Nepal - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

INTRODUCTION OF NEPAL

Nepal

Nepal, officially Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, republic in South Asia. Locked within the rugged ranges of the Himalayas, Nepal is bounded by the Tibet region of China on the north and India on the south, east, and west. It was cut off from the rest of the world until the early 1950s, when a palace revolution and the subsequent overthrow of the autocratic Rana dynasty marked the beginning of Nepal’s emergence into the modern world. Kathmandu is the capital and largest city.

LAND AND RESOURCES OF NEPAL

Nepal covers an area of 147,181 sq km (56,827 sq mi). It is divided into four topographical zones: the Great Himalayas, the Middle Himalayas, the Outer Himalayas, and the Tarāi. The highest zone is the Great Himalayas, in northern Nepal. Eight of the ten highest mountains in the world are located either wholly or partially in this area. These include Mount Everest (8,850 m/29,035 ft), Kānchenjunga (8,598 m/28,209 ft), Makālu (8,481 m/27,825 ft), Dhaulāgiri (8,172 m/26,811 ft), and Annapūrna 1 (8,091 m/26,545 ft).

To the south of the Great Himalayas are the Middle Himalayas, dominated in Nepal by the Mahābhārat Range, with peaks averaging less than 3,000 m (9,900 ft). Several rivers run through Nepal’s Middle Himalayas including the Seti, Karnali, Bheri, Kali Gandaki, Trisuli, Sun Kosi, Arun, and Tamur. In the Middle Himalayan zone most rivers converge and form four main river systems: the Karnali, Narayani, Gandaki, and Kosi, which traverse the Mahābhārat Range through deep gorges, making navigation difficult or impossible.

South of the Middle Himalayas lies the Siwālik Range of the Outer Himalayas, with an average elevation of about 1,000 to 2,000 m (about 3,300 to 6,600 ft). This area of Nepal has a number of flat valleys well suited to agriculture.

The Tarāi, a generally flat, fertile lowland, is the southernmost topographic zone in Nepal. Much of this area comprises the northern extension of the Gangetic Plain of India. Rivers rising in the Himalayas emerge in the Tarāi and continue southward, some of them becoming tributaries of the Ganges in northern India. The Tarāi is susceptible to flooding, which occurs regularly with the summer monsoon runoff from the mountains. The fertile soils of the Tarāi make up a major agricultural area where nearly half the country’s population lives.

Plant and Animal Life in Nepal

Forests occupy 25 percent of Nepal’s land area. The Tarāi supports extensive hardwood and bamboo forests in areas not cleared for agriculture or resettlement. On the lower slopes of the mountains, pines flourish amid oaks and wildflowers. Firs and shrubs thrive in the higher regions, most notably the tree rhododendron, Nepal’s national flower, which produces beautiful red and pink blooms from March to April. Smaller plants, such as mosses and grasses, grow at elevations above 3,700 m (12,000 ft). Above the snow line of the Great Himalayas (higher than about 4,300 m/about 15,000 ft) no vegetation grows.

Deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. The country lost half its forests between 1950 and 1980 because of increased demand for fodder, fuelwood, and land for agriculture and settlement. Much of the deforestation has taken place in the Tarāi, although the Middle and Great Himalayan regions have also experienced serious deforestation. With the assistance of the United States and international agencies, Nepal has embarked on several programs to extend and restore its forest cover.

The wildlife of the Tarāi includes tigers, leopards, deer, and elephants. The Royal Chitwan National Park, located in the Tarāi, was set aside to house and protect endangered wildlife such as the rhinoceros, tiger, sloth bear, gaur (a large species of ox), and Ganges River dolphin. Wild goats, sheep, and wolves live at higher elevations, and yak are herded by local people.

Natural Resources of Nepal

Fertile soils are limited to the Tarāi and some of the larger valleys of the Middle Himalayas. Some 16.5 percent of the country’s total land area is cultivated—a figure that includes hillsides with thin, poor soils terraced for farming. Due to population pressure, the percentage of Nepal’s cultivated area has increased from only 10 percent in the 1960s.

Nepal’s mineral resources are limited. Low-grade deposits of iron ore are found in the mountains near Kathmandu. Small deposits of copper exist in many areas and small reserves of mica have been found in the hills northeast of Kathmandu. Mineral extraction and transport is a major problem due to the country’s rugged terrain.

Climate in Nepal

Nepal’s climate varies according to elevation. The Tarāi of southern Nepal has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by rainy summers and the southwest winds of the monsoon, and almost dry winters. The effect of the southern monsoon climate extends northward into mountain valleys. In the Middle Himalayan valleys the amount of precipitation varies with the extent of exposure to the rain-bearing monsoon winds. Several high valleys located in the rain shadow (area where precipitation is partially blocked by mountains) are dry. In the Kathmandu Valley the average rainfall is about 2,300 mm (about 90 in), most of which occurs from June to September. Between elevations of about 500 and 2,700 m (about 1,640 and 8,860 ft) there is a warm temperate climate; between about 2,700 and 3,000 m (about 8,860 and 9,840 ft) a cool temperate climate prevails. Between about 3,500 and 4,100 m (about 11,480 and 13,450 ft) summers are cool and winters are very cold. Above 4,100 m (about 13,450 ft) a severely cold, alpine climate prevails.

THE PEOPLE OF NEPAL

Nepal had a population of 18,462,081 at the time of the 1991 census. The average population density at the time was 125 persons per sq km (329 per sq mi), although nearly half the people were concentrated in the narrow Tarāi region. In contrast, the 2009 population estimate was 28,563,377. The population has grown rapidly since 1950, when there were only 9 million people. Although the government has sponsored family planning since the 1950s, these programs have been slow to affect Nepal’s population growth. In 2009 the population was increasing at an annual rate of 1.3 percent. Only 16 percent of the population lived in urban areas in 2005. Major cities include Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan), Bhaktapur, Birātnagar, and Bīrganj.

Ethnic Groups, Languages, and Religion in Nepal

Nepal’s indigenous population consists of two major groups, the Indo-Nepalese, whose ancestors migrated into the country from the south, and the Tibeto-Nepalese, whose ancestors entered Nepal from the north. Although intermingling between the two groups has occurred, cultural, linguistic, and religious differences exist both between and within the two groups.

The Indo-Nepalese group comprises people who speak Sanskrit-derived languages and are strict adherents to Hinduism. Nepali is derived from Sanskrit. Differences within the Indo-Nepalese group are marked more by caste (a system of social hierarchy) than by ethnicity. The Tibeto-Nepalese group comprises several different ethnic groups including Newar, Bhutia, Sherpa, Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu people. Although most of the Tibeto-Nepalese speak Nepali, each ethnic group also has its own language.

While the majority of Nepali people practice Hinduism, a strong shamanist element remains in the religious practices of many Tibeto-Nepalese ethnic groups (see Shaman). Buddhism is also important within the country. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbinī, in present-day Nepal. There is also a small Muslim population mainly located in the Tarāi.

Education in Nepal

Under the Rana dynasty, which ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951, only the upper class had access to education. After the 1951 revolution, Nepal established an education system with free primary education for all children. Primary school begins at the age of 5 and lasts until age 10. Secondary education that follows lasts until the age of 15. Attendance of primary school was nearly universal in 2002–2003. Secondary school enrollment included only 45 percent (50 percent of the boys of that age group and 39 percent of the girls) in 2002–2003.

Formal schooling in Nepal is constrained by economic and cultural factors such as a bias against educating girls and a need for children to work at home or in the fields. In 2007 the literacy rate was estimated at 57 percent of the adult population, with a large gap between male and female literacy rates. Only 44 percent of the female population was literate in 2007 compared to 70 percent of the males. Urban areas have higher literacy rates than rural areas. In 1990 Nepal launched a 12-year literacy program targeting 8 million people between the ages of 6 and 45 years old.

Tribhuvan University, founded in Kathmandu in 1959, is the only doctoral-granting institution of higher education in Nepal. Nepal also has a number of colleges, all of which are either affiliated with, or follow standards set by, Tribhuvan University.

Way of Life in Nepal

Nepal’s society is predominantly rural. Social life in the village revolves around the family, which is headed by the father. Extended families sometimes break apart as sons separate from parents and brothers from each other in search of additional land. Family property is divided equally among sons at the time of separation. Consequently, family land holdings are extremely fragmented. Villagers often pool resources and labor to implement village-level projects such as irrigation ditches or channels. Rice is the food staple in most parts of the country. Barley, millet, and potatoes are important food staples in the Himalayas.

In Nepal women are generally subordinate to men and have less access to education, economic resources, and political power. Their plight, however, varies from one ethnic group to another. Among Tibeto-Nepalese communities female status is relatively better than in Indo-Nepalese communities. Generally, women work harder and longer than men, taking care of household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and farming. Women in upper-class families, however, have maids who do household work and other menial chores.

A revival of artistic and intellectual expression occurred in Nepal after the overthrow of Rana rule in the early 1950s. Nepali works of poetry and literature emphasize patriotism and national pride. Hindu and Buddhist religious values inspire the expression of Nepali artists. The lives of gods, saints, and heroes and the relationship of the individual to society and the universe are explored in sculpture, architecture, and drama. Numerous temples and shrines in the Kathmandu Valley display the skill and highly developed aesthetic sense of Nepali artists. Favorite recreational activities of the Nepali include music and dance. Religious ceremonies involve the use of drums and musical instruments preserved since ancient times. In rural areas devotional songs are an important part of cultural life. Radio Nepal schedules folk music programs to foster the traditional culture of the country.

ECONOMY OF NEPAL

The United Nations (UN) classifies Nepal as one of the least developed countries in the world. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $10.3 billion in 2007, with an estimated per capita GDP of $367. Several factors have contributed to Nepal’s underdevelopment, including its landlocked geography, rugged terrain, lack of natural resources, and poor infrastructure. China, India, Japan, the United States, and several European nations have made large investments in Nepal’s economy through foreign aid since 1952. Still, the country’s economic growth has been slow.

Nepal’s economy is characterized by heavy dependence on foreign aid, a narrow range of exports, increasing economic disparity between the mountain areas and the more developed Tarāi region, excessive governmental control and regulation, and inefficient public enterprises and administration. In addition, the economy has not kept pace with the country’s high population growth. In particular, the slow growth of agriculture has resulted in food shortages and malnutrition for some of Nepal’s people.

Agriculture and Manufacturing in Nepal

Agriculture dominates Nepal’s economy. It provides a livelihood for 79 percent of the population and contributes 34 percent of GDP. The Tarāi is the main farming region of the country. Rice and corn are major food crops; potato, oilseed, sugarcane, jute, and tobacco are major cash crops. Nepal’s industrial base is limited. Most industries are based on agricultural raw materials or dependent on various imported materials, mostly from India. Large manufacturing plants are owned and operated by the government. Major manufactured products include jute, sugar, cigarettes, beer, matches, shoes, cement, and bricks. Traditional cottage industries such as basket and carpet weaving are also important to Nepal’s economy.

Services in Nepal

Tourism represents a growing sector of the economy. Foreign tourism is primarily confined to Kathmandu Valley and major national parks such as the Sagarmatha National Park (around the Mount Everest area), Annapūrna Conservation Area, and Royal Chitwan National Park. Tourism has created demands for services and materials that are slowly changing the ecology, environment, and economy of the Himalayan region. Sherpas, well known for assisting as guides on Himalayan treks and mountain-climbing expeditions, benefit from Nepal’s growing popularity as a tourist destination.

A unique part of Nepal’s economy are the famous Gurkha mercenaries. Beginning with a treaty signed with British-controlled India in the early 1800s, young Nepali men served in the British, and later Indian, armies. Known for their brave fighting skills, these mercenaries have fought in nearly every major war, and with UN peacekeeping forces. Nepal receives more than $50 million in hard currency annually from soldiers’ salaries sent home, pensions, and other Gurkha-related payments.

Energy in Nepal

Most of the energy consumed in Nepal comes from traditional sources such as fuelwood, the use of which contributes to deforestation. Tremendous potential exists for hydroelectric power development, but growth is inhibited by terrain, lack of infrastructure, and insufficient capital investment. Nepal has harnessed only a fraction of its potential hydropower; however, a major hydroelectric facility was under construction on the Kali Gandaki River in western Nepal in the early 2000s. The country is heavily reliant on India for imported, nonrenewable sources of power such as oil and kerosene.

Transportation and Communications in Nepal

Nepal has a relatively underdeveloped network of roads. There are some main roads, which connect major cities and stretch to the borders of both India and China. However, the main means of transportation is the network of footpaths and trails that interlace the mountains and valleys. There is also a small railway along the Indian border. The government-owned Royal Nepal Airlines was the only commercial airline until 1992, when the government permitted other airlines to operate. Now a number of airlines provide domestic service between Nepal’s major cities as well as to its remote regions. International service is available to India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Pakistan, and Japan. Tribhuvan International Airport outside Kathmandu is the main airport. There are also several smaller airstrips serving domestic air travel in Nepal.

Nepal has limited telecommunication services. Postal services have improved in recent years but are still inaccessible to many Nepalese. Few people own telephones, although most urban areas have public telephone services. Radio Nepal broadcasts programs in Nepali and English to more than 90 percent of the population. Television programming is limited, but programs from overseas are available via satellite in remote parts of the country. The major newspapers in Nepal include the Gorkhapatra, Kantipur, and Daily Times; freedom of the press was guaranteed under Nepal’s 1990 constitution.

Foreign Trade in Nepal

For geographical and historical reasons, most of Nepal’s trade is with India. Attempts have been made to diversify trade by making new agreements with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, and Japan. Nepal has a growing trade deficit with India. Major exports are clothing, carpets, grain, and leather goods. Major imports are petroleum products, fertilizer, and machinery.

Currency and Banking of Nepal

Nepal’s monetary unit is the Nepalese rupee (66.40 Nepalese rupees equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). It is issued from the country’s central bank, Nepal Rastra Bank (founded in 1956). Indian rupees are still used in Nepal, although less widely than before trade disputes between the two countries in 1989.

GOVERNMENT OF NEPAL

Nepal’s government is a republic. In response to major pro-democracy protests, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 1990 that established a multiparty democracy but preserved the king’s status as chief of state. The 1990 constitution ended nearly 30 years of absolute monarchy in which the king dominated Nepal’s politics and political parties were banned. Nepal has universal suffrage beginning at the age of 18. In 2008 a newly elected legislature convened to write a new constitution and as one of its first acts abolished the constitutional monarchy and declared Nepal a republic.

Executive and Legislature of Nepal

Prior to 2006 executive powers were vested in the king and a council of ministers, composed of a prime minister and other ministers. In 2006 parliament forced the monarch to give up absolute power and rendered him largely a figurehead. An interim constitution assigned most of the king’s powers to the prime minister, the leader of the majority party in parliament. After general elections in April 2008, a constituent assembly was elected to draft a new constitution. The assembly decided not to retain the monarchy and declared Nepal a republic. The king was invited to remain in Nepal as a private citizen.

Nepal’s 1990 constitution established a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature consisting of a house of representatives and a national council. The House of Representatives had 205 members directly elected by the voters. The National Council had 60 members: 10 nominated by the king, 35 elected by the House of Representatives, and 15 elected by an electoral council. Members of parliament served five-year terms unless the parliament is dissolved earlier upon recommendation of the prime minister. The constituent assembly elected in April 2008 was expected to take two years to approve a new constitution.

Judiciary in Nepal

The judiciary is made up of three tiers: the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court. The chief justice was appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, but that power was granted to the prime minister in 2006. Other judges of the three courts are appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council.

Political Parties of Nepal

Major political parties include the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist); the Nepali Congress Party (NCP), a reform-oriented centrist party; and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), or CPN-UML.

Social Services in Nepal

Nepal has significant health care problems and receives aid through foreign agencies and religious groups. Diseases and chronic infections have been particularly prevalent in rural areas, including goiter, tuberculosis, and dysentery. Cases of leprosy continue to exist in some areas. Another chronic problem in Nepal is malnutrition, which is particularly severe in hill and mountain regions where people often experience food shortages.

Defense of Nepal

In 2006 Nepal’s defense force consisted of an army of about 69,000. There is no air force, although the army operates a small military wing. Military service is not compulsory.

International Organizations in Nepal

Nepal has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and participates in several international agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the World Health Organization; and the Economic Council for Asia and the Far East. In 1961 Nepal became a member of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank). Kathmandu is the permanent seat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

HISTORY OF NEPAL

Although Nepal emerged in history in the first millennium BC, it was only in the 18th century that Nepal developed as a country of the present size. Archaeological remains suggest that areas of Nepal have been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. The Kirant hill tribe people are thought to be the first rulers of the Kathmandu area. The earliest undisputed Nepali dynasty is the Licchavi dynasty, which was established in about AD 400. The Licchavi dynasty, which probably migrated from present-day Vaishāli, India, was centered in the Kathmandu Valley. The Licchavi dynasty expanded its influence to the Kali Gandaki River in the west and Sun Kosi River in the east. The Licchavi period, as well as the Malla period that followed, was deeply influenced by Indian culture.

The Licchavi dynasty came to an end in the late 9th century and was followed by the medieval period. The early medieval era was unstable and poorly documented. It culminated in the Malla period (1200 to 1769) when three separate dynasties, divided into three kingdoms in the late 15th century, were conquered by the Shah dynasty in 1769, led by King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Nepal’s southward expansion under the Shah dynasty resulted in a clash with the English East India Company. The Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) reduced the country to its current size, although Nepal retained its independence.

Rana Autocracy

In the first half of the 19th century, Nepal entered a short period of instability that culminated in the Kot Massacre, in which fighting broke out among military personnel and administrators after the assassination of a high-powered favorite of the queen. Jung Bahadur, a strong pro-British leader, prevailed during the massacre and seized control of the country. He declared himself prime minister and began the Rana dynasty of rulers. The Rana rulers monopolized power by making the king a nominal figure. They also made the office of the prime minister hereditary.

Nepal gave valuable assistance to the British during the Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1859) and during World War I (1914-1918). The British government reaffirmed the independence of Nepal through a treaty in 1923. A British resident (colonial official acting as an adviser to the ruler of a protected state), stationed in Kathmandu, controlled Nepal’s foreign relations. Nepal supported the Allied cause, with the contribution of Gurkha soldiers, during World War II (1939-1945). Nepal and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1948.

The Rana autocracy was increasingly criticized in the late 1940s, particularly by dissidents residing in India. The political-reform movement, which was approved by the Indian government and directed by the newly created Nepali Congress Party (NCP), won the support of King Bir Bikram Tribhuvana. Like his predecessors under the Ranas, he possessed purely nominal powers. His intervention in domestic politics deepened the crisis, however, and he was removed from the throne in 1950 by Prime Minister Maharaja Mohan Shumsher Rana. A few days later the king fled to India and NCP insurgents began military operations along the southern frontier. In 1951 Prime Minister Rana allowed a reorganization of the Nepalese government along democratic lines and the king was reinstalled. Friction between the Rana and Congress Party factions culminated in November 1951 when Prime Minister Rana was removed from power and the NCP formed a government headed by Matrika Prasad Koirala.

Absolute Monarchy

After the Rana autocracy ended, Nepal embarked on a mission of economic and social development. However, political parties organizing the government during the 1950s were not effective. King Mahendra, crowned in 1955, seized absolute control of the government in 1960 after a decade of political unrest. King Mahendra dismissed the government and suspended parliament, calling it corrupt and inefficient. Considering a parliamentary system unsuited to Nepal, the king proclaimed a new constitution in 1962 that banned the formation of political parties and allowed for the autocratic rule of the king through a nonparty system of councils, or panchayats. The government then instituted social reforms, including land reforms and modernization of the legal code, which helped alleviate some caste discrimination.

When the king died in 1972, he was succeeded by his son Birendra Bir Bikram, who was formally crowned in 1975. The young king initially exercised strong control over the government, attempting to repress the reform movement led by former prime minister Bisheswar Prasad Koirala. As antimonarchist sentiments grew in the late 1970s and serious riots challenged his authority, the king relaxed his control.

In a 1980 referendum on the form of government, the voters decided to retain the nonparty panchayat system with certain modifications. Among the reforms was a constitutional amendment providing for the king to appoint a prime minister upon the recommendation of the National Assembly. Elections under the new provisions were held in 1981 and 1986. Although all candidates ran as independents, reports indicated that Marxist-Leninist members of the Communist Party won a number of seats in parliament.

Constitutional Monarchy

Following a wave of pro-democracy protests spearheaded by Nepal’s banned political parties, Birendra agreed in 1990 to allow political activity. An interim government drafted a new constitution that provided for multiple political parties. In November 1990, with the adoption of a constitution stating the powers of the monarch, Nepal became a constitutional monarchy.

In 1991 the Nepali Congress Party (NCP) won the country’s first democratic election in 32 years, and the party’s general secretary, Girija Prasad Koirala, brother of former prime minister Bisheswar Prasad Koirala, became prime minister. Koirala resigned in 1994 after his coalition government lost its parliamentary majority. In new elections the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) branch of Nepal’s Communist Party won the majority of seats. The UML remained in power less than a year before a coalition government replaced it.

In 1996, a radical leftist party called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), unhappy with the pace and direction of change, launched a “people’s war” aimed at overthrowing the government, abolishing the monarchy, and establishing a people’s republic. Incidents of violence were at first confined to remote mountain regions but by the late 1990s had spread to more than half the country.

Political Instability

A period of political instability followed the declaration of the “people’s war” in 1996. One prime minister succeeded another in a series of unstable coalition governments. Internal fighting weakened the coalitions, as did their inability to control the Maoist rebellion.

Royal Massacre

In early June 2001 King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family, including Queen Aiswarya, were fatally shot in the royal palace in Kathmandu. An official investigation of the massacre concluded that Crown Prince Dipendra had killed his family members in a drunken rage and then committed suicide. Birendra’s younger brother, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, succeeded to the throne.

The Maoist insurgency intensified following the massacre, fueled in part by popular conspiracy theories surrounding the incident. Prime Minister Koirala, in office for the third time, was widely criticized for embarrassing setbacks at the hands of the rebels and for a perceived failure to provide adequate protection for the royal family. His government was also mired in a bribery scandal.

Insurgency and Crisis

Koirala stepped down as prime minister in July 2001 and was succeeded by Sher Bahadur Deuba, a former prime minister known for his willingness to work with opposition parties. Deuba began a series of reforms, including distribution of land to the poor, and introduced plans to criminalize discrimination against Dalits (“Untouchables”) and to end the caste system. Deuba also initiated peace talks with the Maoist rebels, and both sides agreed to a ceasefire. But the ceasefire ended in November 2001 after Deuba rejected Maoist demands for a new constitution that would abolish the monarchy. Fighting renewed and as the violence continued, King Gyanendra declared emergency rule, which enabled him to send the royal army to fight the insurgency. In 2002 Gyanendra dismissed Deuba, dissolved parliament, and assumed full power over the government before appointing a new prime minister.

In January 2003 the government and the Maoists agreed to a ceasefire and renewed negotiations. However, the ceasefire collapsed in August, after seven months. Meantime, the political parties, which had been excluded from the government after the dissolution of parliament, led demonstrations in the capital, and in June 2003 Deuba was reappointed prime minister.

The Maoist rebels intensified their insurgency after the ceasefire collapsed in August 2003. They refused to enter peace negotiations with Deuba, insisting on direct talks with the king, and staged two week-long blockades of Kathmandu. In February 2005 Gyanendra again imposed a state of emergency. He assumed full executive power, dismissing Deuba and his government. The king also suspended many constitutional rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and the press.

In April 2006 massive protests took place against direct rule by the king. In Kathmandu street demonstrations drew hundreds of thousands of people, and government forces responded by firing into crowds, killing more than a dozen people. The protests were spearheaded by a seven-party opposition alliance that included the Maoist insurgents. Faced with daily protests, a general strike, and road blockades that cut off Kathmandu from fuel and food supplies, Gyanendra announced that he would restore parliament, which he had dissolved four years earlier. On the recommendation of the seven-party alliance, Gyanendra named Koirala as prime minister. The newly reinstated parliament soon began to strip the king of his powers. The Maoist rebels declared a three-month truce and began talks with Koirala.

Peace Agreement

The Maoist rebels reached a peace agreement with the Nepalese government in November 2006, ending a decade-long revolt during which an estimated 13,000 people were killed. Under United Nations supervision, the Maoists turned over their weapons and confined their troops in camps. As part of the agreement, a government commission was set up to investigate human rights abuses by both sides in the long conflict. Koirala assigned 5 of the 22 cabinet posts in the interim government to Maoists, who joined the government in April 2007. The government planned to nationalize the monarch’s assets while allowing Gyanendra to keep property he owned before he came to the throne.

Elections for a constituent assembly, chosen by the people, were scheduled for June 2007. The assembly was to rewrite Nepal’s constitution and decide whether Nepal would remain a monarchy or become a republic. The Maoists, who had been pushing for an end to the monarchy, agreed to abide by the constituent assembly’s decision. However, the elections were subsequently postponed due to two new demands made by the Maoists: the abolition of the monarchy ahead of the elections, and the implementation of a proportional system of voting for the elections. The new demands contradicted the earlier agreement and created a political deadlock. The Maoists withdrew from the governing coalition in September 2007, and the elections were further delayed. However, the Maoists rejoined the interim government after all of the main parties agreed to abolish the monarchy immediately after the elections, which were scheduled for April 2008.

The Republic of Nepal

In the April 2008 elections the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the largest bloc of seats, taking 120 of the 240 directly elected seats. The Nepali Congress Party won the next largest bloc with 37, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) won 32. As promised, one of the first acts of the constituent assembly was to abolish the monarchy and declare Nepal a republic. The new government also declared Nepal a secular state, in which Hinduism is no longer the official religion. King Gyanendra was invited to remain in Nepal as a private citizen without any royal privileges, and his palace was converted to a museum. The constituent assembly was expected to take two years to write a new constitution.

In August the constituent assembly named Prachanda, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), as Nepal’s new prime minister. He was sworn in by the new president, Ram Baran Yadav, who holds a largely ceremonial post.