitution before the deadline of May 28th.
For several days preceding the deadline, parts of Nepal came to a standstill. A nationwide 3 day strike by many of the ethnic minorities campaigning over state boundary disputes and commerce was crippled throughout the struggling Himalayan nation. Everyone wanted their demands met.
Instead, the National Constituent Assembly failed in their mission to find a resolution to each parties demands and it was dissolved. The country was thrown once more into political uncertainty.
We were monitoring the situation closely, and following the advice of our team in Nepal. Fortunately most of the troubles were in Kathmandu and Sunil, our Programme Manager, has said the current students in Pokhara did not really see much of the unrest and were certainly not affected by it.
But if Nepal is politically unstable, is it safe for students to be travelling there? To fully understand why the country is so muddled, I thought I would investigate a bit of the political history.....
1990–1996: Nepal was completely controlled by the King, but faced with a political uprising agreed to large-scale political reforms and created a parliamentary monarchy with himself as head of state, and an elected prime minister as the head of the government. It was never very successful and the prime minister seemed to bounce quickly between the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal.
1996: The Maoists staged a violent insurgency across most of the country. A cease-fire was called in 2001 and the Maoists held talks with the Government. They agreed the monarchy would remain to enhance political stability and provide an important symbol of national identity for the culturally diverse Nepali people, but many of the King's powers were removed.
2001: The King was killed and his brother proclaimed the new King. He was not as keen on the lack of power and quickly suspended the Parliament, appointed a government led by himself, and enforced martial law. A broad coalition called the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) was formed in opposition to the royal takeover, encompassing the seven parliamentary parties who held about 90% of the seats in the old, dissolved parliament. The UN started to monitor the instability in Nepal.
2005: The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) of parliamentary parties and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) agreed on a historic and unprecedented 12-point memorandum of understanding (MOU) for peace and democracy.They galvanised the people to mass protest against royal rule and it worked - King Gyanendra agreed to reinstate the house of representatives.
2006: The parliament assumed total legislative power and gave executive power to the Government of Nepal (previously known as His Majesty's Government). As before, the King lost many of his powers and Nepal was declared a secular state abrogating the previous status of a Hindu Kingdom. On 19 July 2006, the prime minister sent a letter to the United Nations announcing the intention of the Nepalese government to hold elections to a constituent assembly by April 2007.
2006 - 2008: Political factions failed to agree with each other over the temporary constitution, but did agree to abolish the monarch entirely and for Nepal to become a federal republic. The Maoists won the election (largely through fear and intimidation) and were officially in charge of the country. Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) was formed to put together an interim constitution.2008 - 2011 Disagreements over power, particularly relating to the army and autonomous states for almost all ethnic groups in the country, meant Maoist decisions have been undermined.
May 2012: Nepal descended into crisis after Nepal's Supreme Court rejected a proposal by the interim assembly to reach an agreement on a new constitution before the national legislature’s term expired at midnight. Prime Minister Bhattarai, speaking on national television, announced that the legislature, known as the Constituent Assembly, would be dissolved. He said he would remain in power and that his government would hold November elections for a new assembly. Rival political leaders quickly denounced the plan as a power grab and Dr Bhattarai's claim on power in negligible.
So... research over and it's clear we do not have a very happy Nepal! Most people believe there will be lots of political rallies and power struggles taking place between the major parties, but with the people feeling as if they have been let down by their politicians, there is even talk that power may shift back to the royals. It's an open game at the moment.
Whatever happens it does not seem likely that the current number of strikes will continue - nothing can be resolved now until the elections, and although there may be smaller scale marches etc, the focus is likely to remain in Kathmandu where key decisions will be made.
In terms of student travel, we will continue to monitor the situation on the FCO website and talk to Sunil regularly. Generally we think that our students will find the Nepalese very peaceful people living in a tranquil setting. If you do have any worries though, please do get in touch and we can talk about your concerns.