Nepal & Bhutan Brief (5/16)
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Political Developments:

Deuba Elected NC President:
1. Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected President of the Nepali Congress after defeating Ramchandra Paudel in the election held on March 8 at the party’s 13th National General Convention. It was a major victory for Deuba as he defeated Paudel with a margin of 526 votes. Deuba garnered 1,822 votes while Paudel got only 1,296 votes. Deuba will be the party president for the next four years. Deuba, a three time PM of Nepal, was defeated by Late Girija Prasad Koirala and Sushil Koirala for the top party post in the 11th and 12th National General Conventions of the party. He had erlier split from NC in 2002 to form Nepali Congress—Democratic, but eventually the two factions reunited in 2007.

2. The National General Convention also elected Paudel loyalists Shashanka Koirala and Sitadevi Yadav as party General Secretary and Treasurer respectively. Out of 85-member Central Working Committee, 64 members were elected at the convention and the remaining 21 will be nominated by the new party president Deuba. However, Deuba has, so far, nominated 7 members only and the rest would be nominated later.

Bihar CM Attends NC Meet:

3. The National General Convention of NC was also attended by over a dozen foreign delegates including Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, representatives from various political parties of India, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Combodia and the Socialist International Movement. While talking to the media in Kathmandu, on March 3, Nitish Kumar said that the Madhes issue was an internal matter of Nepal and Nepali leaders were capable of solving it. Nitish Kumar also met the Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. During these meetings he discussed Nepal-India relations and strong cultural, social and economic ties between the Tarai districts of Nepal and Bihar. Leaders of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, a coalition of seven Tarai based parties protesting against some provisions of the new constitution, met the CM Bihar and discussed the Tarai crisis and recent political developments.

Sushma Swaraj Congratulates Deuba:

4. External Affairs Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj, on March 3, in her congratulatory message to Deuba on his election as NC President wished the newly elected president success in leading the largest democratic party of Nepal. The Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae also congratulated Deuba. He called on Deuba on March 9 and conveyed to him India’s desire to see peace, stability and prosperity in Nepal. In response, Deuba said that the Nepal-India relations were harmonious for centuries and expressed confidence that it would further strengthen in the future.

Govt Forms Local Body Restructuring Commission:

5. Government has formed a local body restructuring commission under the leadership of former secretary Balnanda Paudel. This has been done as per article 295 of the constitution that states that “Government of Nepal shall form a commission for determination of number and borders of the Village Council, Municipal Council and Special, protected, or autonomous regions to be formed… within six months from the date of commencement of this constitution and the term of office of such commission shall be of one year.”

Ultimatum By Madhesi Alliance To PM:

6. Leaders of the Madhesi alliance submitted a formal ultimatum to the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli stating that they would intensify their agitation if the demands were not met with by the end of Chaitra (mid-April). The urged the prime minister to examine their demands carefully and resolve the differences. It stated that the government had one month to meet their 11-point demands besides providing adequate compensation to those who were killed during the Madhes protest.

External Relations

SAARC Foreign Ministers Meet At Pokhara:

7. The 37th Foreign Ministerial Meeting of SAARC began in Pokhara on March 14 and was to conclude on March 17. Discussions were to focus on establishment on SAARC University, SAARC Development Fund, SAARC Arbitration Council and South Asian Regional Standard Organisation. Participating Joint Secretary level officials discussed the reports submitted by the governing bodies of these four organizations. A proposal of scholarship facility for students from SAARC member countries was submitted for discussion. Likewise, discussions were held on SAARC Development Fund to provide assistance to the member nations and about the proposed SAARC Arbitration Council which aims to settle disputes among its members. Following the Joint Secretary level meeting on March 14-15, Secretary level meeting was scheduled to take place on March 16-17 to be inaugurated by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.

8. At the meeting of SAARC Foreign Ministers, Chairpersons of the Programme Committee, on March 15, directed the South Asian University (SAU) to commence under graduate programmes as early as possible and ensure regional representation in appointments, particularly, in the appointment of the Vice-Presidents. Similarly, the committee recommended the SAU to ensure geographical representation in faculty and students as well. The committee directed the SAU to circulate a list of students and faculty members, containing all the relevant details (including nationality) through the SAARC Secretariat at the beginning of every academic year. SAARC University founded in 2010, is located in New Delhi. The committee directed the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) to ensure representation at the SDF Secretariat. Before making such several decisions, the committee discussed various matters including those related to agriculture, veterinary, seed bank, project based co-operation, tourism, drug trade, and exchange of information system.

Many MoUs to be Signed During PM Oli’s Visit to China

9. According to Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa, Nepal will sign around half a dozen MoUs with China during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit, scheduled to start from March 20. Speaking in Kathmandu (March 14), Thapa said that the two countries would discuss and try to reach agreements on bilateral trade, transit and investment. DPM Thapa informed that Oli was scheduled to meet the Chinese premier on March 21. He would also hold meetings with other Chinese officials/leaders before addressing a meeting at Renmin University and the Boao Forum for Asia on March 23.

10. Earlier, Prime Minister Oli, on March 13, briefed the Standing Committee of his party on the visit. He informed party members that he would give topmost priority to finalizing the bilateral transit and trade agreement that would be significant step diversifying Nepal’s trade which is, so far, heavily dependent on India. Nepal’s priority would also be on upgrading the existing Tatopani border point that was destroyed by last year’s earthquake and bringing Kimathanka border point at Sankhuwasabha and Korala point of Mustang district into use. Similarly, the Nepali side has planned to seek China’s support to prepare a detailed project report for extending China’s rail services up to Kathmandu and Pokhara from Kerung. Also, Nepal will seek China’s support for mega hydroelectric projects and to build cross-border transmission lines.

Chinese President May Visit Nepal Later This Year:

11. Sources in Beijing have hinted that Chinese President Xi Jinping might visit Nepal and Bangladesh during his India visit to attend the upcoming BRICS Summit. They said that the Chinese President had shown interest to visit Nepal and Bangladesh on route to New Delhi for the Summit that was being convened in New Delhi. India is the current chair of BRICS and is all set to host the BRICS Summit in September/October this year.

Himalyan Airlines Receives Its First Airbus:

12. Himalyan Airlines, a Nepal-China Joint venture, on March 9, received its first Airbus at a special ceremony in Kathmandu. The aircraft flew into Kathmandu from Chengdu. The airline plans to start daily flights from April, 2016 on Delhi- Doha route.

Nepal Becomes 34th Member OF Asia Co-operation Dialogue:

13. Nepal was inducted as the 34th member of the Asia Co-operation Dialogue (ACD) during 14th Ministerial Meeting of Asia Co-operation Dialogue held (8-10 March) in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting unanimously endorsed Nepal as ACD’s 34th member, on March 10. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, Kamal Thapa, thanked the ACD for accepting Nepal as a new member of the forum. Thapa assured full commitment to the principles, values and objectives of the ACD. The ACD members include India and China.

Prince Harry to Visit Nepal:

14. Britain’s Prince Harry will visit Nepal for four days from March 20. A press statement issued from Kensington Palace, London said that Duke of Cambridge would stay in Nepal for four days during his first visit to the Himalayan nation. In Nepal, Prince Harry will meet President Bidya Devi Bhandari and also visit those affected by the Nepal earthquakes of April and May 2015, to learn about efforts being made to restore buildings of historic significance and to assist disaster preparedness.

Bhutan:

Internal Developments:

Former Diplomat Charged:

1. The former head of Chancery of Bhutanese Embassy in Thailand has been charged on 26 accounts during the preliminary hearing at Thimpu District Court, on March 4. The Charges include embezzlement, official misconduct and deceptive practice. The official is alleged to have misused over NU 17.6 million of government money meant for medical referrals of Bhutanese patients to Bangkok. Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation in November 2012 had revealed the misuse of fund since 2008.

External Realtions:

Japan to Fund Four Projects Worth USD 8.7M

2. The Exchange of Notes for the USD 8.5 million Japanese grant aid project for improvement of machinery and equipment for construction of rural agricultural roads (Phase-III) was signed in New Delhi, on March 15. Ambassador, V Namgyal, of Bhutan to Japan and Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu of Japan to Bhutan signed the Exchange of Notes. The two ambassadors also signed three grant contracts under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects. Projects include provision of cars to community police centers in Paro, Wangdue, and Tashigang amounting to more than USD 135,000, installation of a safe water supply system in Samthang, Wangdue (around USD 24.700), and construction of a centre for subtropical horticulture development in Panbang and Zhemgang (USD 61,900).

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