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Party Less Panchayat To Multi Party Democracy History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

1. As the movement for Indian independence from Britain gained momentum, many Nepalese students in India became active participant;. After the independence of India, the Ranas in Nepal lost the support of their British patrons, thereby weakening them considerably. At the same time, the Nepalese participants of the Indian Independence Movement, some educated people in Nepal and some disgruntled Ranas, began a movement against the Rana rule in Nepal. With the joint effort of the Royal Palace, the political parties and India, the rule of Ranas ended in 1951. The Janata Dal, Nepali Congress Party, Praja Parishad were the major political parties active in the fight for democracy in Nepal. On 18 February 1951 (7th Falgun 2007BS), Nepal became a democratic country for the first time. King Tribhuvan promulgated the Interim Constitution of Nepal 1951. This constitution had provision for an advisory assembly and all executive power lay in an absolute monarch.

2. A cabinet of ministers from different political parties, headed by Mohan Sumsher was established. The opposition party, the Gorkha Dal underwent a metamorphosis to the violent Khukuri Dal [2] . The failure of this cabinet led to the establishment of a second cabinet on 16 Nov 1951 under Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala. This was an all Nepali Congress (NC) government. However internal feud within the NC between Matrika and Biseshwor Prasad Koirala resulted in the failure of the government which ended on 14 August 1952 [3] . On 4 July 1952, King Tribhuvan inaugurated an Advisory Assembly of Nepal (Nepal Salhakar Samity). He promised that this body would guide the country to democracy. He also announced that elections to a constituent assembly would be held. However, before he could fulfill his promise, he passed away on 13 March 1955.

3. King Mahendra succeeded King Tribhuvan. On 15 June 1953, a third cabinet was formed, led by Matrika Prasad Koirala. This cabinet included persons from other parties too. This cabinet ended in 14 April 1955 due to the lack of harmony within the cabinet [4] . To establish stability, King Mahendra constituted an Advisory Board under his leadership and started to rule the country. The formation of the Advisory Board was opposed and criticized by democratic parties. So, King Mahendra decided to delegate the powers of administration to the representatives of the people. On 27 January 1956, he invited Tanka Acharya of the Praja Parishad to form the government. This new government made many strides in the Foreign Affairs of Nepal, but failed in bringing peace to the country [5] . Having failed to hold the general elections, he handed in his resignation on 27 June 1956. Dr KI Singh, leader of the United Democratic Party was invited to form the government on 26 July 1957. This government lasted for 110 days. King Mahendra took over the helms of the government.

4. On 12 February 1959, King Mahendra promulgated the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1959. This was a democratic constitution that established two houses in the Nepalese Parliament – the Pratinidhi Sabha or the House of Representatives (lower house) with 109 directly elected members and the Maha Sabha (upper house). Finally a coalition of the NC and the Gorkha Parishad, known as the United Front Ministry, were able to hold general elections on 18 February 1959. Contrary to the pre election belief that it would result in a fragmented house of representatives, the NC won the elections with a two thirds majority [6] . Biseswor Prasad Koirala was sworn in as the Prime Minister on 27 May 1959. However in the absence of any strong opposition, the Congress government took to intra party power struggles and corruption [7] . The government failed to bring about any substantial changes in Nepal. On 15 December 1960, King Mahendra took over the government, imprisoning BP Koirala and his ministers. Dr Tulsi Giri was made the new Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Thus ended Nepal’s first experience of democracy.

Era of Partyless Panchayat System (1962-1990)

5. The Panchayat system of governance was introduced to the Nepali political paradigm by the Late King Mahendra through the Constitution of 1962. Although the system was named after the ancient Hindu system of governance, where five wise village leaders would play the role of the judiciary in villages, it was in effect a modern system that established political authority over the country through an autocratic monarchy guided by indirectly elected representative bodies. Deeming that political parties were vulnerable to advances from groups with vested interests and therefore considered detrimental to national interests, the Panchayat System established a party less political environment with a nationalistic slogan of it being an indigenous system suited to Nepal. The Panchayat System was bicameral, it had a national assembly called the National Panchayat and an upper house called the Raj Sabha. The political system was four tiered, consisting of the Village/Town Panchayat, the District Panchayat, the Zonal Panchayat and the National Panchayat.

6. Political Situation.

a. The country was ruled by an absolute monarch. Article 20 Clause (2) of the Constitution of 1962 reads “The sovereignty of Nepal is vested in His Majesty and all powers-executive, legislative and judicial emanate from Him. These powers are exercised by His Majesty through the organs established by or under this Constitution and other laws for the time being in force keeping in view the interest and wishes of His Majesty’s subjects…”

b. The system established a political party less environment. Participation in the various elections was on individual capacity. Article 11 Clause (2) of the Constitution of 1962, while listing out the freedoms to be enjoyed by all Nepalese citizens, forbid the right to form political parties and unions. It stated “Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (2), no political party or any other organization, union or association motivated by party politics shall be formed or caused to be formed or run.”

c. In 1931, a short lived political party called the Prachanda Gorkha was formed. Party politics started in Nepal with the formation of Praja Parishad in 1939. The Nepali National Congress was formed in 1947. On 29 April 1949, a party called the Communist Party of Nepal was formed in Calcutta, India. These political parties actively participated in the 1950/51 uprising that ousted the Rana regime. Hence the act of banning political parties as late as 1962 was bound to lead to dissatisfaction. The political parties went underground and launched a protracted campaign against the Panchayat system from India. Although no coalition of political parties were formed to protest against the Panchayat system, the NC served as a nucleus for the protests.

d. King Mahendra died on 31 January 1972. He was succeeded by his son King Birendra, a western educated liberal person.

e. On 25 June 1975, Indian President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, upon the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, declared a state of emergency in India. This draconian measure suffocated the India based democratic movement in Nepal [8] and on 30 December 1976, Bisheswor Prasad (BP) Koirala arrived in Kathmandu with a message of national unity and reconciliation, aimed at forming an alliance between the monarchy and the democratic forces in Nepal. Although BP Koirala was arrested, the anti Panchayat movement was unleashed in Nepal.

f. On 4 April 1979, Julfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in Pakistan. Mass student protests broke out all over Nepal against this execution. The student protests slowly switched to domestic politics in rising against the party less Panchayat system. On 23 May 1979 King Birendra made a declaration that a national referendum would be held to choose between a party less Panchayat system or a multiparty democratic system. The referendum was held in 1980.

g. The Panchayat system won by a narrow margin. The result was accepted by the opposition leader BP Koirala [9] .

h. The referendum established that a significant proportion of the total voters, some 47.45% were in favor of multiparty democracy. Whilst the proponents of multiparty democracy viewed this as having a large popular base and embarked upon a more assertive campaigning, the proponents of the Panchayat saw this result as having the legitimacy to use harsher means to subdue the anti Panchayat voice. Hence the referendum resulted in polarizing the population between supporters of the two different political systems.

j. After the revolt of the Raksha Dal, the Communist Party of Nepal was banned on 24 January 1952. But the party survived as an underground movement. It fractured many times to form numerous communist factions. Though they were active all along against the Panchayat, the NC viewed them as an undemocratic group and did not endeavor to form a coalition with them in their fight against the Panchayat.

k. After the death of the BP Koirala in 1982, the NC led movement against Panchayat lost steam. To rejuvenate the movement, the NC called for a Civil Disobedience Campaign in 1985. This movement is significant for the fact that the communist factions also actively supported it, creating an alliance against the Panchayat. However the movement was called off after a marginal group called the Nepal Democratic Front, led by Ram Raja Prasad Singh, took to attacking the government by exploding bombs all over the country.

7. Socio-Economic Situation

a. In spite of all its shortcomings, the Panchayat governments provided Nepal with a period of much needed stability while it lasted for about 30 years. Significant amounts were invested in development of transportation and communication in the country [10] . In the period between 1962 to 1965, a total of 39% of the total budget was spent on improving this sector. This figure was increased in the period from 1970 to 1975 to 41.2% of the budget. Most of the major road networks in Nepal today, such as the East-West Highway, the Kodari Highway, the Prithivi Highway, the Siddarth Highway, the road to Jiri, etc were all built by the Panchayat governments.

b. The Panchayat governments also emphasized on agricultural development. Both improvement of food production and introduction of cash crops were targeted. Land reforms were carried out to give the tiller the rights over the land. Irrigation networks were built. Agri industries were developed. In the period from 1970 to 1975 some 26% of the total budget was spent on development of agriculture.

c. The Panchayat governments introduced the concept of involving the local government and the private sector in the development of the country. The community forestry programs that have protected vast swaths of land from deforestation is the direct result of such involvement of the local government in national projects.

d. Education was a sector that could not develop much during the Panchayat period in Nepal. As a result the social ills related to mass uneducation, such as social discrimination and caste system, though made illegal by the law, prevailed.

e. Economically, the country remained weak. The existence of large state controlled monopolies resulted in weak private sector. A few families controlled what existed of the private sector. The per capita income of Nepal hovered around the US$ 150 mark for most of the 80s. Hence economic disparity was rife, breeding disillusionment.

f. The security apparatus in the country was effective. The existence of a very effective National Investigations Department went a long way in supporting police work. However, the intelligence and law enforcing arms were often misused for political purposes. Draconian measures were taken up by the state against political rivals in the name of “un-national elements.”

g. Some very democratic rights, such as the freedom to pursue different political ideologies, freedom to express oneself, freedom to organize political bodies, etc were denied to the citizens.

8. The Demise of the Partyless Panchayat System

a. In the period between the 1981 and 1986 elections, there was a growing rift within the Panchas [11] . An absence of any viable economic or political program in the period bred disillusionment.

b. In 1988, Nepal bought some weapons and military equipment from China. This move was very strongly denounced by India [12] . India accused Nepal of violating the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. This treaty called for close cooperation between the two countries on matters of defence and foreign affairs and such an act of bypassing India on defence procurement had not been done hitherto. India had always viewed the Himalayas as the frontiers to their security in the north. This is evident from the letter written to Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India, as far back as 7 November 1950 [13] . It reads “The Himalayas have been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north.” To the Sino phobic Indians, this act compromised their national security. However the mentioned treaty did not forbid Nepal from such defence procurements. Nepal on the other hand was dismayed by India’s growing interference in her internal politics, particularly in the support provided to the movement against the prevailing government of Nepal.

c. On 23 March 1989, India stopped trade on 19 of the 21 points of entry to Nepal, citing breakdown in the negotiations for renewal of the trade and transit treaty. The treaty had permitted transit of goods to Nepal from third countries through the port of Calcutta waiving any customs. It also allowed low tariff and no quantity restriction transaction in both direction. The blockade effectively cut off the supplies of basic commodities to Nepal, resulting in worsening economic conditions and extreme hardship to the population. The blockade was aimed at persuading Nepal to accept the Indian security umbrella at the cost of her relations with China.

d. Sensing a weakening of the Panchayat regime due to internal rift and disillusionment amongst the masses, under the leadership of Ganeshman Singh Shrestha, the NC called for a coalition of political parties in movement against the party less system. The various communists factions grouped together under the United Left Front to support the movement. A movement to restore democracy was formally launched on 18 February 1990.

e. The fall of the Berlin wall and the political awakening in East Europe had set the global mindset favoring pro democratic forces. India, to usher in a more India friendly government in Nepal, seized the opportunity to bring in a regime change. Indian leaders, such as Chandra Shekhar Singh, played a crucial part by addressing mass rallies in Nepal.

f. On 8 April 1990, through a royal declaration, the party less Panchayat system was abolished in favor of a multi party democracy in Nepal.

Constitutional Democracy (1990-2001)

9. When the popular movement was launched on 18 February 1990, it had two demands – legalizing political parties and an interim government. But as the movement gained momentum, the demands too spiraled upwards. So when King Birendra, through a royal proclamation on 6 April 1990 put forward a three point proposal, it was rejected by the movement leaders. The proclamation proposed i) replacement of Marichman’s cabinet by that of Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s, which would also accommodate leaders of the movement; ii) political reforms within the Panchayat structure and iii) the Chand government was empowered to hold talks with the leaders of the movement. These proposals were rejected outright by Ganeshman Singh Shrestha, the leader of the movement. In the subsequent meeting between the King and the leaders of the movement on 8 April 1990, the former proposed a constitutional reform commission and an interim government. This took the movement leaders by surprise. They agreed with the King to end the party less system and for a subsequent meeting to negotiate the details. On the night of 8 April at 11 pm, the King through a royal proclamation ended the party less system.

10. In the subsequent victory rally on 9 April 1990, Girija Prasad Koirala’s reconciliatory message was jeered by the mass. The message was clear, the people wanted complete political reforms and the leaders had to reset their goals beyond their two point demands. The meeting between the NC and the United Leftist Front on 11 April 1990 came up with a new eight points demand. On the meeting between Chand’s government and the movement leaders on 15 April, the latter refused to recognize the former as the interim government. The movement leaders prevailed and on 16 April 1990, King Birendra proclaimed the dissolution of the National Panchayat, the Panchayat Evaluation Committee, class organizations and accepted Chand’s resignation. The King also agreed with Ganeshman’s proposal to appoint Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, president of the NC, as the interim Prime Minister. Bhattarai subsequently formed a government consisting of representatives of the King, the NC and the United Leftist Front. The formation of the Constitution Reform Commission was equally controversial. The King, as per the 16 April agreement, used his prerogative in forming the commission. The political parties, seizing the favorable situation, rejected it and reconstituted the commission. After a lot of bargaining, the Constitution of Nepal 1990 was promulgated on 9 November 1990, commencing Nepal’s second coming of democracy.

11. Political Situation.

a. The Constitution of Nepal 1990 was a compromise between the King, the NC and the Unified Leftist Front. As per the wishes of the King, article 4 declared Nepal a Hindu Kingdom, Article 27 declared “His Majesty” as the symbol of national unity, article 28 retained the power of succession within the Royal Palace, article 31 kept the Royal Family outside the law, it also exempted the King from taxation. The constitution also allowed the King to nominate some members of the Raj Parishad. Most importantly, it mentioned in the Preamble that the constitution was promulgated by His Majesty, thereby giving the autocratic palace a face saving exit to a constitutional one. The preamble also satisfied the political parties by stating that the sovereignty lay inherent in the people and that the constitution was promulgated on the consent, advice and recommendations of the Council of Ministers. Most importantly, article 35 limited the monarch to using the executive authority only on the advice and consent of the Council of Ministers.

b. The Constitution of Nepal 1990 reduced the absolute monarch to a constitutional one and empowered the direct representatives of the people to run the government. Article 12 Clause (c) gave all Nepalese the right to form unions and association. Article 13 gave the press complete freedom. The bicameral legislature was maintained, with the House of Representatives and the National Council. However the House of representatives was a lot more powerful than its predecessor. The House of representatives elected the Prime Minister, who formed the Council of Ministers. The executive authority lay in the King acting upon the advice of the Council of Ministers.

c. During the Panchayat governments, efforts towards integration of the various ethnicities exemplified unity in diversity [14] . The percentage of the “high class” Brahmins in the Panchayat legislatures ranged between 14 to 24 % [15] . This figure was 33.6%, 44.39% and 46,34% in the democratic legislatrures of 1991, 1994 and 1999. Ethnic hill groups had 21.48% representation in the 1981 Panchayal legislature but only 12.19 in 1999. The intent of governments during the multiparty democracy to include all ethnic groups and minorities within its fold was considerably diminished, hence it ushered in politics based on ethnic groupism. The formation of the Nepal Sadhbahawana Party and the Rashtriya Janamukti Party are examples of the same. However these ethnicity based parties did not fare well in the general elections and remained marginalized.

d. Another disturbing feature of multi party democracy in Nepal was the instability of governments. Not a single government, even ones commanding strong majority in the parliament, lasted over two years. The period between November 1994 to March 2000 saw ten governments. The frequency of government changes came about because of the extra ambitious nature of individual political leaders and the resultant horse trading amongst the political parties. Frequent government changes meant that long term policies could not be implemented. Frequent elections led parties to follow populist agendas that weren’t always in the best interests of the country.

e. Yet another disturbing feature of democracy in Nepal was the culture of street protests. This was more of a legacy of the popular movement of 1990. The UML, unable to understand the mandate that the people of Nepal had given to the NC majority government, decided to block the functioning of the government through hooliganism. Such hooliganism was soon institutionalized into the Nepali political scene.

f. The Mahakali Treaty, signed by the UML government with India, was another shock to the country. The Sigauli treaty of 1816 quite clearly states “The Rajah of Nipal renounces ..all claims to or connection with the countries lying to the west of the River Kali.” It is clear that Mahakali (then referred to as Kali) is an integral part of Nepal, but the Mahakali Treaty conceded Nepalese territory as being a common river. It also signs away most of the rights of water usage to India. This treaty led to a faction of the UML rebelling to form a splinter group called the CPN(ML).

g. Multiparty democracy brought in mushrooming of political parties in Nepal. Most of these parties were formed around personalities rather than ideologies. Even the older and more established political parties such as the NC and the CPN (UML) sacrificed ideology to rally around party leaders. Hence, parties splintered and reunited based on the relations of the leaders with each other.

h. A unique achievement of this period was the co-existance of a communist government with a Hindu monarch brought about by the elections of 1994. The UML governent led by Man Mohan Adhikari in a Hindu kingdom perhaps epitomises the accomodating nature of the Nepalese people.

12. Socio Economic Conditions.

a. With the relaxation of the trade embargo by India, Nepal saw a return of normalcy in living conditions after 1990. The eighth 5 year plan (1992-1997) brought in comprehensive reforms in all sectors of the economy. Privatization of public enterprises, opening up hydroelectric sector, the banking sector, telecommunication and transportation to private investment created a positive economic atmosphere. The GDP, which stood at NRs 103,415 million in 1990 doubled to NRs 219,174 million in 1995 (IMF estimates).

b. But the euphoria was short lived. The lack of stability in the government and corruption scandals dragged the economic growth. “Lauda” and “Dhamija” scandals, involving the leaders of the 1990 movement shocked the nation. Rampant corruption led to intra party feud within the NC, toppling a majority government led by the same party.

c. The culture of political vandalism began to spread its roots. “Chaka Jams” and “Nepal Bandhas” became accepted vocabulary. Such political violence were impediments to national growth.

d. The acts of politicaly sponsored vandalisms and later the armed insurgency waged by the Maoists against the state worsened the security situation in the country. It bred a culture of impunity.

13. The Demise of Multi Party Democracy

a. The political leaders failed to understand that the goal of the Nepalese people in realizing the movement of 1990 was democratization in tandem with economic growth. The movement and the resultant constitution established universal franchise, the separation of powers, right to information, right to organization, etc. However the lack of political will resulting from autocratic and hierarchical orientation of political parties led to centralization and power abuses. It created a new class of a privileged few at the cost of the vast majority. The lack of efficiency resulting from organizational weakness of state agencies led to almost non existent systems of accountability. It resulted in the poor delivery by the state. Hence, a growing section of the population were disillusioned with the prevalent political system.

b. The United Peoples Front, under Dr Baburam Bhattrai saw the conditions favoring a communist revolt. On 4 February 1996, he submitted a 40 point demand to Prime Minister Deuba and declared the launch of the “Peoples Movement” even before the expiry of his deadline of 17 February 1996. The United Peoples Front soon merged into the CPN (Maoists) and thereafter this party led the armed revolt against the state. The organizational skills of the leaders of the movement and the support of the people soon strengthened the revolt. This is not to say that the communist cause had a popular resonance with the people but it was viewed as an instrument to punish the irresponsible and corrupt government.

c. On the night of 1 June 2001, Nepal was shocked by the Royal Massacre. Crown Prince Dipendra killed himself after murdering his entire family. Gyanendra, who was never as near popular as his elder brother Birendra, was crowned the King.

d. The general elections of 1999 brought in a NC majority government, which was led by Girija Prasad Koirala. Koirala, never one to abide by the constitutional provisions, resigned in July 2001 after his order for the NA to mobilize against the Maoists without consulting the National Security Council was deemed illegal and therefore disobeyed. He was replaced by Sher Bahadur Deuba, also from the NC.

e. On 23 November 2001, under the guise of a ceasefire, the Maoists overran a military post in Dang. Prime Minister Deuba responded by imposing a state of emergency and the NA was mobilized to bear pressure on the rebels to bring them to a negotiated settlement. The constitutional requirement for the parliament to endorse the emergency within six months was seen as an opportunity by Koirala to usurp the power from Deuba. In the resultant difference with the party president, on 22 May 2002, Deuba recommended the dissolution of the parliament.

f. As per the constitutional requirements to hold fresh elections within six months, it was scheduled for 13 November 2002. On October 2002, Deuba, upon the recommendation of the NC, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Nepal Workers and Peasants’ Party, Nepal Sadbhavana Party and People’s Front Nepal recommended to the King that the elections be postpone by 14 months citing the security situation.

g. The King removed Deuba from office for incompetence. He set about nominating a new government, thereby ending Nepal’s second experience of multiparty democracy. The democratically elected leaders had surrendered democracy to the monarch on a silver platter.


The Insurgency

1. On 4 February 1996, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Chairman Central Committee, United People’s Front, submitted a 40 point demand to Prime Minister Deuba. The demand focused on nationality, people’s democracy and livelihood. Apart from a few points, the demands were similar to the election manifesto of other political parties. Although the demands focused on long term targets, he put in an unrealistic deadline of 17 February 1996 for his demands to be met. On the 13 February 1996, even before the expiry of his unrealistic deadline, the CPN(Maoists) declared their “People’s War”. About 300 men and women vandalized a small branch of the Agricultural Development Bank in a remote village in central Nepal. On the same evening armed youths seized three police outposts. Since then the attacks have grown in intensity and size. By 2000, the rebels were strong enough to overrun well fortified district police posts. The fear of the Maoists grew and they were able to gain the support in rural areas, initially voluntarily and later by coercion. The process of forming the “People’s Liberation Army (PLA)” developed under the Central Military Commission which was headed by Puspa Kamal Dahal. By September 2002, the Maoists claimed to have organized brigades (which, as the UNMIN verification process exposed, as being no more than a couple of thousand strong), a central headquarter, a general political department and a general logistics department [16] . Their funding [17] came mainly from extortion (about forty percent), looting banks and robbery (about twenty percent), from illegal trade in narcotics (about twenty five percent) and from external sources(about fifteen percent). The Maoists also received political support from a number of countries, including India, who orchestrated the 12 Points Agreement between the Maoists and other political parties, that eventually facilitated them to come above ground. On 23rd November 2001, during a period of ceasefire, whilst the political wing engaged the government in negotiations, the PLA raided an army depot in central Nepal. Up to this time the PLA had been armed with WWII vintage 303 rifles, hunting guns, IEDs and a few AK47s. The raid on the army depot provided them with 7.62mm self loading rifles, 7.62 mm light machine guns, 7.62mm general purpose machine guns, RPG7, 51mm mortar, 81mm mortar and a large quantity of ammunition to match these weapons. The government of Nepal declared a state of emergency and the Nepalese Army (NA) was mobilized for the first time. After some initial setbacks the army led a successful campaign forcing the Maoists into declaring a ceasefire in January 2003 [Cite This Work

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