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  Power-sharing in Nepal: Learning from other peace processes  


Power-sharing can be an effective approach to deal with mistrust and acrimonious feeling that often frustrates the transition from war to peace. By power sharing we refer to guarantees for positions to qualified parties in a new government at cabinet level or above, or a specific quota of political power in at least one of the main branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial) while political actors work on establishing a normalized political process. Of the 16 peace processes in the Peace Accords Matrix (PAM), 8 involved power-sharing in the transitional government, and further three at local levels. South Africa and Northern Ireland are selected as having particular insights for Nepal. Cambodia is selected for its regional relevance.


In December 1991, nineteen South African political groups signed the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) Declaration of Intent, and negotiations started on setting up an interim government. These were led by South African president De Klerk’s National Party (NP) and the main opposition party, the African National Congress (ANC). In February 1992, the ANC proposed an interim government council, with legislative and executive powers, appointed by CODESA, to oversee the transitional period. The proposal had two alternatives: An interim government council to function until the constituent assembly completed its drafting of the constitution and a new parliament was in place; or a constituent assembly vested with sovereign powers, to function both as a constituent assembly and as a legislature.

The 1993 constitution provided that any party holding 20 or more seats (5 percent) in the parliament was entitled to receive one or more of the cabinet portfolios. And a party that received 80 (or 20 percent) of seats was entitled to receive a position of Deputy President. Eventually elections took place in April 1994 using proportional representation, and a constitutionally defined multi-party government of national unity was formed in May. Six ministers from the NP were appointed to the cabinet, including former president de Klerk, who was appointed as second Deputy President. Constitutionally, the power-sharing government of national unity was expected to last until 1999, but the NP withdrew from the government at the end of June 1996, after the adoption of the constitution by the national assembly. So the government of national unity lasted for about 26 months. The ANC was effectively in charge of the government until the 1999 elections for a new national assembly.
If one power-sharing group is able to dominate state power, the peace process may collapse. International experiences suggest that the current stalemate in Nepal and the conclusion of the peace process might be facilitated by the creation of a unity government, at least as a transition to normality.

Power-sharing in South Africa was deliberately aimed at promoting reconciliation and facilitating a transition to democracy and peace after the apartheid regime. Depending on their electoral performance in the 1994 elections, parties were proportionally involved in the national unity government. All parties were in agreement that power-sharing would be an interim transitional measure, ending when institutions were established with sufficient checks and balances on future majority governments. When the constitution was passed, the NP was sufficiently confident in the institutions to withdraw from the unity government almost three years before its term.


The principle of power-sharing was built into Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Proportional Representation was used to ensure that the Unionist (mainly Protestant) and Nationalist (mainly Catholic) communities participated in government in proportion to the seats they won in the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. Had the main parties failed to reach agreement on power-sharing, power would return to London, a situation none of the parties wanted.

Northern Ireland’s experience of power-sharing evolved through two phases. The first post-Agreement government (1999-2002) was dominated by the UUP and the SDLP, the two moderate parties that had negotiated the Good Friday Agreement. The failure of the IRA to disarm and other security issues led to tensions, and the Assembly and power-sharing Executive were suspended from October 2002 to May 2007. Following the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, full powers were restored to the power-sharing executive on 8 May 2007. It has continued since then.

During this second power-sharing phase, the power-sharing Executive was dominated by the DUP and Sinn Féin, which became the two largest parties following the 2007 elections. Sinn Féin’s close links with the IRA, and the DUP’s strong opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, indicated that the electorate had moved towards more confrontational positions. Relationships between the parties were difficult, but the power-sharing executive has survived a number of serious challenges, especially over security, policing and justice. In general, the differences were handled by a) reducing the frequency of cabinet meetings and allowing ministers to get on with their ministerial responsibilities and b) avoiding some central issues in serious contention between the two main parties.

Since 1998, governmental powers were gradually transferred from London to Belfast, but not without a succession of disputes between the parties. As of May 2010, responsibility of justice and policing were transferred to Northern Ireland on May 2010, completing the devolution package.

The power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland survived major challenges, including dissident violence and differences on security issues. The cement that kept the government together was the common opposition of all parties to rule from London, and a willingness to adapt to new circumstances. Two major problems continue: 1) the political differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin mean that some fundamental sectarian differences in Northern Ireland have not been addressed; and 2) the absence of an alternative to power-sharing has removed from the electorate the ability to elect an alternate administration.


Following the Cambodian comprehensive peace agreement signed in Paris in1991, a power-sharing arrangement was established through a Supreme National Council (SNC) in coordination with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The SNC was headed by deposed Prince Sihanouk and included representatives of the three major parties, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the royalist FUNCINPEC party, and Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge). UNTAC was responsible for administration and security, and the two bodies worked in coordination as the legitimate governing body and source of authority in which, throughout the transitional period, the sovereignty and unity of Cambodia were enshrined. This power-sharing arrangement was expected to last until the formation of a new constituent assembly after the May 1993 election. FUNCINPEC won 58 seats in the constituent assembly, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s party (CPP) won 51, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic party (BLDP) won 10, and a fourth political party, MOLINAKA, won 1.

The UN Security Council endorsed the results of the elections as free and fair, although they were marred by the Khmer Rouge party’s violent activities and by allegations that the CPP was involved in arbitrary violence and political intimidation against its opponents. The CPP alleged numerous irregularities and refused to recognize the election results. The issue was resolved when Prince Sihanouk proposed the formation of the provisional national government of Cambodia (GNPC). A three-party coalition formed a government headed by two prime ministers; FUNCINPEC´s Prince Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk´s sons, became first prime minister, while CPP’s Hun Sen became second prime minister. After the election, UNTAC withdrew its mission from Cambodia. In September 1993 the government ratified a new constitution restoring the monarchy under Sihanouk and establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia.

All four political parties that had won representation in the Constituent Assembly were represented in the provisional national government of Cambodia (PNGC), but FUNCINPEC and the CPP divided control of the major ministries. Although relations between the main parties were never smooth, the power-sharing relationship between Ranariddh and Hun Sen worked well for the next three years. In July 1997, however, the CPP´s control over the army and the police enabled Hun Sen to stage a violent coup and replace Prince Ranariddh with Ung Huot, a less powerful FUNCINPEC leader. So the power-sharing arrangement, which was designed to promote reconciliation and make a smooth transition to peace and democracy, resulted in a renewed conflict.

The Cambodian experience corroborates the importance of power-sharing during the transitional phase, in order to build institutions of post-war state. Power-sharing, through the SNC in the first phase and the provisional national government arrangement in the second phase, helped to promote reconciliation after the war. But the CPP’s control of the security and administration infrastructure led to a bloody coup, and Cambodia failed to make a transition to a normalized political process.


In the three cases examined here, power-sharing, as opposed to coalition government, was devised as an important procedure for reconciliation, as it required collaboration between parties just coming out of war. It helped to build a common enterprise and reduce distrust and violence. In all cases, power-sharing was regarded as a transitional arrangement aimed at creating institutions to secure basic human, political, and property rights before returning to a normalized political process. The Cambodian experience is a reminder of the danger that, if one power-sharing group is able to dominate state power, the peace process may collapse. International experiences suggest that the current stalemate in Nepal and the conclusion of the peace process might be facilitated by the creation of a unity government, at least as a transition to normality. Comparable cases also demonstrate that this is a difficult task.

The authors are based in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA. The Peace Accords Matrix is a comprehensive database of peace agreement implementations and can be accessed at
Published on 2011-05-04 01:00:55
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