The Koirala Brothers
AFTER the 1950s:
The introduction of a democratic political system in Nepal,
a country accustomed to autocracy and with no deep democratic
tradition or experience, proved a formidable task. A constitution
was finally approved in 1959, under which general elections
for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress won an
overwhelming victory and was entrusted with the formation of
Nepal's first popular government. But persistent controversy
between the Cabinet and King Mahendra (reigned 1955-72) led
the king to dismiss the Nepali Congress government in December
1960 and to imprison most of the party's leaders. The constitution
of 1959 was abolished in 1962, and a new constitution was promulgated
that established the crown as the real source of authority.
King Mahendra obtained both Indian and Chinese acceptance of
his regime, and the internal opposition was weak, disorganized,
and discouraged. Mahendra died in January 1972 and was succeeded
by his son Birendra, who was crowned in 1975.
Throughout the 1970s King Birendra sought to expedite economic development programs while maintaining the
"nonparty" political system established by his father. The results were disappointing on both accounts, and by
1979 a systemic crisis was evident. To meet the first serious political challenge to the monarchy since 1960,
King Birendra announced in May 1979 that a national referendum would be held to decide between a nonparty
and multiparty (by implication, parliamentary) political system. In the referendum, which was held in May 1980,
the political groups supporting the existing nonparty system won by the relatively small margin of 55 percent,
accurately reflecting the sharp differences in the country on basic political issues.
It was in this context that King Birendra decided in 1980 to retain the 1962 constitution but to liberalize the
political system by providing for direct popular election of the National Assembly. The government also permitted
the "illegal" political parties, such as the Nepali Congress Party, to function under only minimal constraints.
Elections were still formally held on a "partyless" basis, but many candidates ran informally and openly as
members of political parties.
This partial movement toward a democratic parliamentary system satisfied neither the supporters of a multiparty
constitutional monarchy nor several more radical leftist factions, and in February 1990 a coalition of centrist and
leftist opposition forces began a campaign demanding basic political reforms. A series of protests and strikes
followed nationwide, and the royal government's efforts to suppress the movement with force were ineffectual. In
April, as the situation in Kathmandu Valley worsened, King Birendra lifted the ban on political parties, abrogated
the more repressive security ordinances, and on April 16 appointed a coalition interim government headed by the
president of the Nepali Congress, K.S. Bhattarai, but also including the moderate faction of the communist
movement, the United Leftist Front.
The policy objectives of the interim government were "to maintain law and order, develop a multiparty system on
the basis of constitutional monarchy, draft a new constitution, and hold general elections" to a parliament. Within
a year, all four tasks were accomplished with remarkable success despite the broad divergence of views among
the major political organizations. A draft of the new constitution, prepared by a broadly representative government
commission, was submitted to the Palace and the Cabinet on Sept. 10, 1990. In November, following two months
of vigorous debate on a number of key issues--including the role of the king, the development of a secular state,
emergency powers, and the status of Nepal's many languages--an amended version of the constitution was
promulgated by King Birendra that provided for both a constitutional monarchy and a multiparty parliamentary
General elections held on May 12, 1991, gave the Nepali Congress a majority in Parliament (110 of 205 seats),
but the moderate United Marxist-Leftist Party, with 69 seats, emerged as a strong opposition party. The two
"Pancha" parties usually associated with the old system won only four seats. The elections were thus perceived
to constitute a strong endorsement of the 1990 political changes, and G.P. Koirala, the brother of Nepal's first
elected prime minister, B.P. Koirala, (held office from 1959-60), was nominated by the Nepali Congress and
appointed by the king to head the new elected 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 system, at both the party and the public level, the democratic
movement itself remained badly fractionalized and antagonistic, making more difficult the new government's
attempt to introduce the kind of hard-hitting economic and social policies the panchayat governments had
carefully avoided in an effort to mollify several small but important interest groups.
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Article source : Encyclopaedia Britannica