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 quasiconstitutional 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
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 pyramidal 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 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 elections resulted in a Nepali Congress
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.
Following of the May 1999 parliamentary 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 successive 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. Two days after his death, the late King's surviving
brother Gyanendra was proclaimed King.
The leaders of the Maoist United People's Front had begun a violent
insurgency in February 1996, 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
7,000 police, civilians, and insurgents have been killed in the conflict
since 1996. The Government and Maoists held peace talks in August, September,
and November 2001, but they were unsuccessful, and the Maoists resumed
their violent insurgency.
Shortly after the 2001 peace talks failed, the King declared a state
of emergency, and the Parliament approved this declaration by a two-thirds
vote. On the recommendation of Prime Minister Deuba, on May 22, 2002, the
King dissolved the House; 6 months later, he dismissed the Prime Minister.
The King retained full control of the army and government, appointing Lokendra
Bahadur Chand Prime Minister.
The Maoists and the Government declared a second ceasefire on January
29, 2003. Peace talks between the Chand government and the Maoists were
held in April and May 2003. In June 2003, as a result of political party
demonstrations against the royally appointed government, Prime Minister
Chand resigned, and the King appointed Surya Bahadur Thapa as Prime Minister.
Thapas government held a third round of negotiations with the Maoists
in August 2003. On August 27, 2003, the Maoists unilaterally broke off
negotiations, called an end to the ceasefire, and resumed hostilities against