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 by the British in a war 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 highly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but 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 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 the British model.
In early 1959, King Mahendra, who had succeeded his father Tribhuvan in 1955, 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 eighteen 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 claimed was 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 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 out of 205 seats 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 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 five years saw five successive unstable coalition governments and the beginning of a Maoist insurgency.
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 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 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.
Struggle for Democracy Continues
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 seven 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.
King's Direct Rule
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 three years. The King subsequently declared a state of emergency and suspended almost all fundamental rights for nearly three 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 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 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 have since 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.
The Constituent Assembly Election
Nepal held its historic 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 Terai-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.
In August 2008, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal--leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)--was sworn in as Prime Minister. However, following a dispute over his bid to dismiss the Chief of the Army Staff, Prime Minister Dahal resigned from the government on May 4, 2009. On May 23, members from 22 of the 24 political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly elected veteran Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninst (UML) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal as Prime Minister. Madhav Kumar Nepal was sworn in on May 25, 2009.
Information by U.S. Department of State