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After ending a decade-long civil war in 2006, Nepal held competitive national elections in 2008 and 2013, and adopted a permanent constitution in 2015. However, successive coalition governments have proven unstable as rival factions pursue their interests in establishing the details of a new constitutional order, and political protests often lead to violence. Corruption is endemic in politics, government, and the judicial system. The police service has been accused of criminality and excessive force or torture, and prison conditions are poor. Journalists often face violence or harassment in the course of their work. Other problems include discrimination against low-caste Hindus, ethnic minorities, and Christians; gender-based violence and underage marriage; sex trafficking of women and girls; and bonded or child labor.
- Ethnic Madhesi protesters ended a months-long blockade along the Indian border in February, though they continued to object to elements of the new constitution.
- Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli resigned in July after the Maoist party withdrew support from his coalition government, and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal was elected prime minister by a new coalition in August.
- The government failed to push through crucial constitutional amendments by year’s end, raising concerns that local, provincial, and federal elections could not be held by January 2018 as scheduled.
Nepal experienced continued political turmoil during 2016 as the government and Parliament sought to implement the 2015 constitution, which had drawn opposition from various groups over its provisions on citizenship, federalism, and political representation. However, violence and obstacles to freedom of movement declined over the course of the year. In February, opposition parties representing ethnic Madhesis in southern Nepal finally ended a border blockade that had effectively cut off supplies from India for 135 days and prompted deadly clashes with security forces. The groups maintained that the constitution’s reorganization of the country into seven provinces, among other provisions, would weaken their influence.
In January 2016, as part of an effort to address the Madhesi concerns, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment that prioritized population over geography in the delineation of electoral constituencies. However, the Madhesi parties criticized it as inadequate, and a number of other constitutional concerns—including the role of districts as administrative units and quota formulas for various minorities and disadvantaged groups—remained unresolved. Critics of the constitution also objected to its citizenship provisions, which allow the children of Nepali mothers and non-Nepali fathers to acquire only naturalized citizenship; naturalized citizens are ineligible for the highest executive, legislative, and judicial offices.
In May, Prime Minister Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) struck a nine-point deal with the Maoists—who changed their name later that month to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre)—to maintain his coalition government. The agreement included a pledge to withdraw or offer clemency on any court cases related to human rights abuses during the 1996–2006 civil war, despite previous Supreme Court rulings curbing the government’s ability to grant amnesty for such crimes.
Oli ultimately failed to implement the deal and resigned in late July to avoid a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, was elected to replace him in early August, forming a coalition with the Nepali Congress party and leaving the CPN-UML in opposition. His government was Nepal’s ninth since 2008. It drafted a constitutional amendment bill to address some of the outstanding grievances with the 2015 charter, but because amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass, the CPN-UML was able to block it, and it had yet to be adopted at year’s end.
A number of incidents during the year raised concerns about freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For example, in May, a Canadian man was arrested and deported for pro-Madhesi posts on social media, and a photojournalist was arrested and temporarily detained for reporting on a symbolic protest outside a government complex. Other journalists faced short detentions or physical assaults. In June, the government issued a directive requiring online media to register and giving itself broad authority to block online content.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Nepal, see Freedom in the World 2016.