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Nepal: Elections

Volume 749: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of the result of the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal on 19 November.

My Lords, the elections took place on Tuesday and the results are still coming in. The UK agrees with the provisional findings of the official observer missions that the election process in Nepal has been broadly credible. The announcement of the final results may take several weeks. These elections are necessary for Nepal to reach a durable, democratic and inclusive constitutional settlement. That is why the UK has been working to support them politically, technically and financially.

My Lords, Britain and Nepal are approaching 200 years of friendship. I know that the Government have been generous in assisting in the elections and in international development. However, there are some urgent tasks coming up. Nepal needs a new constitution, a new independent human rights commission to address human rights violations going back to the civil war, and to move forward on many other fronts. How is the UK going to help to move Nepal through a peaceful transition to constitutional democracy?

The noble Earl has asked some important questions. The Government’s view is that achieving a credible election is the first step towards moving to a much bigger peacebuilding exercise. The Government have committed £14 million to these elections—for election preparation, for holding the elections and to create the right environment for free and credible elections. That has been done alongside a significant contribution to peacebuilding both through DfID programmes and FCO-funded projects. We will continue to provide that support, and to support the drafting of a constitution which will underpin that peacebuilding. We will work alongside other development partners to continue to provide support once the new assembly has been formed.

My Lords, should not the people of Nepal be warmly congratulated on achieving a turnout of 70% in this very largely peaceful set of elections? However, can my noble friend say why we should think there is any better chance of reaching an agreement on the new constitution with the newly elected constituent assembly than there was with the old one? What steps can the Government take to further that process?

As my noble friend is aware, Nepal has had an unstable history, at least over the past two decades, which has resulted in a number of elections taking place but without progress being made. Of course we congratulate the people of Nepal on this election. Preliminary findings showed that violence was lower and there was a higher use of voter ID cards and a higher level of enthusiasm for the process. Although there were armed police around polling stations, they were not inside them. However, initial concerns have been raised about unaccredited, unidentified people within polling stations and some scuffles and confusion. It is important that we wait for the final results and then hope to build on that to support the people of Nepal to achieve the stability that they so deserve.

My Lords, these credible elections are no doubt a welcome sign, but can the Government give any indication of what might be possible in moving towards the agreement of a new national constitution in Nepal? These negotiations have been failing now for several years inside Nepal despite lots of encouragement from us and many other international donors and agencies, and there has been no progress whatever. These elections may herald an opportunity, but what steps will we encourage to try to ensure that there is progress in the very near future?

The constituent elections are being held to create a constituent assembly, which is all about having a remit to set about creating a constitution that is agreeable to all the people of Nepal. In the light of Nepal’s history it would be difficult for me to predict exactly when and how that will happen, but we are optimistic. As I said, we have been engaged in the process—not just the election process but the broader one—for a number of years, and my right honourable friend Alan Duncan has visited regularly. We are therefore heavily engaged in this; DfID is heavily engaged, as is the FCO with its conflict work.

My Lords, will the Government consider the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to address many outstanding instances of human rights violations?

Of course we would support that, and indeed that is one of the issues that were at the forefront during the elections. It is the only way that we can really see justice done, and in which the whole of Nepal can move forward.

My Lords, when did Her Majesty’s Government conclude that they have all events in this country so well under control to the public benefit that they can afford to spend so much time, not least in this House, on discussing the affairs of other countries which are not within Her Majesty’s jurisdiction? Can we spend a little more time on our affairs and a little less time following the example of Prime Minister Blair, whose Government had such disastrous results when they interfered in the affairs of other countries?

My noble friend always makes interesting points. However much I thoroughly enjoy coming to the Dispatch Box almost on a daily basis, I do so in response to the questions of your Lordships’ House, and I will continue to do that as long as there is interest.

My Lords, going back to the Question itself, can the noble Baroness do anything to discourage the Government of Nepal from contemplating new electoral boundaries which may be along ethnic lines and would certainly be a diversion from the other priorities?

This is, of course, a live debate in Nepal, but I think that we can take some comfort from the fact that voting purely along ethnic lines was not in the forefront of people’s minds when they were polled. People were concerned with everyday issues such as unemployment and electricity. That was the indication of the public and we hope that that is how their leaders will respond.