Since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2006, Nepal has held a series of competitive elections and adopted a permanent constitution. As politics have stabilized, pressure on journalists has decreased, and authorities have been more tolerant of peaceful assembly. However, political protests are still occasionally marred by violence, and corruption remains endemic in politics, government, and the judicial system. Other problems include gender-based violence (GBV), underage marriage, and bonded labor. Transitional justice bodies have struggled to fulfill their mandates.
- The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) won 16 of the 18 upper-house seats contested in January elections.
- Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli triggered the dissolution of the parliament in December after his authority over the NCP weakened due to an ongoing dispute with former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Over 10,000 people protested the dissolution in Kathmandu later that month.
- Nepali authorities imposed a lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in late March before loosening it in July. The government faced ongoing public dissent over its perceived inability to competently respond to the pandemic, while migrant workers reportedly faced poor conditions in quarantine facilities. Local transmission accelerated in the second half of the year, with authorities reporting over 260,000 cases and 2,758 deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO) by year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is the head of state and is elected to up to two five-year terms by a parliamentary electoral college and state assemblies. The prime minister is elected by the parliament. The legitimacy of executive office holders is largely determined by the conduct of legislative and provincial elections.
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli was sworn in as prime minister in February 2018 after his party, the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), won majorities in the upper and lower houses of the Federal Parliament in late 2017. European Union observers declared the 2017 polls largely credible, despite incidents of preelectoral violence at some campaign events.
The current president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was reelected in March 2018.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the 275-seat House of Representatives are elected to five-year terms; 165 are directly elected in single-seat constituencies, while 110 are elected by proportional representation. The National Assembly has 59 members; 56 are indirectly elected to six-year terms by an electoral college comprised of provincial and local leaders, while 3 are appointed by the president on the government’s recommendation.
Local elections—the first since 1997—were held in several stages in 2017. National and provincial elections were held late in the year. The polls were generally well conducted and saw healthy turnout, and the results were accepted by participants. However, the Rastriya Janata Party–Nepal (RJP-N), an umbrella group representing ethnic Madhesis, boycotted several rounds of local polls due to grievances related to the 2015 constitution.
While the 2017 polls were more peaceful than in 2013, violence did occur, with four deaths reported during the year’s electoral periods. There was a significant uptick in violence in the south, which were related to interparty tensions and separatist opposition.
Elections were held for 18 National Assembly seats in January 2020. The NCP, the product of a 2018 merger between the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (UCPN-M), won 16 seats, while the RJP-N won the other 2.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework for elections is sound and facilitates the conduct of credible polls. However, the parliament has yet to address the grievances that many have with the 2015 constitution, including province demarcation and proportional representation based on population.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties are generally free to form and operate. Opposition figures do sometimes face arrest. Alliance for Independent Madhesh (AIM) leader CK Raut was arrested in 2018 on charges of disturbing law and order and voicing views against the state and nationality but was released in 2019 after agreeing to refrain from supporting an independent Madhesi state. That May, AIM—renamed the Janamat (Mandate) Party—endorsed Raut’s agreement.
In 2018, the UCPN-M and the CPN-UML, which formed an alliance to contest the 2017 parliamentary election, merged to form the NCP. The NCP underwent an internal split in 2020, based on disagreements between Prime Minister Oli and former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, of the UCPN-M. While Oli and Prachanda committed to a power-sharing deal in September, Oli triggered the dissolution of the parliament in December after his authority within the NCP weakened.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. The CPN-UML, then in opposition, won the 2017 elections. Smaller opposition parties have difficulty gaining power at the national level, partly due to a 3 percent threshold for proportional-representation seats in the lower house. Smaller parties perform better at the local level.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
People’s ability to freely exercise their political choices is occasionally limited by sporadic outbursts of political violence, as well as by security agents who at times have cracked down on political demonstrations. Vote buying has been reported in recent elections.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Though the constitution has requirements for the participation of women and minorities in the legislature, social discrimination continues to hinder their political involvement. A limited definition of citizenship has resulted in the disenfranchisement of stateless people. Bhandari is Nepal’s first female president, and 32.7 percent of lower-house lawmakers are female; however, few women hold senior political positions.
Indigenous Nepalis and members of the Dalit group are underrepresented in politics and in the civil service, despite policies meant to bolster their participation. Members of the Chhettri and Hill Brahmin groups, meanwhile, are relatively overrepresented.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Nepal ratified a new constitution in 2015, an important step in its democratic transition. Successful elections were held in 2017 and in 2020, though representative rule is not fully consolidated.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption is endemic in Nepali politics and government and often goes unpunished. Corruption by officials obstructed the delivery of foreign aid provided to Nepal after a 2015 earthquake, though aid has slowly been distributed since.
The top Nepali anticorruption agency, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been more active in recent years. In 2017, it accused Chudamani Sharma, a former tax official, of embezzlement and granting improper tax exemptions. However, the CIAA has been accused of excessively focusing on low-level cases; in July 2020, a special court posthumously acquitted a tax official accused of accepting a 1,000 rupee ($9) bribe. The official died by suicide in 2019, after he was released from CIAA custody.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
The government generally operates with opacity. The Election Commission, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), among others, have been criticized for lack of transparency. Mechanisms for utilizing the 2007 Right to Information Act are poorly defined, and the law is inconsistently enforced.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The 2015 constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits prior restraints on press freedom, though these rules can be suspended in a national emergency. The constitution does not prohibit future press restraints for national security reasons. In addition, high-level government officials attempt to muzzle media criticism through pressure, intimidation, and legal maneuvers.
A 2018 criminal code revision criminalizes publicizing private information about a person without consent, photographing an individual without consent, and “disrespectful” satire. Press freedom advocates argued that the code could be used to prosecute journalists engaged in newsgathering. Authorities have used the National Transaction Act (NTA), which is meant to fight cybercrime, to target journalists and artists.
The parliament began considering an Information Technology Bill, which would replace the NTA; a Media Council Bill; and a Mass Communications Bill, which would create a new media regulator, in 2019. Amnesty International criticized the Information Technology Bill in January 2020, calling it vague and overly broad. The Media Council Bill originally included a 1 million rupee ($8,000) maximum fine against journalists who violated a code of conduct, though the National Assembly removed the provision when endorsing it in February 2020. All three bills remained under consideration at year’s end.
Journalists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic faced harassment and detention over their work. In April 2020, Nagarik reporter Dilip Paudel received threatening messages after reporting on the eviction of an individual suspected of contracting COVID-19. That same month, Radio Dhangadhi reporter Lok Karki was detained after filming an argument over the distribution of pandemic-related aid. In May, Radio Janakpur manager Shital Sah was harassed by several individuals after reporting on COVID-19 tracking efforts.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Like the interim constitution before it, the 2015 constitution identifies Nepal as secular, signaling a break with the Hindu monarchy that was toppled after the 1996–2006 civil war and formally abolished in 2008. Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and tolerance is broadly practiced, though some religious minorities occasionally report harassment. Muslims in Nepal are particularly impoverished, occupying a marginalized space. Proselytizing is prohibited under a 2017 law, and some Christians have been prosecuted under this law.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not restrict academic freedom. Much scholarly activity takes place freely, including on political topics. Authorities exercise some control over the primary education curriculum but have relatively little over universities. Neither professors nor students face repercussions for political speech, and peaceful campus protests are tolerated. However, student unions affiliated with major political parties sometimes clash violently, and police occasionally use force to disperse them. Student clashes have become less common in recent years.
Minorities, including Hindi– and Urdu-speaking Madhesi groups, have complained that Nepali is enforced as the language of education in government schools.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
While the freedom to engage in private discussions on sensitive topics has expanded somewhat with Nepal’s political stabilization, authorities have occasionally cracked down on individuals who criticize the government on social media.
The parliament also continued considering legislation that would impact online expression, namely the Information Technology Bill and Mass Communications Bill, in 2020. The parliament also considered the Special Service Bill, which would give the Nepali intelligence agency wide-ranging surveillance and interception powers, during 2020. The bills remained under consideration at year’s end.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, security forces have been known to violently disperse protests and demonstrations, particularly in the south, where a large Madhesi population and related secessionist movement exist.
Major protests were held during the year, despite COVID-19-related restrictions. Nationwide protests were held in June 2020 over the government’s pandemic response. Police responded to protests forcefully; 10 people who were near the prime minister’s residence were arrested in mid-June, while police used water cannon, batons, and tear gas in response to protests elsewhere. In late December, protesters rallied against Prime Minister Oli’s decision to dissolve the parliament earlier that month. Police reported that at least 10,000 people participated in protests in Kathmandu, in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Although the constitution allows NGOs to form and operate in Nepal, legal restrictions make this difficult in practice. The District Administration Office (DAO), which is responsible for registering NGOs, is often understaffed and lacks essential resources. Foreign NGOs must enter project-specific agreements with the Nepali government. There is a widespread view that NGOs should not be overly political, which hinders some groups from engaging in certain forms of public advocacy.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
The 2015 constitution provides for the right to form trade unions. Labor laws protect the freedom to bargain collectively, and unions generally operate without state interference. Workers in a broad range of “essential” industries cannot stage strikes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The 2015 constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, judicial independence is compromised by endemic corruption in many courts.
The state has generally ignored local court verdicts, Supreme Court decisions, and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommendations addressing crimes committed during the 1996–2006 civil war. In 2019, the government sought to weaken the NHRC with a proposed amendment to human rights law that would give the attorney general the power to bring human rights cases and would prohibit the NHRC from opening regional and local offices. The amendment appeared to remain pending in 2020.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional due process guarantees are poorly upheld in practice. Arbitrary arrests do occur. Heavy case backlogs and a slow appeals process result in long pretrial detentions. The government provides legal counsel to those who cannot afford their own, but only at a defendant’s request. Those unaware of this right often end up representing themselves.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Rights advocates continue to criticize Nepal for failing to punish abuses and war crimes committed during the 1996–2006 civil war.
Due to a lack of will on the part of the security forces and political parties, neither the TRC nor the CIEDP, key transitional justice bodies, have implemented reforms demanded by the UN or the Supreme Court. Although the TRC and CIEDP have received thousands of reports of human rights violations and enforced disappearances, no alleged perpetrators have been prosecuted. In January 2020, the government appointed new commissioners to both bodies with little consultation while ignoring calls for the amendment of the underlying legal framework.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
The 2015 constitution includes rights for sexual minorities. The first passport on which the holder was permitted to select a third gender was issued in 2015. However, LGBT+ people face continued harassment by the authorities and other citizens, particularly in rural areas.
The constitution frames the protection of fundamental human rights for Nepali citizens only. This potentially leaves equal rights of noncitizens, including migrants and people who cannot prove citizenship, unprotected.
Tibetans in Nepal face difficulty achieving formal refugee status due to Chinese pressure on the Nepali government. Women often do not receive the same educational and employment opportunities as men.
Muslims enjoy greater freedom to practice their religion under the 2015 constitution but continue to face widespread discrimination.
Children living with disabilities are sometimes excluded from the education system, or face segregation in the classroom.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of movement is generally respected in Nepal. There are legal limits on the rights of refugees to move freely, but restrictions are rarely enforced. Citizens generally enjoy choice of residence, though bribery is common in the housing market as well as the university admittance process.
In rural areas, women remain subject to chaupadi, a traditional practice in which menstruating women are physically separated from their families and communities; the practice was criminalized under a 2018 law. The first arrest under this law took place in 2019. when a Nepali man was arrested after his sister-in-law died of smoke inhalation in a chaupadi hut.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Although citizens have the right to own private businesses, starting a business in Nepal often requires bribes to a wide range of officials. Licensing and other red tape can be extremely onerous. Women face widespread discrimination when starting businesses, and customs and border police are notoriously corrupt in dealing with cross-border trade. Foreigners generally cannot own land.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
GBV remains a major problem. Nepali police reported 2,144 cases of rape during the 2019–20 reporting period, a slightly lower figure than in the 2018–19 period but higher than the 1,480 cases counted in 2017–18.
The 2009 Domestic Violence Act provides for monetary compensation and psychological treatment for victims, but authorities rarely prosecute domestic violence cases, and these are sometimes handled informally.
Underage marriage, especially of girls, is widespread. In 2019, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that Nepal had one of the world’s highest child marriage rates.
Foreign men married to Nepali women must wait 15 years to obtain naturalized citizenship, while foreign women married to Nepali men can immediately become citizens. Children of foreign-born fathers and Nepali mothers must apply for naturalized citizenship, while children of foreign-born mothers and Nepali fathers are automatically granted citizenship. In June 2020, a parliamentary committee endorsed an amendment to the Citizenship Act that would require foreign-born wives to wait 7 years before attaining their own citizenship. The amendment remained under consideration at year’s end.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Trafficking of children and women from Nepal for prostitution in India is common, and police rarely intervene. Bonded labor is illegal but remains a serious problem. Child labor also remains a problem; children can be found working in the brickmaking, service, and other industries, as well as in forced begging and sex work.
The 2015 earthquake left millions of people homeless. Many of those affected lack opportunities for social mobility as they struggle to recover from the disaster.
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Global Freedom Score56 100 partly free