By Zhang Jiadong and Sagar Neupane
Since Nepal promulgated its new constitution on September 20, 2015, the country has experienced a rocky domestic and foreign environment, having 11 prime ministers serving in just 10 years. Yet the political environment has overall improved. Currently, regional voting under the new constitutional framework has been completed, with provincial and parliamentary elections set – one round of elections just completed on November 26 and the other set for December 7. Although the first-phase election has just concluded, we can already observe some trends.
First, two communist parties formed a historic alliance. On October 3, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), known as CPN-UML, and CPN Maoist Centre (CPN-MC) agreed to unite and establish a new communist party to counter the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) party, marking the first time the two have expressed a willingness to integrate since they were established in the 1990s. If they succeed, it will have a huge impact on Nepal’s political environment. Until now, the CPN-MC is still supporting the government led by NC and has committed to cooperating during the election to guarantee political and social stability.
Looking at the current situation, the left alliance led by CPN-UML and CPN-MC is likely to win in more than half of the electoral districts, yet a definitive victory is still hard to say. The Nepali communist parties’ popularity differs across provinces, with a majority held in some, but not in others.
Second, the election results will lead Nepal to become more independent and autonomous in its diplomacy. If Marxist political parties win the election, cooperation between China and Nepal will run more smoothly. Several important cooperative projects, such as the China-Nepal railway project, the China-Nepal industrial park, hydropower stations in Nepal and connectivity of the transnational network will develop more rapidly.
On November 13, Nepali officials announced to scrap a $2.5 billion deal with China Gezhouba Group Corp. to build the Budhi Gandaki hydroelectric project. Yet K. P. Oli, leader of the CPN-UML, said that if his party wins the elections, it will overturn the previous government’s decision.
No matter which party wins, the NP or the Marxist political party, its space for foreign policy is very limited. After the UK’s colonial rule, the country tried to pursue sovereign independence and territorial integrity. Currently, it relies on China to achieve this goal, while it depends on India for its national development and social stability. The well educated, middle-class Nepalese favor the NC which leans more toward India. Yet others prefer Marxist political parties, and thus lean more toward China. Yet even if the Marxist political parties were to take office, they would still have to tread carefully between China and India. Just as the NC won’t turn totally to India, the Marxist political parties won’t just choose China either.
Nepal’s domestic situation depends enormously on the game played between Marxist political parties, the NC and Madhes-based parties. Based on the last election, Marxist political parties have a big advantage. Yet the problem is that many other Marxist political parties exist apart from CPN-UML and CPN-MC. Looking at history, the prospect of a long-term alliance between Marxist political parties does not look favorable.
At the current stage, the Madhes-based parties have already shown an inclination toward the NC. Once these Madhes-based parties ally with the NC, it will enormously impact the political situation in Nepal’s Terai region, which is situated near India. Under the two parties’ political structure, it’s difficult for the communist party to become the only leading power.
Overall, no matter which side wins, a stable Nepal will put more emphasis on economic development – a matter which China can lend a helping hand. As Nepal’s constructive neighbor, China is not trying to force Nepal’s new government to choose sides between China and India. A new Nepal with political stability, economic development and independent diplomacy fits China’s interests in South Asia.
(Zhang Jiadong is director of the Center of South Asian Studies, Fudan University. Sagar Neupane is a part-time research fellow of the same center.) (firstname.lastname@example.org)