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Constitutional Background

The constitution of 1990, the country's fifth (respectively fourth) since 1948, is the legal base of Nepal's current political system. It has been drafted within a few months by representatives of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the left parties that had jointly organized the people's movement of early 1990. These people tried to lay the foundations for a democratic system, but they, at the same time, avoided radical changes. This resulted in a number compromises with the conservative forces.

The most serious change was that one from a partyless to a multiparty system. Another important change concerned the monarchy. King Birendra became a constitutional monarch who in almost all actions depends upon the prior recommendations of the democratically elected government. One of the striking features of the constitution's preamble is the special emphasis of public will. The sovereignty lies in the hands of the people, and the constitution has been drafted with the greatest possible participation of the masses. Adult franchise, a parliamentary system of government, constitutional monarchy and the system of multiparty democracy are emphasized as cornerstones of the constitution. The rule of law shall be a living reality on the basis of freedom and equality for all Nepali citizens, and it shall be guaranteed by an independent and competent system of justice.

One of the constitutional features most restricting for social development has been the concession towards conservative forces in the definition of the kingdom (adhirajya) in Article 4. New are the terms multiethnic, multilingual and democratic. But the makers of the constitution rejected the idea of a secular state which had been demanded by leftist parties and by many non-Hindu groups. This concession to the economically, socially and politically dominating high caste Hindu population is mentioned in the preliminary part of the constitution above all otherwise exellently defined fundamental rights. This means that not only the religion, but also Hindu social order, Hindu values, Hindu ways of thinking and living, and Hindu politics with all their effects are binding for state and society.

The current executive and legislative system is very similar to that of western democracies. The king is sharing power only formally. The legislative consists of a bi-cameral parliament, the House of Representatives (Pratinidhi Sabha) with 205 members directly elected by the people and the National Assembly (Rastriya Sabha) with 60 members. The king is required to appoint the leader of the strongest party in the house of representatives as Prime Minister. The other ministers are to be appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The thus constituted Council of Ministers is responsible to the House of Representatives.

In practice, the politicians have not been able to implement many aspects of the constitution. Even fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution like that of equality of all citizens have not even legally been realized after more than twelve years. Corruption and selfishness of the politicians and traditional ways of thinking must be regarded as the main reasons for such shortcomings. The poor state of affairs has been reflected by the instability of governments. It opens rooms for the development of radical forces like that of the Maoists who reject the current constitution and fight a violent so-called "people's war" that has cost the life of more than 8.000 people since February 1996.

The most dramatic violation of the constitution appeared on October 4, 2002, when King Gyanendra dismissed the elected Prime Minister and grabbed executive power. This happened at a time when the House of Representatives and the elected local bodies had already been dissolved. In May 2003, the National Assembly became defunct as well, since by-elections could not take place because of the dissolved lower house. As a result, the democratic system does no longer exist: There is no people's represenation, neither on the national nor on the local level. The government is nominated by the king as in pre-democratic times while the political parties demonstrating on the streets are disregarded by the monarch.

History and News

  • 30 May 2003: Chand resigns; King Gyanendra disregards the common candidate of the political parties and nominates Surya Bahadur Thapa as new Prime Minister. Both Chand and Thapa had been leading politicians of the pre-democratic royalist Panchayat system.
  • 29 Jan 2003: Ceasefire and a renewed dialogue with the Maoists.
  • 4 Oct 2002: King Gyanendra dismisses the Deuba government, grabs executiv powers and sovereignty and nominates Lokendra Bahadur Chand as new Prime Minister.
  • 15 Jul 2002: The elected local bodies are dissolved by the government and replaced by officials.
  • 22 May 2002: The House of Representatives is dissolved by King Gyanendra on recommendation of Prime Minister Deuba.
  • 23 Nov 2001: The dialogue with the Maoists breaks down; new escalations; the government declares state of emergency.
  • 19 Jul 2001: Koirala resigns as Prime Minister. His party MPs elect Sher Bahadur Deuba as his successor. Deuba initiates dialogue with the Maoists.
  • 1 Jun 2001: The complete royal family is murdered, obviously by the hand of Crown Prince Dipendra, who himself dies three days later. Birendra's younger brother Gyanendra becomes the new king and declares that he wants be an active monarch.
  • 20 Mar 2000: Girija Prasad Koirala (Nepali Congress, NC) again becomes Prime Minister after Krishna Prasad Bhattarai resigns.
  • 31 May 1999: New government under Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai (NC).
  • 3 and 17 May 1999: Third general elections after democracy movement. Thanks to split of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), shortly CPN-UML, NC again wins absolute number of seats. For the first time, CPN-UML and CPN-ML together get more votes than NC.
  • Dec 1998: Coalition government of NC, CPN-UML and Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP) under Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (NC) in order to hold new elections as soon as possible.
  • 26 Aug 1998: CPN-ML formally joins government
  • 12 Apr 1998: Minority government under Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (NC).
  • 6 Mar 1998: Split of CPN-UML; Bam Dev Gautam forms Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) or shortly CPN-ML.
  • 6 Oct 1997: New coalition government under Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa (National Democratic Party, NDP) after successful vote of no-confidence against Chand.
  • 10 Mar 1997: Deuba looses vote of confidence in parliament. New coalition government under Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand (NDP).
  • 12 Sep 1995: Communist government is replaced by a centralist/right coalition government under Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (Nepali Congress).
  • 28 Aug 1995: Supreme Court rules that Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikary's recommendation in June to have parliament dissolved for re-election was unconstitutional. This decision is contrary to the 1994 holding regarding the suggestion to dissolve parliament by Girija Prasad Koirala (NC).
  • 15 Nov 1994: The CPN-UML, wins mid-term elections by a relative majority of seats and forms a minority government under Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikari.
  • 12 May 1991: First general elections after the democracy movement are won by the Nepali Congress with an aboslute majority of seats. Girija Prasad Koirala (NC) becomes Prime Minister.
  • 9 Nov 1990: Proclamation of the 1990 Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal.
  • April 1990: Partyless Panchayat system is abolished after a people's movement organized by Nepali Congress and several left parties. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai (NC) heads an interim government.
  • 12 May 1986: Second direct elections to the National Panchayat. Several members of the outlawed parties are elected.
  • 9 May 1981: First direct elections to the National Panchayat.
  • 15 Dec 1980: The third amendment of the Panchayat constitution provides for direct general elections to the National Panchayat; the Prime Minister is now responsible to the parliament.
  • 2 May 1980: National referendum; about 55% vote for the continuation of the reformed partyless Panchayat system and against a return to a multiparty system.
  • 12 Dec 1975: Second amendment of the Panchayat constitution.
  • 31 Jan 1972: Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev succeeds to the throne at death of his father.
  • 27 Jan 1967: First amendment of the 1962 Constitution.
  • Mar 1963: First indirect elections for parliament, the National Panchayat (Rastriya Panchayat).
  • 16 Dec 1962: Proclamation of the 1962 Constitution of Nepal establishing the Panchayat system.
  • 15 Dec 1960: Coup of King Mahendra starts the partyless Panchayat system in which he exercises absolute power through village, district, and national councils. Political parties and organizations are outlawed.
  • 18 Feb 1959: First general elections to the House of Representatives. The Nepali Congress wins an absolute majority of seats, and B.P. Koirala becomes Nepal's first elected Prime Minister.
  • 12 Feb 1959: Proclamation of the 1959 Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal by King Mahendra. This first implemented constitution provided for a bi-cameral parliament, but the king still held strong executive, legislative and judicial powers.
  • 14 Mar 1955: King Tribhuvan dies and is succeeded by his son Mahendra.
  • 30 Mar 1951: Proclamation of the Interim Government of Nepal Act serving as 1951 Interim Constitution. It containes a provision to hold general elections for a constituent assembly within two years, but they were never held. Six amendments within seven years devalued the originally rather democratic law.
  • 18 Feb 1951: Abolition of Rana system; start of democratic experiments with the appointment of an interim government under Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher.
  • 26 Jan 1948: Constitution proclaimed by Prime Minister Padma Shamsher. This constitution never became implemented, and Padma Shamsher was deposed by Mohan Shamsher.
  • 6 Jan 1854: First legal code (muluki ain) proclaimed.

For methodology see: Comparing Constitutions and International Constitutional Law.
© 1994 - December 16th, 2010 / For corrections please contact K.-H. Krämer or A. Tschentscher.