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Nepal Politics - 1990-2008

In 1990, the political parties pressed the King and the government for change. Leftist parties united under a common banner of the United Left Front and joined forces with the Nepali Congress Party to launch strikes and demonstrations in the major cities of Nepal. This "Movement to Restore Democracy" was initially dealt with severely, with more than 50 persons killed by police gunfire and hundreds arrested. In April, the King capitulated. Consequently, he dissolved the Panchayat system, lifted the ban on political parties, and released all political prisoners.

An interim government was sworn in on April 19, 1990, headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai as Prime Minister presiding over a cabinet made up of members of the Nepali Congress Party, the communist parties of Nepal, royal appointees, and independents. The new government drafted and promulgated a new constitution in November 1990, which enshrined fundamental human rights and established Nepal as a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch. International observers characterized the May 1991 elections as free and fair, in which the Nepali Congress Party won 110 out of 205 seats to form the government.

With this election Nepal became a constitutional monarchy, where the king was the head of state while the prime minister was the head of government. Nepal emerged from this period of rapid political change facing a multitude of economic and social problems; among these were a stagnant economy and a variety of regional ethnic and religious movements, some of whose basic demands were not acceptable to the country’s Hindu majority. Although overwhelming support existed for the new democratic constitutional monarchy, at both political and the public level, the democratic movement itself remained badly fractionalized and antagonistic, making it more difficult for any new government to attempt to introduce hard but necessary economic and social policies. The Panchayat governments had carefully avoided introducing hard economic policies in an effort to mollify several small but important interest groups.

In mid-1994, the Parliament was dissolved due to dissension within the Nepali Congress Party. The subsequent general election held November 15, 1994, gave no party a majority. The 1994 elections resulted in a Nepali Congress Party defeat and a hung Parliament, with a minority government led by the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML); this made Nepal the world's first communist monarchy, with Man Mohan Adhikary as Prime Minister. The next 5 years saw five successive unstable coalition governments and the beginning of a Maoist insurgency.

As inter- and intra-party bickering continued and corruption accusations against politicians and their cronies increased and with the economy in trouble, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (later to become the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN)) in 1996 decided to go underground, where they until 2006 waged a violent insurgency estimated to have cost between 13,000 – 15,000 lives and billions of rupees.

In February 1996, the leaders of the Maoist United People's Front began a violent insurgency, waged through killings, torture, bombings, kidnappings, extortion, and intimidation against civilians, police, and public officials in more than 50 of the country's 75 districts. Over 13,000 police, civilians, and insurgents were killed in the conflict. The government and Maoists held peace talks in August, September, and November of 2001, but they were unsuccessful, and the Maoists resumed their violent insurgency. Shortly after the 2001 peace talks failed, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, which the Parliament approved by a two-thirds vote. On the recommendation of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, the King dissolved the House on May 22, 2002.

Following the May 1999 general elections, the Nepali Congress Party once again headed a majority government after winning 113 out of 205 seats. But the pattern of short-lived governments persisted. There were three Nepali Congress Party Prime Ministers after the 1999 elections: K.P. Bhattarai (5/31/99-3/17/00); G. P. Koirala (3/20/00-7/19/01); and Sher Bahadur Deuba (7/23/01-10/04/02).

On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra reportedly shot and killed his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya, his brother, his sister, his father's younger brother Prince Dhirendra, and several aunts before turning the gun on himself. After his death 2 days later, the late King's surviving brother Gyanendra was proclaimed King.

In a sudden turn of events on October 4, 2002, King Gyanendra removed Prime Minister Deuba and assumed executive power. The entire Council of Ministers was also dissolved, and the November 13, 2002 elections to the dissolved House of Representatives were called off. After a week-long consultation with the leaders of various political parties, on October 11, 2002, the King appointed Lokendra Bahadur Chand as Prime Minister with a five-point directive that included creating an environment of peace and security as well as holding elections to the local bodies and the House of Representatives.

Under Chand's premiership, the government and Maoists declared a cease-fire on January 29, 2003. This marked the second cease-fire with the Maoists; the first, in 2001, had been broken by the Maoists. The 2003 cease-fire included an agreement to undertake initiatives to resolve the Maoist problem through dialogue and bring the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) back into mainstream politics. After the announcement of the 2003 cease-fire, the Chand government held two rounds of peace talks with the Maoists, in April and May. But in its effort to end political instability, it failed to secure the support of the leading political parties. In the face of growing pressure from political parties and their mass movement, Chand resigned from his post on May 30, 2003, after only 7 months in power.

The King appointed Surya Bahadur Thapa as the new Prime Minister on June 4, 2003, amidst opposition from the major political parties. Another round of peace talks was held in mid-August 2003, but on August 27, 2003 the Maoists broke the second cease-fire. Thapa resigned in May 2004 as a result of political pressure. In June 2004, the King reinstated formerly dismissed Sher Bahadur Deuba as Prime Minister.

Citing a steady deterioration of conditions in the country, King Gyanendra dismissed the Cabinet and constituted a Council of Ministers under his own chairmanship on February 1, 2005. He stated that the Council of Ministers (i.e., Cabinet) would try to reactivate multi-party democracy within 3 years. The King subsequently declared a state of emergency and suspended almost all fundamental rights for nearly 3 months. His new government was sworn in on February 2, 2005. The Council of Ministers under the King's chairmanship was reshuffled twice during the King's 15 months of direct rule.

In May 2005 the seven sidelined parties formed the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA). In October the King called for municipal elections in early 2006 and a general election by mid-April 2007. The political parties, however, rejected the King’s proposal and boycotted the municipal elections. The SPA and Jana Andolan II (“People’s Movement”). In mid-November 2005 the members of the SPA reached a 12 point agreement with the Maoists. The parties and the Maoists agreed to oppose “autocratic” or absolute monarchy. The Maoists formally accepted multiparty politics and expressed a readiness to disarm in advance of elections. The mainstream parties committed themselves to a process of constitutional change involving the election of a Constituent Assembly, a key Maoist demand, but an idea which originated with King Thribhuvan in the 1950s, shortly after the Ranas were overthrown.

On 22 November 2005, the seven-party alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) separately issued a twelve point "understanding" in which both groups agreed to the goal of a constituent assembly election, a long-held Maoist demand. The Maoists and Parties confirmed that they shared the goal of ending the "autocratic monarchy," which some interpreted to mean that the King could retain a role as a ceremonial monarch.

The November 2005 12-point agreement between the SPA and the Maoists laid the foundation for the April 2006 “people’s movement” or Jana Andolan II. This began on April 6 with a nation-wide strike called by the seven political parties. The key demands were reinstatement of the parliament, the end of autocratic rule of the king and establishment of republic through the election to a constituent assembly that would formally abolish the monarchy. The strike was endorsed by the Maoists, who supported the growing anti-monarchy sentiment. Civil society groups and professionals also participated. In some instances, more than 100,000 people took to the streets. The parties themselves were surprised by the intensity of the protests. Over the two-week period of demonstrations, at least 22 people were killed, more than 9,000 wounded, and more than 3,000 were arrested.

While His Majesty's Government of Nepal (HMGN) called the 08 February 2006 local elections a success, the results were a technical victory only; the polls were well-managed by Nepal's standards, but the voter turn-out was very low and no one of any consequence ran. The February 8th municipal elections called by King Gyanendra only showcased his increasing isolation. While the political parties boycotted that election and organized mass demonstrations, the Maoists stepped up attacks to disrupt voting. Only 20 percent of eligible voters participated in those elections. Nationwide, only 15 percent of seats in the 36 municipalities conducting elections were contested, 54 percent had no candidates, and 31 percent of candidates were elected unopposed. This election was little more than a hollow attempt by the King to legitimize his power.

In April 2006, the major political parties, in cooperation with the Maoists, organized massive countrywide demonstrations for the restoration of democracy, forcing the King to relinquish power. On April 24, 2006, King Gyanendra reinstated the 1999 Parliament. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party was selected by the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) of political parties to again lead the government.

The SPA government declared a ceasefire with the Maoists, released hundreds of Maoist rebels from jail, and lifted terrorist charges against their senior members. The rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly were largely restored. Restrictions on the media were lifted. A Commission, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Rajamajhi, was formed to investigate responsibility for the violence the preceding November. In May, the parliament passed a resolution calling for Nepal to become a secular state, stripping the King of his historical and social positions including the head of State and also ending his control over the Armed Forces. In the following seven months it passed no less than 31 acts, with parliamentary committees considering a dozen more bills. This represented the most prolific legislative burst of any government since immediately after 1990.

The Maoists declared a unilateral cease-fire on April 26, and the new Koirala government announced its own unilateral cease-fire and plans for peace talks with the Maoist insurgents on May 3, 2006. The SPA and the Maoists signed a number of agreements, including, in November 2006, a comprehensive peace agreement to end the decade-long insurgency. Both sides also agreed to an arms management process and elections for a Constituent Assembly. On January 15, 2007 a 328-member interim Parliament, including 83 Maoist representatives and other party representatives, was constituted. The first sitting of the Parliament unanimously endorsed an interim constitution, which replaced the constitution of 1990. On April 1, 2007, the ruling eight-party government formed an interim Council of Ministers through political consensus, including five Maoist ministers.

Nepal held its Constituent Assembly (CA) election on April 10, 2008. Primarily mandated to draft a new constitution of Nepal, the CA also serves as a Parliament. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), now known as the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), emerged as the largest party securing 229 seats, followed by the Nepali Congress Party with 115 seats, and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist with 108 seats. The Tarai-based Madhesi People's Rights Forum, securing 54 seats emerged as a new political force in Nepalese politics. Twenty-one smaller parties, including 2 independent candidates, received 95 seats.

A 10-year Maoist insurgency -- punctuated by cease-fires in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006 -- began in 1996. After King Gyanendra announced the reinstatement of Parliament on April 24, 2006, the Maoists declared a 3-month unilateral cease-fire on April 26, 2006 which the new Koirala government reciprocated on May 3, 2006. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists signed five agreements, culminating in the comprehensive peace agreement of November 21, 2006, effectively ending the insurgency. However, Maoist violence and intimidation continued in spite of the agreement.

The main agenda of the SPA and the Maoists was to hold a Constituent Assembly election, with the primary responsibility of drafting and promulgating a new constitution defining the future political system in Nepal. The interim constitution, adopted on January 15, 2007, expressed full commitment to democratic ideals and norms, including competitive multi-party democracy, civil liberties, fundamental human rights, adult enfranchisement, periodic elections, press freedom, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. The interim constitution also guaranteed the basic rights of Nepali citizens to formulate a constitution for themselves and to participate in the Constituent Assembly in an environment free from fear. The interim constitution transferred all powers of the King as head of state to the prime minister and stripped the King of any ceremonial constitutional role. Under the interim constitution, the fate of the monarchy was to be decided by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. The interim Parliament was a unicameral house.

After promulgation of the interim constitution, many socially marginalized ethnic communities, including the Madhesis of the lowland Tarai, began widespread protests against the proposed proportional representation system incorporated in the new constitution. Bandhs (general strikes) and protests sometimes turned violent, with clashes between police and demonstrators leading to dozens killed and injured. The government eventually agreed to increase the number of directly elected representatives from the Tarai and implement quotas ensuring representation of women, Madhesis, janajatis, and other groups facing discrimination. Constitutional amendments regarding representation were adopted in March and June 2007. The government signed further agreements with Madhesi and janajati groups agreeing to inclusion in government bodies and institutions as well as commitments to address other issues in August 2007, but those remained to be fully implemented.

The Maoists and the Seven-Party Alliance appeared to be arguing over who will occupy the master bedroom while the house burned down. Five Maoist ministers were appointed to the Nepali Congress-led cabinet on April 2007. The ministers submitted their resignations on September 18, 2007 over the issue of declaring Nepal a republic and adoption of fully proportional representation system for the Constituent Assembly election. After compromise agreements on these issues were reached--having the interim Parliament declare Nepal a republic but letting the CA implement the measure, and adoption of a mixed electoral system--the constitution was amended again and the Maoist ministers were reinducted on December 31, 2007.

Twice deferred, Nepal's Constituent Assembly election was finally held on April 10, 2008. None of the parties succeeded in getting a simple majority in the CA. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist won 218 out of 575 elected seats, followed by the Nepali Congress with 109 seats, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist with 103 seats, and the Tarai-based Madhesi People's Rights Forum with 50 seats. Six constituencies needed to hold by-elections, five due to one candidate having won two directly elected seats and one due to the newly elected President resigning his seat. The appointed seats were distributed across the parties in the following manner: Maoist 9, NC 5, UML 5, MPRF 2, SP 1, CPN-Marxist Leninist 1, People’s Front Nepal 1, Nepal Workers and Peasants Party 1, and TMDP 1.

On 28 May 2008 the 238-year-old monarchy was abolished.





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