In an attempt to disrupt the upcoming national poll, an alliance of 33 opposition parties in Nepal recently called for a transport blockade, demanding that the current interim administration be disbanded and a new multi-party government be formed to oversee elections at a later date. The group believes the November 19 vote will not be fair if it is overseen by the Chief Justice heading the current caretaker government. But the blockade – set to last until election day – hasn’t gone quite as planned. After thousands of drivers across the country defied the strike, opposition activists resorted to violence, torching cars, forcing businesses to close and bringing much of the South Asian nation to a standstill. The incident is just the latest in a string of political upheavals, exposing the increased level of polarization in one of the world’s youngest democracies. “The bandhs, or strikes, are a typical tool used in Nepal to compel other political parties into granting concessions by paralyzing economic activity,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program of the US-based Brookings Institution. “Every time the moment of taking big decisions arrives, Nepalese politicians pull out the bandh ploy,” she told DW, adding that this pattern had been repeated over the past years, but especially in the run-up to May 2012, when the fourth deadline to pass a new constitution was to expire.
The current power struggle in the impoverished Asian nation with a population of around 30 million goes back some 20 years. The Himalayan nation of Nepal was a kingdom for more than two centuries, ruled by absolute monarchs. But things started to change in 1990 when then King Birendra, under pressure from pro-democracy groups, agreed to become a constitutional monarch.
A few years later, social unrest coupled with quarrels among political parties descended into a decade-long civil war in which an estimated 16,000 people died. The conflict only came to an end in 2006 when the government reached an agreement with Maoist insurgents, which effectively abolished the monarchy and turned the country into a republic two years later.