The Guest Column

9th February 1997

Nepal: political instability rises

by Stanley Kalpage

In 1990, democracy was restored in Nepal. The Nepali Congress and the United Left Front, consisting of seven communist parties, joined together in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) to overthrow the partyless Panchayat system. They presented a new constitution for a constitutional monarchy, with a multi- party system and a parliamentary form of government. The new Constitution was officially promulgated on November 9 1990.

At the first general elections in 1991 the Nepali Congress, with an absolute majority of 114 seats, formed the government with Girija Prasad Koirala as prime minister. In the process of infighting in the Nepali Congress the Koirala government, in 1994, went to a mid-term poll which produced a hung parliament.

In the 1994 elections, prime minister Koirala, now president of the Nepali Congress, lost his majority to the Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), which emerged as the single largest party and formed a minority government. After nine months in power the communists were ousted on a vote of no- confidence. A tripartite coalition government was formed consisting of the Nepali Congress, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP). The coalition commanded 107 seats in the house of representatives composed of 205 members.

Meanwhile the debate on the country's constitution continues. Some prefer an absolute executive with control of the legislature, while others like a strong judiciary with a parliamentary form of government.

Although the constitution of 1991 has restored multi-party democracy and confers sovereignty on the people, Nepalese feel that the democratic system cannot be strengthened without improving the economic condition of the people. Despite seven development plans, the growing economic disparity among the people even after the restoration of democracy is causing concern.

While politicians are engaged in the game of vying for power, Nepal continues to be categorized as a LDC {Least Developed Country} with a per capita income of around US$ 200. According to the Human Development Report (1996), life expectancy is 54 years and adult literarcy is 27 percent, both below the average for south Asia. Without the stabilization of democracy and good governance, problems of underdevelopment are bound to increase and social tensions will inevitably be aggravated.

Nepal has always been an independent country. It has never been under foreign domination. In 1769, King Prithvi Narayan Shah united petty states and autonomous principalities to form a single nation called Nepal. His newly founded kingdom was called "garden of four varnas and 36 sub-castes."Different linguistic communities, religious faiths, tribal cultural groups, and racial combinations have lived in harmony over the years.

The new consititution has acknowledged the cultural pluralism of Nepal and guarantees the right of every community "to conserve and promote its language, script and culture."While ethnic consciousness is said to be increasing in Nepal and some ethnic movements are moving towards fragmentation, the monarchy and the government are doing everything possible to promote nation building and development.

Improved relations with India have raised hopes among Nepalese for a revision of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India which, like the "letters' in the Indo- Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, is considered to be unbalanced and not in keeping with changing times.

A land-locked country whose access to the sea is through Indian territory and the ports of Calcutta in India and Chittagong in Bangladesh, Nepal needs India's active support for her development. Nepal can learn from experience of her SAARC neighbours so as not to fritter away the democratic freedoms of the 1990 Constitution in political infighting.

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