An Election in Nepal, Decades in the Making

Can It Bring Stability When the Country Has Yet to Heal From the Wounds of War?

A man is silhouetted as he casts his vote on a ballot box during the parliamentary and provincial elections at Chautara in Sindhupalchok District November 26, 2017. Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

When Nepalis head to the polls today for the final round of parliamentary elections, the country’s first since 1999, it will be hailed as a historic step forward—the start of a new democratic era for a country that has suffered from years of violence, instability, and government ineptitude. That step is worth celebrating, since there is reason to hope that better governance will come. But hope for the future should not obscure the challenging legacies of the past. The wounds of Nepal’s long civil war are not yet healed, and if the new political leadership does not do more to deliver justice for the war’s victims, new friction is likely to emerge.

Addressing the legacies of Nepal’s past won’t be easy with the massive challenges that lie ahead: deep-seated political rivalries; ethnic, class, and regional divisions; and a lack of justice for victims of war crimes. But attempting to simply move forward won’t make them go away; it will ensure that they bring greater problems down the road.

Since the end of its decadelong civil war in 2006, the country’s main political parties have let Nepalis down, spending more time bickering about their roles in the country’s many interim governments than on addressing crippling poverty and strengthening broken institutions. The country lacks electricity, roads, and critical infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. Its police, courts, and civil service are often unable to function at even a basic level. After the April 2015 earthquake, which killed more than 9,000, injured tens of thousands, and destroyed much of the country’s already poor infrastructure, the government was so dysfunctional that the delivery of life-saving foreign aid was delayed and in some cases even refused.

The country’s biggest parties—the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Maoist-Leninist, or UML), and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center)—share the blame for the failed governance. They have functioned in various coalitions since the end of the civil

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