|Modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom, the source of the term "Gurkha" used for Nepali soldiers.
After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed, heightened by Nepal's defeat in a war with the British from 1814 to 1816. Stability was restored after 1846 when the Rana family gained power, entrenched itself through hereditary prime ministers, and reduced the monarch to a figurehead. The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but it also impeded the country's economic development.
In 1950, King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fled his "palace prison" to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This allowed the return of the Shah family to power and, eventually, the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasi-constitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.
In early 1959, King Mahendra issued a new constitution and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party, a moderate socialist group, gained a substantial victory in the election. Its leader, B.P. Koirala, formed a government and served as Prime Minister.
Declaring parliamentary democracy a failure 18 months later, King Mahendra dismissed the Koirala government and promulgated a new constitution on December 16, 1962. The new constitution established a "partyless" system of panchayats (councils) which King Mahendra considered to be a democratic form of government closer to Nepalese traditions. As a hierarchical structure progressing from village assemblies to a Rastriya Panchayat (National Parliament), the panchayat system enshrined the absolute power of the monarchy and kept the King as head of state with sole authority over all governmental institutions, including the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) and the Parliament.
King Mahendra was succeeded by his 27 year-old son, King Birendra, in 1972. Amid student demonstrations and anti-regime activities in 1979, King Birendra called for a national referendum to decide on the nature of Nepal's government--either the continuation of the panchayat system with democratic reforms or the establishment of a multiparty system. The referendum was held in May 1980, and the panchayat system won a narrow victory. The King carried out the promised reforms, including selection of the prime minister by the Rastriya Panchayat.
Movement To Restore Democracy
In 1990, the political parties again 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 seats out of 205 to form the government.
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 United Marxist and Leninist Party (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 start of a Maoist insurgency.
Following the May 1999 general elections, the Nepali Congress Party once again headed a majority government after winning a clear majority (113 out of 205). 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 two days later, the late King's surviving brother Gyanendra was proclaimed King.
In February 1996 the leaders of the Maoist United People's Front had begun 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. Approximately 10,000 police, civilians, and insurgents have been killed in the conflict since 1996. 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 and the Parliament approved this declaration by a two-thirds vote. On the recommendation of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, the King dissolved the House on May 22, 2002.
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 was stalled following the royal order. 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.
In a major development after Chand assumed the premiership, the government and Maoists on January 29, 2003 declared a cease-fire. This marked the second cease-fire with the Maoists; the first cease-fire, 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 the 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 more than 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 cease-fire. Thapa resigned in May 2004 as a result of political pressures. In June 2004, the King reinstated formerly dismissed Sher Bahadur Deuba as Prime Minister. Prime Minister Deuba has publicly stated that his main priorities are holding elections and resolving the Maoist insurgency. Deuba has established a four-party government, but the House remains dissolved pending elections.