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Nepal - Government


THE DRAMATIC EVENTS of the beginning months of 1990 marked a watershed in Nepal's political system. The quest for a multiparty, representative form of government had begun on December 15, 1960, when an unprecedented royal coup d'�tat dismissed the constitutionally elected government of Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala. King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev abrogated the constitution and suspended all guarantees of fundamental rights and political activities. The traditional partyless panchayat system of local and national assemblies imposed by fiat was found unsatisfactory in the face of the Nepalese desire to secure legitimate political and human rights and establish accountability in government.

Monarchical opposition toward political parties or groups had been so vigorous that the centrist Nepali Congress Party, the oldest political party, carried on its activities from exile in India. Other political parties, including the splintered leftist groups, either operated from abroad or were disbanded. Although political parties were banned and at times their leaders were incarcerated or forced to go underground, they remained a vital force in sensitizing and mobilizing public opinion against government authoritarianism.

The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), popularly known as the prodemocracy movement, finally succeeded in early 1990 in restoring democratic rights denied for decades by the powerful palace clique. In April 1990, tens of thousands of Nepalese marched on the royal palace in Kathmandu, demonstrating against King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, who was traditionally revered as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Police and troops shot and killed many of the marchers. As shock waves reverberated through Nepal, long an oasis of civil order in South Asia, the king quickly scrapped the panchayat system, lifted the ban on political parties, and formed an interim government from among the ranks of the veteran opposition leaders under the premiership of Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad (K.P.) Bhattarai.

The interim government, which represented the spectrum of public opinion, was directed to conduct fair and free elections within a stipulated period under a new constitution framed by an independent constitutional commission appointed by the Council of Ministers--the Constitution Recommendation Commission. Although the constitution was proclaimed from the throne, its development, unlike past constitutional edicts, was through a democratic process in which the interim Council of Ministers served as a legislature. Nepal's human rights records--poor before the success of the prodemocracy movement--also improved.

During the prodemocracy movement, a range of political parties acted in concert and rapidly commanded the loyalty and imagination of the overwhelming majority of the urban population. This unprecedented expression of national unity and the government's subsequent attempts to suppress the movement triggered the reactions of major and regional world powers including the United States, Japan, and India, and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Their timely expressions of concern and threats to reevaluate their commitments of economic and technical assistance both bolstered the movement and served as a damper against the monarchy's continued use of excessive force to contain it.

Strategically wedged between China and India, Nepal has always been fearful of foreign intervention and has tried to maintain equal distance from these two powerful neighbors in a continuing effort to protect its sovereignty. Nepal's choice not to align with any superpower facilitated grants of economic assistance from diverse sources, including the United States, the Soviet Union, India, China, and Japan. Nepal maintained a high profile in various international organizations and activities and was a charter member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Although the vast majority of the Nepalese population was illiterate, Nepal's printed media has been influential as well as strident. Before the introduction of the 1990 constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, several stringent publication and censorship laws limited freedom of expression.

<> Political Parties
<> Elections




The Rana System

Beginning in 1856, the center of power in Nepal rested with the Rana prime ministers, who retained sovereign power until the revolution of 1950-51. Many of the nobles who participated in the consultative court called the Assembly of Lords, or Bharadari Sabha, had been slaughtered at the Kot Massacre in 1846. Following his official visit to Britain and Europe in 1851, Jang Bahadur Kunwar (later called Jang Bahadur Rana) began to use the Bharadari Sabha as deliberative body for state affairs. For almost 100 years, this council served as a rubber stamp for the Rana autocracy. The next major effort at institutional development was initiated in 1947 by Padma Shamsher Rana, a liberal prime minister, who appointed a Constitutional Reform Committee to draft the first constitution. Known as the Government of Nepal Constitution Act, 1948, this constitution, written with the help of Indian advisers, superficially changed the Rana system. It established a bicameral legislative body. The entire membership of one house and a majority of the other was selected by the prime minister, who could reject any measure that the legislature might pass. There was a cabinet of at least five members, of whom at least two were chosen from among the few elected members of the legislature.

The act also specified that a panchayat system of local self-government would be inaugurated in the villages, towns, and districts. It enumerated certain fundamental rights and duties, which included freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and worship; equality before the law; free elementary education for all; and equal and universal suffrage. Despite the appearance of reform, the alterations made in the Rana system by the constitution were slight. The more conservative Ranas perceived the constitution as a dangerous precedent, forced Padma Shamsher to resign, and suspended promulgation of the constitution. The constitution became effective in September 1950 but remained in force only until February 1951, when the Rana monopoly was broken and the creation of a new constitutional system began.

<> The Interim Constitution, 1951
<> The Royal Constitution of 1959
<> The Panchayat Constitution, 1962
<> Constitutional Amendments
<> The Referendum of 1980
<> The Constitution of 1990
<> Other Features of the Constitution
<> The Executive
<> The Legislature
<> The Judiciary
<> The Civil Service
<> The Administrative System
<> The Panchayat System


Nepal - The Interim Constitution, 1951


The revolution of 1950-51 resulted in the overthrow of the Rana system. In 1951 King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah announced by royal proclamation an interim government and an interim constitution until a new Constituent Assembly could be elected. The interim constitution, based on principles in India's constitution and entitled the Interim Government of Nepal Act, 1951, ratified the end of the authority of the prime minister and the system surrounding that office. It also reasserted the king's supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The king exercised his executive authority through, and was aided and advised by, a Council of Ministers, which he appointed and which served at his pleasure.

The king also appointed an Advising Assembly to sit until the Constituent Assembly was elected. The king retained sovereign and plenary legislative powers. The Advising Assembly was, with certain exceptions, authorized only to discuss matters and to recommend measures to the king for enactment into law. The final authority to approve any legislative measure lay with the king. The constitution also established a Supreme Court, made the king supreme commander of the armed forces, reiterated and enlarged upon the fundamental rights included in the Rana constitution, and proclaimed numerous social and economic objectives of the government. These objectives were to promote the welfare of the people by securing a social order in which social, economic, and political justice pervaded all the institutions of national life. King Mahendra (reigned 1955-72) vigorously sought to broaden the monarch's political base, but the Nepali National Congress succeeded in gaining some democratic reforms. Although the constitution was expected to be temporary pending the election of a Constituent Assembly and the preparation of a permanent organic law, King Mahendra was unable to resist the increasingly well-orchestrated political demands by the Nepali National Congress for a more democratic and representative government, and was forced to promulgate a new constitution.


Nepal - The Royal Constitution of 1959


The most significant aspect of the constitution of 1959 was that it was granted by the king rather than drawn up by elected representatives of the people as had been specified in the 1951 constitution. Although the constitution formally brought into being a democratically elected parliamentary system under a constitutional monarchy, the king retained ultimate sovereignty, even though the document itself did not explicitly grant this power.

The 1959 constitution, modeled on British and Indian constitutional custom, vested executive power in the king, who was advised and assisted by a Council of State (Raj Sabha) and a Council of Ministers (cabinet). The Council of State, which consisted of officers of Parliament, ministers ex officio, former ministers, and royal appointees, advised the monarch on legislation and handled the details of regency and succession in the event of his death or disability. The general direction and control of the government were entrusted to the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister required to command a majority in the lower house of Parliament, to which the council was collectively responsible.

The king was an integral part of the legislative arm of the government. Parliament was defined as consisting of the king; the House of Representatives, composed of 109 popularly elected members; and the Senate, composed of 36 members of whom half were elected by the house and half were nominated by the king. All bills approved by the two houses required the assent of the king to become law. The constitution granted the king wide latitude to nullify the parliamentary system. The king could suspend the operation of the cabinet and perform its functions himself if he determined that no person could command a majority in the house as prime minister. In the event of a breakdown of the parliamentary system or of any one of a number of emergency conditions, the king could suspend either or both houses of Parliament, assume their powers, and suspend the constitution in whole or part. In December 1960, King Mahendra invoked these emergency powers to dissolve the Nepali Congress Party government. The constitutional system that had prevailed before 1959 was then returned to operation.


Nepal - The Panchayat Constitution, 1962


By royal proclamation on December 16, 1962, King Mahendra announced a new constitution that radically reformed the 1959 constitution but also adopted many features of the Rana system. Known as the Panchayat Constitution, it was the fourth constitution in fifteen years.

The panchayat system was an institution of great antiquity. Historically, each caste group system of Nepal formed its own panchayat, or council of elders, a sociopolitical organization operational on a village level that could expand to include neighboring districts, or even function on a zonal basis. Although it could be argued that the panchayat system was adopted from India, King Mahendra had argued for its incorporation at the national level as an exponent of Nepalese culture--a worthy and historically correct representation of cultural expression.

The 1962 constitution was based on some elements from other "guided democracy" constitutional experiments--notably "Basic Democracy" in Pakistan, "Guided Democracy" in Indonesia, and the "Dominant Party System" in Egypt. The Panchayat constitution not only codified the irrelevance of political parties, but also declared them illegal.

The 1962 constitution contained a stronger and more explicit statement of royal authority than did previous constitutions. Real power remained with the king, who was the sole source of authority and had the power not only to amend the constitution but also to suspend it by royal proclamation during emergencies. The Council of Ministers, selected from the members of the legislative (Rashtriya Panchayat, or National Panchayat), served as an advisory body to the king. Members of the Rashtriya Panchayat were elected indirectly by the members of local panchayat as well as by the members of professional and class organizations such as the Nepal Workers' Organization, the Nepal Ex-servicemen's Organization, and the Nepal Youth Organization. The constitution abolished all political parties.


Nepal - Constitutional Amendments


The Panchayat Constitution was amended several times, primarily to increase the power and prerogatives of the monarchy against the increasing popular demand for liberalization of the political institutions and processes. In view of the mounting criticism against the Panchayat Constitution, King Birendra, who had succeeded his father in 1972, pursuant to recommendations of a specially created Constitutional Reform Commission, announced in 1975 that the constitution would be amended to include provisions governing the amending procedure itself. Previously the king could not amend the constitution unless two-thirds of the Rashtriya Panchayat ratified the proposed amendment. Under the proposed amendment, the king would have to consult a special committee of the Rastriya Panchayat before amending the constitution. In addition, the term of a delegate to the Rashtriya Panchayat was reduced from six years to four years.


Nepal - The Referendum of 1980


In May 1979, concerned by the unabated political demonstrations and considerable general unrest, King Birendra called for a nationwide referendum to determine the future form of government. The referendum offered two choices: a continuation of the partyless panchayat system, with prospects for further reform; or a multiparty system. Although no clear definition of a multiparty system was provided, the implication was that it stood for a parliamentary system of government run on a party basis. The referendum, the first nationwide vote in twenty-two years, was held on May 2, 1980, and 67 percent of the eligible voters participated. The panchayat system was chosen with a majority of 54.7 percent of the votes. On May 21, 1980, the king appointed an eleven-member Constitution Reforms Commission to be chaired by the acting chief justice of the Supreme Court. On December 15, the king promulgated three constitutional amendments: direct elections to the Rashtriya Panchayat would be held every five years for 112 seats, with 28 additional seats filled by the king's personal nomination; the prime minister would be elected by the Rashtriya Panchayat; the cabinet would be appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister and would be accountable to the Rashtriya Panchayat; and Nepal would commit to the Nonaligned Movement as a zone of peace. These provisions, with a few minor modifications, remained in operation until early 1990, when the prodemocracy movement successfully agitated for a multiparty democratic system.


Nepal - The Constitution of 1990


Widespread prodemocracy protests toppled the panchayat system in April 1990. The king appointed an independent Constitution Recommendation Commission to represent the main opposition factions and to prepare a new constitution to accommodate their demands for political reform. On September 10, 1990, the commission presented King Birendra with the draft of a new constitution, which would preserve the king's status as chief of state under a constitutional monarchy but establish a multiparty democracy with separation of powers and human rights. As agreed upon earlier, the king turned the draft constitution over to Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and his cabinet for review and recommendations. The draft was discussed extensively and approved by the interim cabinet. A major obstacle to approval was avoided when the commission removed a disputed provision under which both the constitutional monarchy and multiparty system could have been eliminated by a three-quarters majority vote of Parliament.

On November 9, 1990, King Birendra promulgated the new constitution and abrogated the constitution of 1962. The 1990 constitution ended almost thirty years of absolute monarchy in which the palace had dominated every aspect of political life and political parties were banned.

The constitution, broadly based on British practice, is the fundamental law of Nepal. It vests sovereignty in the people and declares Nepal a multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, and constitutional monarchical kingdom. The national and official language of Nepal is Nepali in the Devanagari script. All other languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are recognized as languages of the nation. Although Nepal still is officially regarded as a Hindu kingdom, the constitution also gives religious and cultural freedom to other religious groups, such as Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The preamble of the constitution recognizes the desire of the Nepalese people to bring about constitutional changes with the objective of obtaining social, political, and economic justice. It envisages the guarantee of basic human rights to every citizen, a parliamentary system of government, and a multiparty democracy. It also aims to establish an independent and competent system of justice with a view to transforming the concept of the rule of law into reality.

Other safeguards include the right to property; the right to conserve and promote one's language, script, and culture; the right to education in the student's mother tongue; freedom of religion; and the right to manage and protect religious places and trusts. Traffic in human slavery, serfdom, forced labor, or child labor in any form is prohibited. The right to receive information about matters of public importance and the right to secrecy and inviolability of one's person, residence, property, documents, letters, and other information also are guaranteed.

Part three of the constitution provides for the fundamental rights of citizens. Although some elements of fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1962 constitution are reflected in the 1990 constitution, the latter provides new safeguards in unequivocal language and does not encumber the fundamental rights with duties or restrictions purported to uphold public good. All citizens are equal before the law, and no discrimination can be made on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, or ideology. No person shall, on the basis of caste, be discriminated against as an untouchable, be denied access to any public place, or be deprived from the use of public utilities. No discrimination will be allowed in regard to remuneration for men and women for the same work. No citizen can be exiled or be deprived of liberty except in accordance with the law; and capital punishment is disallowed.

In addition, sections on fundamental rights provide for freedom of thought and expression; freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms; freedom to form unions and associations; freedom to move and reside in any part of Nepal; and freedom to carry out any profession, occupation, trade, or industry. Similarly, prior censorship of publications is prohibited, and free press and printing are guaranteed. Unfettered cultural and educational rights also are guaranteed. Articles twenty-three and eighty-eight provide for a citizen's right to constitutional remedy. Any citizen can petition the Supreme Court to declare any law or part thereof as void if it infringes on the fundamental rights conferred by the constitution.

Rights regarding criminal justice include the guarantee that no person will be punished for an act unpunishable by law or subjected to a punishment greater than that prescribed by the laws in existence at the time of commission of the offense; no person will be prosecuted more than once in any offense; and no one will be compelled to bear witness against himself or herself. Inflicting cruelty on a person in detention is prohibited, as is detaining a person without giving information about the grounds for such detention. Further, the person in detention must be produced within twenty-four hours of such arrest before the judicial authorities. Any person wrongly detained will be compensated.

The constitution lays down various directives in matters of political, economic, and social development, and foreign policy. These lofty policies are guidelines to promote conditions of welfare on the basis of the principles of an open society. One objective is to transform the national economy into an independent and self-reliant system by making arrangements for the equitable distribution of the economic gains on the basis of social justice. The constitution stresses the creation of conditions for the enjoyment of the fruits of democracy through the maximum participation of the people in governance of the country. Other aims include the pursuit of a policy in international relations that will enhance the dignity of the nation and ensure sovereignty, integrity, and national independence and the protection of the environment from further ecological damage.


Nepal - Other Features of the Constitution


The constitution guarantees the citizens' unfettered rights to political pluralism and a multiparty democracy. All legitimate political organizations or parties that register with the Election Commission are allowed to publicize and broadcast for the purpose of securing support and cooperation of the general public toward their objectives and programs. Any law, arrangement, or decision that restricts any of these activities is inconsistent with the constitution and void. Any law, arrangement, or decision to impose a one-party system is also inconsistent with the constitution and void. Under the section on political organization, any political party is not eligible for registration if it discriminates, if at least 5 percent of its candidates are not women, or if it fails to obtain at least 3 percent of the total votes cast in the previous election to the House of Representatives.

The constitution may be amended or repealed by a majority of two-thirds in each house of Parliament. However, such amendment or repeals may not be designed to frustrate the spirit of the preamble of the constitution, which recognizes the Nepalese people as the source of sovereign authority. After passing in both houses, any bill to repeal or amend the constitution must receive royal assent.


Nepal - The Executive


Executive powers are vested in the king and the Council of Ministers--a prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other ministers as required. The direction, supervision, and conduct of the general administration of the country are the responsibility of the Council of Ministers. All transactions made in the name of the king, except those within his exclusive domain, are authenticated by the Council of Ministers.

The king appoints the leader of the political party commanding a majority in the House of Representatives as prime minister. If a single party does not have a majority in the house, the member commanding a majority on the basis of two or more parties is asked to form the government. When this alternative also is not possible, the king may ask the leader of a party holding the largest number of seats in the house to form the government. In this case, the leader forming the government must obtain a vote of confidence in the house within thirty days. If a vote of no confidence is obtained, the king will dissolve the house and order new elections within six months. Other ministers are appointed by the king from members of Parliament on the recommendation of the prime minister.

The constitution declares the king the symbol of the nation and the unity of its people. Expenditures and privileges of the king and royal family are determined by law. The king is obliged to obey and protect the constitution. Although, as in previous constitutions the monarch remains the supreme commander of the Royal Nepal Army, a three-member National Defence Council, headed by the prime minister, commands the military. Nonetheless, the king retains his power over the army because if there were a threat to sovereignty, indivisibility, or security because of war, foreign aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic depression, he could declare a state of emergency. During the period of emergency--which would have to be approved by the House of Representatives within three months and which would remain in effect for six months from the date of its announcement, renewable for six months--fundamental rights, with the exception of the right of habeas corpus, could be suspended. Additional prerogatives of the king include the power to grant pardons; suspend, commute, or remit any sentence passed by any court; confer titles, honors, or decorations of the kingdom; appoint all ambassadors and emissaries for the kingdom; and remove any barriers to enforcing the constitution. The king also nominates the members of the Raj Parishad (King's Council), the body that determines the accession to the throne of the heir apparent.


Nepal - The Legislature


The constitution provides for a bicameral legislature, the Parliament. This body consists of the king and two houses, the House of Representatives (Pratinidhi Sabha) and the National Council (Rashtriya Sabha). The House of Representatives has 205 directly elected members. The term for the House of Representatives is five years unless it dissolves earlier, pursuant to the provisions of the constitution. On the recommendation of the prime minister, the king may dissolve the house, but new elections must be held within six months. Administrative districts are the election districts; and each district's allocation of seats is proportional to its population. All persons eighteen years or older are enfranchised.

The National Council has sixty members consisting of ten nominees of the king; thirty-five members, including at least three women, to be elected by the House of Representatives by means of a single transferable vote, pursuant to the system of proportional representation; and fifteen members to be elected by the electoral college comprising the voters, including the chair and deputy chair of the village and town and district committees of various development regions. The National Council is a permanent body; onethird of its members must retire every two years. Council members serve six-year terms.

With the exception of finance bills, introduced only in the House of Representatives, bills may be introduced in either house. All bills, however, must be passed by both houses before receiving royal assent. When a bill is rejected by the National Council, the House of Representatives has the overriding authority. If the joint session of Parliament receives and passes a bill that the king returned for reconsideration, it receives royal assent within thirty days. The king may, when both the Houses of Parliament are not in session, promulgate ordinances, which are not effective unless approved by both the houses when reconvened. Financial procedures are outlined in part ten of the constitution, which states that taxes cannot be levied or loans raised except in accordance with the law.


Nepal - The Judiciary


An independent judiciary, unencumbered by the executive branch of the government and palace interference, was a stated goal of all political parties. Of the many changes which have taken place since the fall of the Ranas in 1951, among the most striking have been the growing autonomy of the courts and the gradual liberalization of many basic judicial principles. Despite major improvements, however, the judicial system has suffered from serious impediments in providing speedy, expeditious, and equal justice. The independence and integrity of the judiciary were repeatedly questioned in the press; intervention of political figures and government officials in the judicial process was a frequent occurrence; and caste and economic status were important determinants of the availability of justice.

The court system formerly was one of many instruments used by the prime minister to maintain the authoritarian rule of the Rana family, and the concepts of law it applied were arbitrary, punitive, and oppressive. After an initial attempt to keep the judiciary subordinate when the monarchy was restored, it was allowed to become a relatively independent branch of government. Reforms in the legal system rendered both substantive and procedural law progressively more systematic.

Never clearly demarcated, the jurisdiction of the courts became further complicated with the introduction of the panchayat system, which at the local level exercised some quasijudicial functions. Therefore, the fundamental role of the judiciary and its position within the government became a subject of national focus during the prodemocracy movement.

According to the constitution, the courts comprise three tiers: the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts. In addition, courts or tribunals may be constituted for the purpose of hearing special types of cases.

The Supreme Court is the highest court. All other courts and institutions exercising judicial powers, except the military courts, are under its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has the authority to inspect, supervise, and give directives to all subordinate courts and all other institutions that exercise judicial powers. The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction and consists of a chief justice and fourteen other judges.

The chief justice is appointed on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. Other judges of the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts are appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council. All appointments are made by the king. The tenure of office of the chief justice is limited to seven years from the date of appointment. Supreme Court justices can be impeached in the House of Representatives for reasons of incapacity, misbehavior, or malafide acts while in office. The Judicial Council, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, makes recommendations and advises on appointments, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges and other matters relating to judicial administration.

All appointments, promotions, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges of the appellate and district courts are under the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council. An independent Judicial Service Commission, appointed by the king, and with the chief justice of the Supreme Court serving as ex-officio chairman, appoints, transfers, promotes, and provides departmental punishment of the gazetted officers of the civil service.

An Abuse of Authority Investigating Commission is empowered to investigate the misuse of authority or corruption by public officials. Members of the commission have no specific party affiliation and are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.

The Supreme Court is the supreme judicial authority of the nation. All orders and decisions made by the court are binding. Any interpretation of a law or any legal principle laid down by the court is binding on all, including the king.

As a guarantor of personal liberty and fundamental rights conferred by the constitution, the Supreme Court has the authority to declare a law as void ab initio if it finds that the impugned law contravenes the provisions of the constitution. The Supreme Court also has the power to issue appropriate orders and writs, including habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto.


Nepal - The Civil Service


The Nepal Civil Service Act, passed in 1956, classified all civil employees of the government into two categories--gazetted services and nongazetted services. Gazetted services included all services prescribed by the government by notification in the Nepal Raj Patra, the government gazette. In 1991 categories of the gazetted services were education, judicial, health, administrative, engineering, forest, agricultural, and miscellaneous services. The gazetted posts were further grouped into classes I, II, and III. Nongazetted posts also had several class echelons. As of 1990, there were approximately 80,000 civil service employees in all ranks.

According to the 1990 constitution, all members of the civil service are recruited through an open competitive examination conducted by the Public Service Commission. Police and military officers are excluded from the jurisdiction of the commission. The chairman and other members of the commission are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The commission must be consulted in all matters concerning laws relating to the civil service--such as appointment, promotion, transfer, or departmental punishment. Tenure, benefits, and postings were regulated by the Nepal Civil Service Act of 1956.


Nepal - The Administrative System


The panchayat system represented "democracy at the grassroots," and until April 1990 it included four integrated levels: local or village, district, zonal, and national--the Rashtriya Panchayat. Only the village panchayat was directly elected by the people. Championing panchayat rule as a political system, king Mahendra was able to tap into nascent Nepalese nationalism and also to outmaneuver the evolving political parties which had posed a challenge to the monarchy's vested power.

The country was divided into fourteen zones and seventy-five districts in support of the complex hierarchy of the panchayat system. The lowest unit of government was the gaun panchayat (village committee or council), of which there were 3,524. A locality with a population of more than 10,000 persons was organized as a nagar panchayat (town committee or council). The number of nagar panchayat varied from zone to zone. Above the gaun panchayat and nagar panchayat was the district panchayat, of which there were seventyfive . At the apex of the panchayat system was the Rashtriya Panchayat, which served as the unicameral national legislature from 1962 until 1990.

The district panchayat had broad powers for supervising and coordinating the development programs of the village and carried out development projects through the district development boards and centers. Each of the seventy-five districts was headed by a chief district officer, who was an elected official, responsible for maintaining law and order, and for coordinating the work of the field agencies of the various ministries.

The zonal panchayat was responsible for implementing development plans forwarded by the central government, formulating and executing programs of its own, and planning, supervising, and coordinating district development programs within its jurisdiction. Zonal commissioners exercised full administrative and quasijudicial powers. Each zone was administered by a zonal commissioner and one or two assistant zonal commissioners, all directly appointed by the king. Zones and districts were further regrouped into five development zones in 1971-72, an administrative division that remained in effect in 1991.

A drive for political liberalization, which had begun shortly after the 1959 constitution was abrogated and all political activities were banned in 1960, did not climax until the prodemocracy movement of 1990. At that point, ongoing debilitating interparty conflicts and halting demands for reforms of the political system ended, and national energy focused on a movement to achieve democratic rights. During the prodemocracy movement, some of the pancha (panchayat members) loyalists even were openly friendly with their former adversaries.

The interim government that was installed in April 1990 consisted of strange bedfellows, who, however, succeeded in steering the nation to its first free and fair elections in thirtytwo years. In April 1990, the nagar panchayat was renamed nagar polika (municipal development committee), and the gaun panchayat became gaun bikas samiti, or village development committee. The Ministry of Local Development posted an officer to each district to help with the various programs of the development committees. In mid-1991, a Nepali Congress Party government was in power, and a conglomerate of communist parties was playing the role of constitutional opposition. At that time, there were 4,015 village development committees and thirty-three municipal development committees. Elections for the heads of the development committees were scheduled for June 1992.


Nepal - The Panchayat System


For centuries the government had been run by a number of interrelated aristocratic families. Despite the limitations of a royal ban on political parties and other impediments, political parties did exist and operated clandestinely. To escape harassment or imprisonment, many political leaders went to India, where they also received logistical and other support.

Under the panchayat system, there were six government- sponsored class and professional organizations for peasants, laborers, students, women, former military personnel, and college graduates. These organizations were substitutes for the prohibited political parties and provided alternate channels for the articulation of group or class--rather than national--interests. The professional and class organizations were warned repeatedly against engaging in political activity; nevertheless, they offered the only political forum open to many Nepalese, and even some Nepali Congress Party and communist partisans considered them worthy of infiltration.

The king also launched an independent national student association, the National Independent Student Council (Rashtriya Swatantra Vidyarthi Parishad), to control the political activities of the students. The association failed to gain support, and successful student agitation in 1979 forced the king not only to abolish it but also to initiate constitutional reforms leading to the national referendum of 1980. Also in 1980, a group of dissident pancha brought a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa on charges of bureaucratic corruption, food shortages, and lack of economic discipline. Surya Bahadur, however, was a perennial political survivor and was returned to office in 1981.

King Birendra devised the Back-to-the-Village National Campaign (BVNC) in 1975. The BVNC was intended to circumvent the possibility of opposition within the panchayat and to create a loyal core of elites to select and endorse candidates for political office, thereby neutralizing the influence of underground political party organizers in the rural areas. Although it was envisioned as a means to mobilize the people for the implementation of development plans and projects, the shortlived BVNC--it was suspended in 1979--was in reality an ideological campaign to reinforce the importance of the partyless system. The campaign stressed that the partyless system was appropriate to the ways of the Nepalese people; the party system was a divisive and culturally alien institution.

Each zonal committee had a BVNC structure, with a secretary nominated by the king. The BVNC network was extended to the district and village levels so as to reinforce a national communication system. However inasmuch as the government paid the BVNC central and zonal committee members and restricted chances for popular participation, the committees carried out the same activities as the panchayat. In actuality, the BVNC was created by the king to ensure a loyal organization and circumvent active party members from gaining seats in the panchayat elections. The BVNC became an organization of centrally controlled loyal panchayat elites and an insurance policy for palace initiatives.

The only significant opposition to the monarchy came from the Nepali Congress Party, which operated from exile in India. Other parties either accepted and operated within the panchayat system on a supposedly nonpartisan basis or merged with the exiled Nepali Congress Party, polarizing politics over the issue of monarchical rule. Even the Communist Party of Nepal, divided on the tactical question of whether to seek the direct and immediate overthrow of the monarchical system or to work within it, had split into factions--a radical wing operated in India and a moderate wing underground in Nepal. Some party members, to gain tactical advantage over the Nepali Congress Party, entered the panchayat system with the tacit approval of the palace.

Ethnic plurality, income disparity, linguistic diversity, pervading regional loyalties, underdeveloped communications, and a paucity of written and electronic media also hindered party organization. The dominant high-caste political leaders were more interested in sharing or gaining access to power than in developing lasting foundations for party politics.

Reportedly, before political organizations were banned, there were sixty-nine political parties, most of which were characteristically fluid in their membership and inconsistent in their loyalties. Personalities rather than ideologies brought individuals and groups under the nominal canopy of a party. Fragmentation, recombination, and alliances for convenience were the outstanding aspects of party behavior.

In the polarized political climate, the monarchy looked at the panchayat system as its only dependable support base. The panchayat apparatus provided access for politically motivated individuals to form a new elite. Although the political leadership and following of the Nepali Congress Party initially stayed away from the panchayat system, over time, and in the absence of an outlet for political activities, some defections took place. Nevertheless, the lateral entry of some pro-Nepali Congress Party elements did not substantially change the character of the panchayat leadership, which was dominated by rural elites of the Hill Region rather than the urban Kathmandu and Tarai Region elites who had been in the forefront of political activities. The system was designed so that the established parties would gradually shrink and lose their influence and control. Once the new panchayat leadership matured, however, some members became restive under the excessive control of the palace. This group of the panchayat elite opposed the system from within and overtly joined the prodemocracy movement.

In the last four decades, there was significant progress towards democracy in Nepal's traditionally authoritarian political system. The first national elections in Nepal took place in 1959-- some eight years after the overthrow of the Rana system. The Nepali Congress Party-dominated government, victorious in the 1959 parliamentary elections, was overthrown by King Mahendra within two years--resulting in the ban on political parties. The pattern that developed over the following decades was that of a monarchy reinforcing its power through the traditional institution of the panchayat. The panchayat system, co-opted and easily manipulated by the monarchy to suit its political ends, nevertheless was slowly but steadily subjected to pressures to change. Over time the monarchy was forced by necessity to expand the role of elections in response to the mounting discontent of a citizenry living in an age of heightened political awareness and rising expectations. This trend culminated in May 1991 with the first truly free elections in over thirty years, ushering in a new political era. The Nepali Congress Party obtained a workable majority within the framework of a constitutional monarchy and affirmed the rise of a nascent democratic force.

One of the ramifications of the prodemocracy movement was the beginning of a process of integration in national politics and decision making. With an elected Parliament and demands for an equitable allocation of resources to different regions, it was likely that all regions would compete for equality in national politics and that the monopoly of power by select families would erode, as would the excessive influence of the Kathmandu Valley Brahman, Chhetri, and Newar elites.

At the beginning of 1990, the panchayat system still dominated Nepal. Although the institution itself was the object of derision from opponents of the panchayat system, it appeared unthreatened. Within a few months, however, its position eroded and then crumbled with bewildering speed. The surge of the successful prodemocracy movement sweeping Eastern Europe, parts of the Soviet Union, and several Asian countries profoundly inspired the Nepalese people. Also contributing to the sudden transformation were the economic woes of Nepal, exacerbated by India's refusal to renew a trade and transit agreement; widespread bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption at all levels of government; the misgivings openly expressed by the international donors over the country's inefficient use of aid; and a deplorable record on human rights.

In January 1990, the Nepali Congress Party held its first national convention in thirty years in Kathmandu. It was well attended by party delegates from all districts and observers from all political parties. Also present was a multiparty delegation from India, headed by Janata Dal (People's Party) leader Chandra Shekhar, who subsequently became Indian's prime minister. The Nepali Congress Party cooperated with the United Left Front parties, a coalition of seven communist factions, in a joint program to replace the panchayat system with a multiparty political system and launched the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, or prodemocracy movement.

Beginning on February 18, 1990--the thirty-ninth anniversary of King Tribhuvan's declaration of a multiparty democracy and the thirtieth anniversary of the antidemocratic usurpation of power by the palace--a series of spontaneous and sometimes turbulent mass demonstrations rocked major cities. People took to the streets to demand the restoration of a multiparty democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The success of the Kathmandu bandh (general strike) by prodemocracy forces on March 2 was repeated in other parts of the country over the course of seven weeks. By the time the movement succeeded in totally uprooting the panchayat system, at least fifty people were dead, and thousands were injured as a result of the force used by the authorities in suppressing the agitation. The government also had incarcerated national and district-level leaders of both the Nepali Congress Party and the United Left Front.

Unable to contain the widespread public agitation against the panchayat system and the mounting casualties, and fearing for the survival of his own monarchical status, King Birendra lifted the ban on political parties on April 8. The unrest persisted. In the midst of continued violence, a royal proclamation on April 16 dissolved the Rashtriya Panchayat and invalidated provisions of the 1962 constitution inconsistent with multiparty democracy. The next day, the king named Nepali Congress Party President K.P. Bhattarai, a moderate who had spent fourteen years as a political prisoner, as prime minister and head of the interim government. The government also freed all political prisoners, lifted control of all domestic and foreign publications, and established a commission, known as the Mullick Commission, to investigate the recent loss of life and property.

The eleven-member Bhattarai cabinet, composed of four members of the Nepali Congress Party, three members of the United Left Front, two human rights activists, and two royal nominees, was immediately entrusted with the task of preparing a new constitution and holding a general election. Pending the adoption of a new constitution, the interim government agreed that Nepal should remain under the 1962 constitution. In the interest of continuity and orderly management of public business, the interim government resisted demands from the left for a mass purge of the bureaucracy and die-hard panchayat elements. Bhattarai's goal was national reconciliation in a multiparty democracy.

After nine months of politicking, the constitution was proclaimed on November 9, 1990. Elections to the House of Representatives were held on May 12, 1991. The new government faced the immediate problems of restoring law and order, providing economic relief to the populace, and establishing its claim to sound administration, a somewhat difficult task because the parties of the interim government had been in the opposition for a long period of time. Furthermore, pro-panchayat thugs who had tried to foment chaos and law and order problems to discredit the new government had to be brought under control. The situation improved as many former panchayat leaders who had previously supported moves for a multiparty democracy openly supported the political changes and offered to cooperate with the new government- -taking advantage of political opportunism.


Nepal - Political Parties


The Nepali Congress Party

The Nepali Congress Party, a reform-oriented centrist party, has been in continuous operation since it was founded under a slightly different name in 1947. Elected to office in 1959 in a landslide victory, the Nepali Congress Party government sought to liberalize society through a democratic process. The palace coup of 1960 led to the imprisonment of the powerful Nepali Congress Party leader, B.P. Koirala, and other party stalwarts; many other members sought sanctuary in exile in India.

Although political parties were prohibited from 1960 to 1963 and continued to be outlawed during the panchayat system under the aegis of the Associations and Organizations (Control) Act of 1963, the Nepali Congress Party persisted. The party placed great emphasis on eliminating the feudal economy and building a basis for socioeconomic development. It proposed nationalizing basic industries and instituting progressive taxes on land, urban housing, salaries, profits, and foreign investments. While in exile, the Nepali Congress Party served as the nucleus around which other opposition groups clustered and even instigated popular uprisings in the Hill and Tarai regions. During this time, the Nepali Congress Party refused the overtures of a radical faction of the Communist Party of Nepal for a tactical alliance.

Although the Nepali Congress Party demonstrated its ability to endure, it was weakened over time by defection, factionalism, and external pressures. Nevertheless, it continued to be the only organized party to press for democratization. In the 1980 referendum, it supported the multiparty option in opposition to the panchayat system. In 1981 the party boycotted the Rashtriya Panchayat elections and rejected the new government. The death in 1982 of B.P. Koirala, who had consistently advocated constitutional reforms and a broad-based policy of national reconciliation, further weakened the party.

In the 1980s, the Nepali Congress Party abandoned its socialistic economic program in favor of a mixed economy, privatization, and a market economy in certain sectors. Its foreign policy orientation was to nonalignment and good relations with India. Although the party also boycotted the 1986 elections to the Rashtriya Panchayat, its members were allowed to run in the 1987 local elections. In defiance of the ban on demonstrations, the Nepali Congress Party organized mass rallies in January 1990 that ultimately triggered the prodemocracy movement.

Following the humiliating defeat of party leader K.P. Bhattarai by the communist factions in the 1991 parliamentary elections, Girija Prasad (G.P.) Koirala was chosen by the Nepali Congress Party as leader of its Parliamentary Board. As prime minister, he formed the first elected democratic government in Nepal in thirtytwo years. G.P. Koirala was the third of the Koirala brothers to become prime minister. Along with his elder brother, B.P. Koirala, he was arrested in 1960 and was not released until 1967. After a period of exile that began in 1971, he returned to Nepal in 1979 under a general amnesty. He was elected general secretary of the party in 1976 in a convention at Patna and played a key role in the prodemocracy movement. G.P. Koirala was known for favoring reconciliation with the left, but he also wanted to pursue national unity and Western-style democracy.

The Communist Parties

Like the Nepali Congress Party, the fractured communist movement was deeply indebted to its Indian counterpart, whose initiative had helped to found the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) in 1949 in Calcutta. Nepalese communists looked askance at the Nepali Congress Party leadership as willing collaborators of Indian expansionism and called for broad-based alliances of all progressive forces for the establishment of a people's democracy.

As many as seventeen factions, ranging from the quasiestablishment royal communists to extremely radical fringe groups, vied for leadership and control, preventing the movement from making significant gains. The proscription of political parties in 1960 affected the communists less severely than other parties because communist factions proved better at organizing and operating underground and at making the transition to covert activity. Little effort was exerted to detain communist leaders, and in the months following the palace coup d'�tat in 1960, the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) was allowed to operate with a perceptibly greater amount of freedom than any other party. The Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) was established in 1978, one of many splinter groups under the name Communist Party of Nepal. In spite of many vicissitudes encountered since the movement's inception, the communists maintained national attention because of continued support from the peasant and worker organizations and the fact that the country's poverty and deprivation offered a fertile ground for Marxist ideals. Support was maintained through the All Peasants Union and the Nepal Trade Union Congress.

Communist groups wielded significant influence in the universities and professional groups. The movement had a dedicated cadre of motivated youth who followed party discipline strictly. Whereas the Nepali Congress Party seemed to accommodate the old guard at the expense of the younger generation, communists more ardently sought younger members. Most of the mainstream communist groups in the 1980s believed in democracy and a multiparty system, recognized no international communist headquarters or leaders, and abjured the Maoism many had embraced earlier.

The United Left Front coalition, organized in late 1989, supported multiparty democracy. During the prodemocracy movement, it played a crucial role by joining the interim government led by the Nepali Congress Party and by submerging serious differences of opinion. Although differences in the communist camp were endemic when the movement was underground, the internal conflicts lessened as communists operated openly and began to look toward future electoral gains.

The success of the communist parties in the May 12, 1991, election, came as a shock to the Nepali Congress Party, which had failed to repeat its 1959 landslide victory. Although there was some unity among the communist factions of the United Left Front, there was no agreement to share seats with the other factions or groups. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) faction--formed as a result of a merger between the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (MarxistLeninist )--came in second to the Nepali Congress Party. The head of the communist leadership echelon was Madan Bhandari, son of a Brahman priest, who was working to turn his Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) into a formidable political power. He stunned the Nepali Congress Party in the 1991 elections by narrowly defeating its leader, K.P. Bhattarai, for a parliamentary seat in Kathmandu.

As a partner in the interim coalition government, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) had endorsed, although reluctantly, the new constitution, which retained the monarchy. The communists received popular support for their allegations that the Nepali Congress Party was too close to India and was a threat to Nepal's sovereignty. Other mainstream communist leaders were Man Mohan Adhikari and Sahana Pradhan, both originally of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist); and Bishnu Bahadur Manandhar of the Communist Party of Nepal (Manandhar), another communist faction.

Other Political Parties

There was a phenomenal rise in the number of political parties- -particularly between May and September 1990--as strategic maneuvers to participate in parliamentary elections and find a niche in postelection Nepal occurred. The Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Good Will Party), one of several regional and ethnic parties, was founded in April 1990. It aimed at promoting the interests of the Tarai Region, including the expulsion of the Hill people from Tarai and the establishment of a special relationship with India in the framework of nonalignment. A forum for people of Indian descent, the party also favored the introduction of Hindi as the second national language. Its ideology supported a democratic socialist society. Other Tarai Region parties included the Nepal Tarai Unity Forum, the Nepal Tarai Association, and the Nepal Tarai Muslim Congress Party.

Among the several ethnic parties were the National People's Liberation Front (Nepal Rashtriya Jana Mukti Morcha), the National Mongol Organization (Rashtriya Mongol Sanghatan), SETAMAGURALI (an acronym of names of different ethnic groups of eastern Nepal including the Tamang, Magar, and Gurung), the Front of the Kirat Aborigines (Nepal Kirat Adhibasi Janajiti Morch), the Freedom Front of the Limbu People (Limbuwan Mukli Morcha), and the Nepal Nationalist Gorkha Parishad, or Parishad (Nepal Rashtrabadi Gorkha Parishad). The Parishad, revived in September 1990, was founded in 1951 as part of Rana revivalist politics and had placed second in the 1959 general elections. Some of its senior leaders later joined the Nepali Congress or pancha camps.

Of those groups favoring the monarchy, two conservative parties received considerable attention. Hastily founded by two former prime ministers, both parties were called the National Democratic Party--suffixed with the names Thapa or Chand enclosed within brackets. Other parties of this political bent included the National Democratic Unity Panchayat Party (Rashtriya Prajatantrik Ekata Panchayat Party), Nepal Welfare Party (Nepal Janahit Party), United Democratic Party (Samyukti Prajatantra Party), and Nepal Panchayat Council (Nepal Panchayat Parishad).

Besides the Nepali Congress Party, fifteen centrist parties also had emerged. Most of these parties were founded by former members of the Nepali Congress Party and defecting pancha who had shifted allegiance to the multiparty system. The Women's Democratic Party aimed at promoting the rights, interests, and freedoms of Nepalese women.


Nepal - Elections


The 1981 Elections

Growing political unrest, accompanied by massive demonstrations, forced King Birendra, as a palliative tactic, to call for a nationwide referendum to choose the form of government. Following the May 2, 1980, referendum--the subject of charges of rigging--the panchayat system was reaffirmed. However, members of the Rashtriya Panchayat would henceforth be elected directly by the people on the basis of universal adult suffrage.

In May 1981, the king promulgated the third amendment to the 1962 constitution incorporating the results of the referendum. There was no change in the fundamental principle of partylessness; all candidates for the Rashtriya Panchayat competed as individuals.

The first direct election to the Rashtriya Panchayat was held in May 1981. In the midst of an election boycott by the Nepali Congress Party and other banned political parties, the exercise only legitimized the administration of Prime Minister Thapa as a democratically elected popular government. Indirectly, however, the election was counterproductive because it intensified further the increasingly sharp divisions within the various panchayat and the continued opposition of the Nepali Congress Party, various communist factions, and peasants' and workers' organizations.

There were 1,096 candidates contesting 112 seats in the 1981 elections. Campaign appeals were made on regional, ethnic, and caste lines rather than on broad national issues. Among the contestants were forty-five candidates from pro-Moscow communist factions, thirty-six candidates from the Nepali Congress Party, and several multiparty pancha. Voter turnout was 63 percent. Despite Thapa's reelection, more than 70 percent of the official candidates were defeated. Candidates who supported the multiparty system also fared poorly. The election of fifty-nine new members in the Rashtriya Panchayat indicated the voters' rejection of the old guard. The indirect participation of the political parties was a symbolic gesture toward national consensus and reconciliation; the chief protagonist was the moderate Nepali Congress Party leader, B.P. Koirala.

In the tradition of panchayat political patterns of instability, the quick fix of a referendum and new elections failed to restore political equilibrium to the system. Corruption and general administrative inertia further vitiated the political climate. Even senior panchayat leaders, who were openly critical of the system, became willing participants in intrigues, which only precipitated counterplots by paranoid palace advisers. Clashes between students, which were at times supported by faculty members, created disturbances throughout the country.

The 1986 Elections

Between the 1981 and 1986 elections, there was a growing rift among the pancha. Without a viable economic and political program, disillusionment with the panchayat system increased. In the face of a deteriorating economy, faltering development plans, and the failure of the panchayati raj to inspire motivation and confidence in an already demoralized bureaucracy, the credibility of the government waned. The banned political parties, especially the Nepali Congress Party, after initial efforts at reconciliation, concentrated on organizational work and the demand for political pluralism. Most political activities, however, were noticeable only within the panchayat system itself. Appointed in 1983, the new prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, had a no-confidence motion filed against him immediately after taking office. The motion was declared inadmissible on the grounds of errors in drafting, but this power struggle among different groups of pancha further undermined the panchayat system.

The uneasy political stalemate was upset when in late May 1985, the Nepali Congress Party, in preparation for the 1986 election, decided to launch a satyagraha (civil disobedience) campaign--in which many communists also participated--to demand reforms in the political system. A large number of Nepali Congress Party activists were quickly arrested. Although the campaign generally lacked popular support, it received considerable attention and interest among intellectuals and students, caused tension within the government, and further divided the already fractured panchayat. Kathmandu also was subjected to violence, including explosions that rocked the royal palace and other key buildings. There was further discontent when, at the panchayat workers' annual congress, the moot issue of government accountability to the legislature was disallowed from discussion.

In a politically charged atmosphere, the second quinquennial nationwide election to the Rashtriya Panchayat was held in May 1986. Slightly more than 9 million voters cast their ballots for 1,584 candidates for 112 seats. According to official sources, 60 percent of all eligible voters participated in the election.

The election was marked by a lack of enthusiasm, which partly reflected the Nepali Congress Party's boycott. A few communist factions contested the election. About 20 percent of the candidates were elected either on the basis of their roles as champions of the opposition or for their stand against the elite. Allegations of electoral malpractice also were widely voiced. The electoral success of forty-five Chettris and Thakuris, sixteen Hill Brahmans, and seven Newars indicated that the traditional power structure remained largely unaffected. Marich Man Singh Shrestha, a Newar, was appointed prime minister. Three women were elected to the Rashtriya Panchayat from the Tarai Region, but no Muslims were elected.

Local Elections in 1987

In contrast to the procedure followed in the 1986 elections, the Nepali Congress Party and a number of communist factions allowed their members to participate as individuals in the 1987 local elections. The Nepali Congress Party also made it clear that its local election strategy did not mean an end to its opposition or resistance to the panchayat system. In urban areas, especially in the Tarai Region, certain party members, as well as some communists, did very well and were returned to office in substantial numbers.

The 1991 Elections

For many Nepalese, participation in the democratic process meant either walking for hours along mountain paths or riding a yak to cast a ballot. Since most voters were illiterate, they had to choose a candidate according to the party's symbol as authorized by the election commission; for example, a tree signified the Nepali Congress Party and a sun represented the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).

Although forty-four parties were recognized by the Election Commission, only twenty parties actually contested the elections. The twenty parties ranged across the political spectrum from radical right to loyalist leftist and all except a leftwing radical faction, Masal (Torch), eagerly participated in the elections. Twelve parties did not win a single seat and obtained a total of only about 82,500 votes, slightly more than 1 percent of the total valid votes. Many voters seemed to have fallen back on their ageold identification with caste or ethnic community. Younger voters favored the progressive leftist parties, as did voters in the urban areas.

The Nepali Congress Party won the first multiparty election in thirty-two years, taking 110 seats in the 205-member House of Representatives. The results of the elections, however, demonstrated that a coalition of various communist parties was a major political force in Nepalese politics, defying the international trend of dismantling communist parties and regimes. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), a constituent of the United Left Front, won sixty-nine seats. The three other communist parties of the United Left Front coalition won a total of thirteen seats. Besides the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) alliance, four other parties qualified for national party status, which meant they polled more than 3 percent of the total votes cast.

The election was marked by heavy voter turnout. Of a total of more than 11 million voters, about 7 million, or 65 percent, cast ballots, of which slightly more than 4 percent were declared invalid on technical grounds. The election results made it very clear that the promonarchists and those in favor of the panchayat system lacked national support. Communist parties won in the Kathmandu Valley and some parts of the eastern Tarai Region. The Nepali Congress Party won in other parts of the Tarai Region and in western Nepal. The National Democratic Party (Chand) won three seats and the National Democratic Party (Thapa) won only one seat. The four members of those parties, six Nepal Sadbhavana Party members, and independents were expected to join the moderate Nepali Congress Party. All leftist elements under the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) umbrella were likely to form a solid opposition in Parliament to the Nepali Congress Party government.

The new House of Representatives included thirteen members of the dissolved Rashtriya Panchayat, five Muslims, seven women, and six members of the Parliament that had been dissolved in 1960. Although the number of women representatives was much lower than was hoped for, Muslim representation was comparable to their proportion of the population. Also notable was the performance of the ethnic or regional parties, in particular the Tarai-based Nepal Sadbhavana Party, which polled 4 percent of the valid votes, allowing it to claim the status of a national party. Out of the five seats in Kathmandu, the Nepali Congress Party won one seat; the rest were swept by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist). The average age of the newly elected members of the House of Representatives was forty-three.

Kathmandu citizens made it clear that they had enough of political dynasties. The son and wife of Nepali Congress Party figurehead Ganesh Man Singh ran for two of the high-profile seats; both were defeated by communist candidates. In the prestigious contest for a seat in Kathmandu, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) general secretary, Madan Bhandari, defeated interim Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai. The poor showing of the Nepali Congress Party in the urban areas may also be attributed to the fact that, given that the communists had been banned for thirty years, the party did not see them as potential opposition and was overconfident.

The continuing transition from a partyless panchayat system to a multiparty democracy was relatively peaceful, although there were some incidents of sporadic violence. Six deaths in preelection violence were reported, but no election-related deaths were confirmed on polling day. Police enforced a curfew during the long wait for election results. Because of election irregularities and violence, the Election Commission--which enjoyed the confidence of all the parties--ordered repolling at 44 of 8,225 polling centers, affecting 31 constituencies.

In response to the interim government's invitation to international observers, a host of Asians, Europeans, and North Americans journeyed to Kathmandu. Among the observers was a sixtyfour member international observation delegation, representing twenty-two countries, which was organized by Nepal's National Election Observation Committee. The committee was an offshoot of Nepal's Forum for the Protection of Human Rights. The international delegation concluded that the elections generally were conducted in a fair, free, and open manner and that the parties were able to campaign unimpaired. Complaints were received that equal and adequate access to radio and television was denied, however, and that the code of conduct and campaign spending limitations were violated. The delegation also recognized that, as confirmed by the Election Commission, from 5 to 10 percent of eligible voters were not registered and that there were some inaccuracies in voter lists.

On May 29, 1991, a Nepali Congress Party government was installed with G.P. Koirala as prime minister. The first session of Parliament was held on June 20. The new government faced two enormous tasks, both of which concerned India: the negotiation of a new trade and transit treaty, and the exploitation of Nepal's only major natural resource, water, for hydroelectric power for purchase by India. Further, although the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) faction wanted to end recruitment of the Gurkhas into the British and Indian armies, the Nepali Congress Party wanted neither to outrage the Gurkhas nor to deprive the country of the foreign remittances sent by the soldiers.




Previous constitutions guaranteed freedom of expression as a basic right, but in practice this right was severely curtailed. Prepublication censorship, cancellation of registration for publication, and other similar restrictive regulations severely handicapped the freedom of the press, and journalists operated under constant threats of harassment and imprisonment. In 1960 the king decreed that all newspapers were required to obtain official clearance for reports of political activities. In 1962 a government-controlled news agency, Rashtriya Sambad Samity, was established to collect and distribute news about and within the country. The Samity monopoly continued until the success of the prodemocracy movement. In addition, provisions of the Freedom of Speech Publications Act of 1980 limited the publication of materials that might undermine the interests of sovereignty of the nation; contravene principles that underlie the constitution; or encourage, abet, or propagate party politics. This act was repealed in July 1990.

The constitution guarantees the freedom of the press as a fundamental right. It also prohibits the censoring of news items, articles, or any other reading materials and states that a press cannot be closed or seized for printing any news item, article, or any other reading materials. In addition, the registration of a newspaper or periodical cannot be cancelled for publishing offensive news articles or reading material. The operation of a free press is circumscribed, however, by vague restrictions against undermining the sovereignty and integrity of Nepal; disturbing the harmonious relations among the people of different castes, classes, or communities; violating decent public behavior morality; instigating crimes; or committing sedition or contempt of court. During the 1980s, several journalists were incarcerated and held without trial under the Public Security Act and the Treason Act.

The Nepalese press was supportive of the prodemocracy movement. When the government repressed the movement, the Central Committee of the Nepal Journalists Association, headed by Govinda Binyogi, issued a statement that declared all censorship, banning of newspapers, and arrests of journalists as illegal, unconstitutional, and undemocratic. The Nepal Journalists Association reported that between January and April 1990, forty journalists were arrested for comments criticizing the government. During the same period, several newspapers halted publication to protest the government's attempts at precensorship. More than ten papers had entire issues seized by government authorities when they ran articles considered overtly critical. Several newspapers were severely pressed financially after successive government seizures.

Since the momentous political changes of April 1990, freedom of the press has come into question only once, in November 1990, when authorities charged two reporters with slandering the royal family in print. Charges were dismissed in December following protests by the Nepal Journalist Association to the prime minister. An editor also was detained overnight in November 1990 for publishing insulting remarks against the queen, but charges were not pressed. As of mid-1991, there were no reports of the seizing or banning of foreign publications deemed to have carried articles unfavorable to the government or the monarchy.

In 1991 there were approximately 400 Nepalese newspapers and periodicals, including a dozen national dailies with a combined circulation of more than 125,000. The circulation of other newspapers, journals, and magazines was limited to only a few hundred copies each.

Except for two English dailies, Rising Nepal and Commoner, both published in Kathmandu, other widely circulating newspapers were published in Nepali. These included Gorkhapatra, Samichhya, Matribhumi, Rastra Pukar, Daily News, Samaya, and Janadoot. The number of publications in Hindi and Newari, however, was increasing in the late 1980s.

The daily Gorkhapatra and Rising Nepal were government organs. Before the success of the prodemocracy movement, both government dailies primarily provided coverage of official views, carried virtually no information on opposition activities, and muted criticism of the government. Nepal Raj Patra, the principal government publication since 1951, contained texts of laws, decrees, proclamations, and royal orders and was available in both English and Nepali.

Because of the government's near monopoly on domestic news, many newspaper readers relied on foreign publications. They relied on as Statesman, Times of India, and Hindustan Times--all from India--and the Pacific editions of Time, Newsweek, and China Today, published in India in Hindi, English, and Nepali.

Much of the fast proliferating printed matter was read only by a small elite and by government functionaries in the Kathmandu Valley. Staggeringly widespread illiteracy (about 33 percent of the population were literate in 1990), lack of a transport infrastructure, the general apathy of the rural people toward the affairs of Kathmandu--to which the press devoted a major share of coverage--and a general reliance on oral transmission of information rather than on the written word were among the factors that impeded the dissemination of publications. By April 1990, however, news coverage had broadened to reflect a wide range of views. Although in most circumstances editorial views reflected government policy, editors did at times exercise the right to publish critical views and alternative policies.

Electronic media consisted of radio and television programming controlled by the government. Radio Nepal broadcast on short-wave and medium-wave both in Nepali and English from transmitters in Jawalakhel and Khumaltar. Nepal Television Corporation broadcast twenty-three hours of programs per week from its station at Singha Durbar, Kathmandu. Transmitters also were located at Pokhara, Biratnagar, and Hetauda. Prior to the unrest of 1990, programming closely reflected the views of the government. Although coverage of government criticism remained inadequate, programming in 1991 reflected a broader range of interests and political views. The Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and several other European and Asian networks were monitored in Nepal.




A landlocked country, Nepal was sandwiched between two giant neighbors--China and India. To the north, the Himalayas constituted a natural and mostly impassible frontier, and beyond that was the border with China. To the south, east, and west, Nepal was hemmed in by India. Without an outlet to the sea, Nepal was dependent on India for international trade and transit facilities.

During the British Raj (1858-1947), Nepal sought geostrategic isolation. This traditional isolationism partially was the product of the relative freedom the country enjoyed from external intervention and domination. From the mid-nineteenth century, when Britain emerged as the unchallenged power in India and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in China was in decline, Nepal made accommodations with Britain on the best possible terms. Without surrendering autonomy on internal matters, Nepal received guarantees of protection from Britain against external aggression and interference. London also considered a steady flow of Gurkha recruits from Nepal as vital to support Britain's security in India and its other colonial territories.

In the 1950s, Nepal began a gradual opening up and a commitment to a policy of neutrality and nonalignment. At the 1973 summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Algiers, King Birendra proposed that "Nepal, situated between two of the most populous countries of the world, wishes her frontiers to be declared a zone of peace." In Birendra's 1975 coronation address, he formally asked other countries to endorse his proposal. Since then, the concept of Nepal as a zone of peace has become a main theme of Kathmandu's foreign policy.

As of mid-1991, Nepal had been endorsed as a zone of peace by more than 110 nations. Many of these countries also recommended a regional approach to peace as the goal. Without the endorsement of India and the former Soviet Union, however, the prospect of broader international acceptance was dim.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Nepal had established diplomatic relations with approximately 100 countries. Nepal was an active member of the United Nations (UN) and participated in a number of its specialized agencies. Nepal also was a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and had successfully negotiated several bilateral and multilateral economic, cultural, and technical assistance programs. Because of its geographical proximity to and historical links with China and India, Nepal's foreign policy was focused mainly on maintaining close and friendly relations with these two countries and on safeguarding its national security and independence. Nepal's relations with the United States, Europe, and the Soviet Union showed new signs of vitality in 1991.

Foreign Relations with ...
<> India
<>Pakistan and  Bangladesh
<>Sri Lanka and the Maldives
<> China
<> United States
<> Britain


Nepal - India


Even after India had achieved independence from Britain in 1947, Nepalese-Indian relations continued to be based on the second Treaty of Sagauli, which had been signed with the government of British India in 1925. Beginning in 1950, however, relations were based on two treaties. Under the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, ratified in July 1950, each government agreed to acknowledge and respect the other's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence; to continue diplomatic relations; and, on matters pertaining to industrial and economic development, to grant rights equal to those of its own citizens to the nationals of the other residing in its territory. Agreements on all subjects in this treaty superseded those on similar matters dealt with in the previous treaties between Nepal and Britain. In the Treaty of Trade and Commerce, ratified in October 1950, India recognized Nepal's right to import and export commodities through Indian territory and ports. Customs could not be levied on commodities in transit through India.

India's influence over Nepal increased throughout the 1950s. The Citizenship Act of 1952 allowed Indians to immigrate to Nepal and acquire Nepalese citizenship with ease--a source of some resentment in Nepal. And, Nepalese were allowed to migrate freely to India--a source of resentment there. (This policy was not changed until 1962 when several restrictive clauses were added to the Nepalese constitution.) Also in 1952, an Indian military mission was established in Nepal. In 1954 a memorandum provided for the joint coordination of foreign policy, and Indian security posts were established in Nepal's northern frontier. At the same time, Nepal's dissatisfaction with India's growing influence began to emerge, and overtures to China were initiated as a counterweight to India.

King Mahendra continued to pursue a nonaligned policy begun during the reign of Prithvi Narayan Shah in the mid-eighteenth century. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Nepal voted differently from India in the UN unless India's basic interests were involved. The two countries consistently remained at odds over the rights of landlocked states to transit facilities and access to the sea.

Following the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, the relationship between Kathmandu and New Delhi thawed significantly. India suspended its support to India-based Nepalese opposition forces. Nepal extracted several concessions, including transit rights with other countries through India and access to Indian markets. In exchange, through a secret accord concluded in 1965, similar to an arrangement that had been suspended in 1963, India won a monopoly on arms sales to Nepal.

In 1969 relations again became stressful as Nepal challenged the existing mutual security arrangement and asked that the Indian security checkposts and liaison group be withdrawn. Resentment also was expressed against the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. India grudgingly withdrew its military checkposts and liaison group, although the treaty was not abrogated.

Further changes in Nepalese-Indian relations occurred in the 1970s. India's credibility as a regional power was increased--and Nepal's vulnerability was reinforced--by the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation; the 1971 IndoPakistani War, which led to the emergence of an independent Bangladesh; the absorption of Sikkim into India in 1974; increased unofficial support of the Nepali Congress Party leadership in India; rebellions fomented by pro-Beijing Naxalite elements in 1973-74 in West Bengal State bordering Nepal; and India's nuclear explosion in 1974. Nepal adopted a cautious policy of appeasement of India, and in his 1975 coronation address King Birendra called for the recognition of Nepal as a zone of peace where military competition would be off-limits. India showed some flexibility in placating Nepal by distancing, if not disassociating, itself from the Nepalese opposition forces based in India, agreeing to a favorable trade and transit arrangement in 1978, and entering into another agreement on joint industrial ventures between Indian and Nepalese firms. The latter agreement, by opening the possibilities of India's investment, indirectly furthered India's domination of Nepal's economy. India also continued to maintain a high level of economic assistance to Nepal.

In the mid-1970s, Nepal pressed for substantial amendments to the 1971 trade and transit treaty, which was due to expire in 1976. India ultimately backed down from its initial position to terminate the 1971 treaty even before a new treaty could be negotiated. The 1978 agreements incorporated Nepal's demand for separate treaties for trade and transit. The relationship between the two nations improved over the next decade, but not steadily.

India continued to support the Nepalese opposition and refused to endorse Nepal as a zone of peace. In 1987 India urged expulsion of Nepalese settlers from neighboring Indian states, and Nepal retaliated by introducing a work permit system for Indians working in Nepal. That same year, the two countries signed an agreement setting up a joint commission to increase economic cooperation in trade and transit, industry, and water resources.

Relations between the two countries sank to a low point in 1988 when Kathmandu signed an agreement with Beijing to purchase weapons soon after a report that China had won a contract for constructing a road in the western sector to connect China with Nepal. India perceived these developments as deliberately jeopardizing its security. India also was annoyed with the high volume of unauthorized trade across the Nepalese border, the issuance of work permits to the estimated 150,000 Indians residing in Nepal, and the imposition of a 55 percent tariff on Indian goods entering Nepal.

In retaliation for these developments, India put Nepal under a virtual trade siege. In March 1989, upon the expiration of the 1978 treaties on trade and transit rights, India insisted on negotiating a single unified treaty in addition to an agreement on unauthorized trade, which Nepal saw as a flagrant attempt to strangle its economy. On March 23, 1989, India declared that both treaties had expired and closed all but two border entry points.

The economic consequences of the trade and transit deadlock were enormous. Shortages of Indian imports such as fuel, salt, cooking oil, food, and other essential commodities soon occurred. The lucrative tourist industry went into recession. Nepal also claimed that the blockade caused ecological havoc since people were compelled to use already dwindling forest resources for energy in lieu of gasoline and kerosene, which came mostly via India. To withstand the renewed Indian pressure, Nepal undertook a major diplomatic initiative to present its case on trade and transit matters to the world community.

The relationship with India was further strained in 1989 when Nepal decoupled its rupee from the Indian rupee which previously had circulated freely in Nepal. India retaliated by denying port facilities in Calcutta to Nepal, thereby preventing delivery of oil supplies from Singapore and other sources.

A swift turn in relations followed the success of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in early 1990. In June 1990, a joint Kathmandu-New Delhi communiqu� was issued pending the finalization of a comprehensive arrangement covering all aspects of bilateral relations, restoring trade relations, reopening transit routes for Nepal's imports, and formalizing respect of each other's security concerns. Essentially, the communiqu� announced the restoration of the status quo ante and the reopening of all border points, and Nepal agreed to various concessions regarding India's commercial privileges. Kathmandu also announced that lower cost was the decisive factor in its purchasing arms and personnel carriers from China and that Nepal was advising China to withhold delivery of the last shipment. The communiqu� declared that Kathmandu and New Delhi would cooperate in industrial development, in harnessing the waters of their common rivers for mutual benefit, and in protecting and managing the environment.


Nepal - Pakistan and Bangladesh


Nepal's relations with other South Asian nations were dominated by the search for alternate transit facilities and a reduction of India's influence. Nepal tried to stay clear of Indo-Pakistani rivalry, inasmuch as Nepal had a only minor role in the Kashmir dispute and had no involvement in several United States-sponsored security arrangements in the region in the early 1950s.

Nepal and Pakistan signed the protocol for establishing full diplomatic relations in 1962 and exchanged ambassadors in 1963. Two agreements between Kathmandu and Karachi (then Pakistan's capital) were signed in October 1962, calling for reciprocal most-favored- nation treatment. A January 1963 agreement provided Nepal with free trade and transit facilities through the port of Chittagong, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). This arrangement somewhat reduced Nepal's dependence on India for import privileges, particularly after the establishment of an air link with East Pakistan later in the year. This endeavor to secure another transit route through East Pakistan had at best only limited potential because of the intervening Indian territory.

Nepal initially adopted a neutral posture during the IndoPakistan war of 1971 but immediately recognized the newly independent nation of Bangladesh on January 16, 1972. Two days after diplomatic relations were established with Dhaka, Islamabad broke off diplomatic relations with Kathmandu.

Nepal's focus shifted to Bangladesh as a permanent and much desired gateway to the sea. Bangladesh, friendly to India and close to Nepal's southern border, opened new potential for both trade and transit facilities.

Nepal's relations with Bangladesh improved when an anti-Indian faction seized power in Dhaka in August 1975. The turning point in Nepal-Bangladesh relations, however, occurred in April 1976 when the two countries signed four agreements relating to trade, transit, civil aviation, and technical cooperation. They also jointly issued a communiqu� on maintaining close cooperation in the fields of power generation and the development of water resources. The transit agreement exempted all traffic-in-transit from transit duties or other charges. Six points of entry and exit for the movement of Nepalese traffic-in-transit through Bangladesh's ports and territory were designated. This transit agreement came at a crucial time--during Nepal's conclusion of a trade and transit agreement with a reluctant India. In 1986 Nepal was also gratified when Bangladesh wanted to involve Nepal in the issue of distribution and utilization of water from the Ganges River.


Nepal - Bhutan


Nepal has shown interest in developing a mutually advantageous relationship with Bhutan, but substantial problems have persisted. Through its own treaty with India, signed in 1949, Bhutan had generally followed New Delhi's guidance in foreign policy matters. Bhutan had serious reservations over joining in regional and international organizational politics bearing Nepal's initiatives and had ignored the concept of a Himalayan federation. Another potential source of dissension in Nepalese-Bhutanese relations was the presence of a large Nepalese community in southern Bhutan. In the early 1990s, the large Nepalese population emerged as a potentially divisive issue between the two countries. In spite of these difficulties, Kathmandu maintained nonresident diplomatic relations with Thimpu.


Nepal - Sri Lanka and the Maldives


As of mid-1991, Nepal had not cultivated bilateral relations with Sri Lanka or the Maldive Islands. Nevertheless, following a visit to Nepal by the Maldives' president in May 1981, a cultural exchange and economic cooperation agreement was signed. The agreement, however, has remained dormant.

Nepal was interested in Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist movement because of its own potential problems with ethnic diversity. In line with its policy of deploring the violation of the territorial integrity of sovereign states, Nepal also expressed concern at India's military involvement in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. Nepal welcomed the conclusion of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 29, 1987.


Nepal - China


The keystone of Nepal's China policy was maintaining equal friendships with China and India while simultaneously seeking to decrease India's influence in Nepal and Nepal's dependence on India. Further, Kathmandu felt that the competition between its two giant neighbors--China and India--would benefit its own economic development.

The first recorded official relations with China and Tibet occurred near the middle of the seventh century. By the eighteenth century, Nepalese adventurism in Tibet led to Chinese intervention in favor of Tibet. The resultant Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792 provided for tribute-bearing missions from Nepal to China every five years as a symbol of Chinese political and cultural supremacy in the region.

In the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, China refused Nepal's requests for military assistance and, by default, surrendered its dominant position in Nepal to the growing British influence. However, it appeared to be expedient for Nepal to retain the fiction of a tributary relationship with China in order to balance China against Britain.

Nepal invaded Tibet in 1854. Hostilities were quickly terminated when China intervened, and the Treaty of Thapathali was concluded in March 1856. The treaty recognized the special status of China, and Nepal agreed to assist Tibet in the event of foreign aggression.

Relations between Nepal and China and Tibet continued without critical incident until 1904, when British India sent an armed expedition to Tibet and Nepal rejected Tibet's request for aid to avoid risking its good relations with Britain. Beginning in 1908, Nepal stopped paying tribute to China.

By 1910, apprehensive of British activity in Tibet, China had reasserted its claim to sovereign rights in Tibet and feudatory missions from Nepal. In 1912 Nepal warned the Chinese representative at Lhasa that Nepal would help Tibet attain independent status as long as it was consistent with British interests. Nepal broke relations with China when the Tibetans, taking advantage of the Chinese revolution of 1911, drove the Chinese out.

When the Chinese communists invaded Tibet in 1950, Nepal's relations with China began to undergo drastic changes. Although annual Tibetan tribute missions appeared regularly in Nepal as late as 1953, Beijing had started to ignore the provisions of the 1856 treaty by curtailing the privileges and rights it accorded to Nepalese traders, by imposing restrictions on Nepalese pilgrims, and by stopping the Tibetan tributary missions.

The break between Kathmandu and Beijing continued until 1955, when relations were reestablished with China. The two countries established resident ambassadors in their respective capitals in July 1960.

In 1956 the Treaty of Thapathali was replaced by a new treaty under which Nepal recognized China's sovereignty over Tibet and agreed to surrender all privileges and rights granted by the old treaty. In 1962 Nepal withdrew its ambassador from Tibet and substituted a consul general. An agreement on locating and demarcating the Nepal-Tibet boundary was signed in March 1960. Within a month, another Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in Kathmandu.

The Sino-Nepal Boundary Treaty was signed in Beijing in October 1961. The treaty provided for a Sino-Nepal Joint Commission to agree on questions regarding alignment, location, and maintenance of the seventy-nine demarcation markers. The commission's findings were attached to the original treaty in a protocol signed in January 1963.

During the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, Nepal reasserted its neutrality and warned that it would not submit to aggression from any state. Although the warning was directed at China, Nepal continued to support China's application for membership in the United Nations. A potential source of irritation in Sino-Nepalese relations was relieved in January 1964 when China agreed to release the frozen funds of Nepalese traders from Tibetan banks.

An agreement to construct an all-weather highway linking Kathmandu with Tibet was signed in October 1961--a time when neither Kathmandu nor Beijing had cordial relations with New Delhi. The Kathmandu-Kodari road opened in May 1967 but did not yield any commercial or trade benefits for Nepal. Because of the severe restrictions imposed by Beijing even before the road was opened, Kathmandu had closed its trade agencies in Tibet by January 1966. Although the highway had no economic or commercial value and was not viable as an alternate transit route, it was of strategic military importance to China. The highway established direct links between two major Chinese army bases within 100 kilometers of Kathmandu to forward bases at Gyirong in Tibet.

Throughout the latter half of the 1960s, Nepal's relations with China remained fairly steady. One exception was the belligerent activities of the Chinese officials in Nepal who eulogized and extolled the successes of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) during the summer of 1967.

The emergence of a strident and confident India in the early 1970s introduced some new dimensions in Nepal's China policy. King Birendra did not abandon the policy of equal friendship between China and India but wanted to woo China to counter India's growing influence in the region. China had implicitly recognized India's predominance in the region, however, and was willing to oblige Nepal only to the extent of pledging support in safeguarding its national independence and preventing foreign interference.

In an open challenge to India's primacy in Nepal, Nepal negotiated a deal for the purchase of Chinese weapons in mid-1988. According to India, this deal contravened an earlier agreement that obliged Nepal to secure all defense supplies from India.

Nepal's overtures to China also had economic implications. Ever since an economic aid agreement between China and Nepal had been concluded in 1956, China's steadily increasing economic and technical assistance was being used to build up Nepal's industrial infrastructure and implement economic planning. According to a 1990 report, an estimated 750 Chinese workers were in Nepal, most of them working on road-building crews and small-scale development projects. The foreign trade balance also was in Nepal's favor. China reportedly has ceded some territory to Nepal to facilitate boundary demarcation and has endorsed Nepal as a zone of peace.


Nepal - United States


Nepal's relations with the United States were cordial. Diplomatic relations at the legation level were established in 1947. Commercial relations were conducted according to the mostfavored -nation status. In August 1951, the two governments agreed to raise the status of their respective diplomatic representations to the rank of ambassador. It was not until August 1959, however, that each country established a resident embassy in each other's capital. The first agreement for United States economic assistance was signed in January 1951. By 1990 the United States commitment totaled approximately US$475 million.

In the late 1980s, United States economic assistance channeled through the Agency for International Development averaged US$15 million annually. The United States also contributed to Nepal's development through various multilateral institutions, businesses, and private voluntary organizations such as CARE, Save the Children Federation, United Mission to Nepal, Seventh Day Adventists, the Coca-Cola Corporation, and Morrison Knudsen Corporation. Much of Washington's economic assistance has been in the fields of health and family planning, environmental protection, and rural development. Projects have included geological surveys, road construction, agricultural development, and educational programs. The Peace Corps began operating in 1962 in Nepal, and in 1991 it was the only such program still operational in South Asia. The Peace Corps concentrated on agricultural, health, education, and rural development programs.

United States policy toward Nepal supported three objectives-- peace and stability in South Asia, Nepal's independence and territorial integrity, and selected programs of economic and technical assistance to assist development. At the beginning of the Cold War, the United States also had a significant strategic interest in the country because Nepal was an outpost and a portal into China.

Although Kathmandu's primary interest in relations with Washington was for economic and technical assistance, Nepal also sought global support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. While on a state visit to the United States in December 1983, King Birendra received President Ronald Reagan's endorsement of Nepal as a zone of peace.

During Nepal's prodemocracy movement, the United States Department of State voiced concern at the violent turn of events in February 1990 and urged the government to start a dialogue with the democratic forces in order to stop violence and repression. Congressman Stephen Solarz, Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and his colleagues twice visited Nepal and met with the king and a wide range of political leaders undoubtedly to discuss events relating to the prodemocracy movement. The United Statesbased Asia Watch human rights monitoring group published a detailed account of torture, repression, and inhumane treatment meted out to the detainees.


Nepal - Britain


Nepalese-British relations spanned more than two centuries and generally were friendly and mutually rewarding. Since the Treaty of Sagauli of 1816, when Britain began recruiting Gurkha troops, the British have had continuous official representation in Kathmandu. In 1855 a convention required the Rana prime ministers to seek unofficial British confirmation before assuming the powers of their office. The Ranas offered military assistance to the British during the Second Sikh War (1848-49), the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, World War I (1914-18), and World War II (1939-45). During the Rana period, Nepal recognized Britain's leadership in foreign relations through numerous treaties and agreements. The Treaty of Sagauli was superseded in 1923 by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship, which reconfirmed Nepal's independent status and remained virtually unchanged until Britain's paramountcy over India ended in 1947 and India inherited Britain's historic interest in Nepal. Britain endorsed Nepal as a zone of peace in 1980.

A minor irritant in the steady relationship between Kathmandu and London was Britain's policy, begun in the late 1980s, of gradually phasing out its employment of Gurkha soldiers. Remittances from the Gurkhas based in Britain and Hong Kong served as a stable source of foreign exchange earnings for Nepal. The dismissal in 1988 of more than 100 Gurkha soldiers based in Hong Kong caused such a furor in Nepal that the British minister of state for army supply visited Kathmandu. The minister stated that the incident was atypical and that the 5,000 Gurkhas stationed in Hong Kong would be maintained and assigned to Britain, Brunei, and elsewhere after 1997 when Hong Kong reverted to China. Britain announced in 1989, however, that the strength of the British Brigade of Gurkhas would be cut by 50 percent.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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