KATMANDU – Nepal’s Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as “Prachanda,” has now been sworn in as the first prime minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, having won an overwhelming vote in the Constituent Assembly elected in April. The Assembly’s opening action had been to vote almost unanimously to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy, and in June former King Gyanendra Shah departed from the palace, remaining in the country as an ordinary citizen.
Nepal fleetingly made headlines after the 2001 palace massacre of the previous monarch and his family. Its bloody ten-year civil war, however, was seldom in the international limelight. So, too, the country’s unique peace process has rarely gained outside attention since the guns fell silent two years ago. Yet, amid too many continuing conflicts and failing peace processes around the world, a success story deserves to be recognized and supported.
I came to Nepal in mid-2005, when human rights violations committed by both sides in the armed conflict, together with Gyanendra’s crackdown on democratic rights as he seized absolute power, led the international community to support a monitoring presence from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. With no end in sight to a war with thousands of civilian victims, and democracy far from the horizon, nobody could have foreseen how Nepal’s people would express their demand for peace and change.
The turning point was the April 2006 people’s movement, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets for nineteen successive days. The king was compelled to hand power back to the political parties, while a peace agreement emerged that ended the conflict, bringing the Maoists into an interim parliament and government and promising elections to a Constituent Assembly.