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Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Nepal

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 10 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Nepal, 10 July 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Period of democratic transition: 1990–1991
Pro-democracy civic movement: present

King Birendra ruled Nepal beginning in 1962 through a repressive panchayat (village council) system, under which many opposition parties went underground. Political activity was limited to six government-sponsored class and professional organizations that were strictly warned against opposition politics.

The popular uprising followed India's refusal to renew trade and transit agreements with Nepal in 1989, causing shortages of food and medicine. The Nepali Congress Party (NC), which existed illegally under the Birendra regime, launched peaceful demonstrations countrywide in February 1990, advocating a democratic, multiparty system of government. Shortly thereafter, several hundred members of the opposition party were arrested, newspapers that opposed the regime were shut down, and in several instances police officers opened fire on the crowds, killing dozens of civilians. The killing of young Nepali demonstrators mobilized support for the opposition, even among doctors, lawyers, and other segments of the professional elite who traditionally avoided involvement in politics. On April 6, 1990, the security forces fired on a crowd of over 100,000, killing approximately 150 people, garnering widespread domestic and international condemnation. Two days later, Birendra agreed to remove the 29-year ban on political parties and appoint a commission to amend the constitution under democratic principles. The decision paved the way to a new constitution, promulgated in November, which guaranteed free elections, an independent press, and the right of workers to organize. Free and fair elections were held in May 1991, culminating in a victory for the NC, which was led by Girija Prasad Koirala.

The NC governed democratically until 1994, when intraparty conflicts forced them to call early elections, which they subsequently lost to the Communist Party of Nepal. Democratic stability has since been tenuous, despite an NC electoral victory in 1999, owing to the persistence of the Maoist insurgent groups that wanted an end to the constitutional monarchy and the drafting of a new constitution.

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