Nepalese force king to accept democratic reform, 'Jana Andolan' (People's Movement), 1990

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
18 Febuary
1990
to
8 April
1990
Location and Goals
Country: 
Nepal
Location City/State/Province: 
Kathmandu
Goals: 
Establish a national multiparty democracy in place of the "panchayat" parliamentary system that allowed the King to control the government.
 

Nepal is a small Himalayan country that borders China and India with a population of about 20 million and with a famous ethnic and religious diversity. Established as a monarchy in the mid-18th century, its form of government was hotly contested in 1972 with the death of King Mahendra and the accession of his son, Birenda. The king maintained power but promised a national referendum on the panchayat system of councils, which then allowed the king almost total autocratic control.

In a national referendum in 1980, it was established that the panchayat system would continue, allowing the king to maintain his autocratic powers over the parliamentary system. Many people believed that the decision had been rigged and demanded a change to a multiparty system.

In 1990, two groups, the Nepali Congress, a pro-democracy group and the largest illegal political party in the country, and the United Left Front, a coalition of communist and leftist parties, joined to launch a campaign to achieve a multiparty democracy in Nepal

The Jana Andolan’ (People's Movement) towards a multiparty democracy officially started on February 18, 1990, which is Democracy day in Nepal, in honor of monarch King Tribhuvan, the grandfather of the reigning monarch, Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. The Nepali Congress organized the movement and decided that this would be a nonviolent campaign.

In order to stall the movement, the government arrested national and district-level leaders of both the NC and the ULF on February 17 and banned all opposition newspapers. The king called on the nation in a radio address to stand unified with the monarchy and to pursue democratic reforms through constitutional channels.

Later in the month, police fired on a demonstration in Bhaktapur, killing 12 people. The movement became increasingly large and dangerous as thousands of students marched against riot police and hundreds were arrested and injured.

The movement called for bandhs (a kind of general strike) that quickly spread across the country. Communication between opposition members faltered and palace leadership was at times absent, leaving local governments to deal with the protests as they saw fit. Some even joined the movement in absence of central government.

These protests escalated from the countryside until they reached the capital, Kathmandu. After the army killed protesters in Patan in early April, the movement gathered some 200,000 people who marched in protest of the monarchy in the capital. Over the course of several days, police shot and killed dozens as protesters blocked streets, taunted police officers and paraded flags demanding a restoration of the multiparty democracy system that the country had in the 1950s.

At the climax of the protests, people surrounded government buildings, urging the king to accept their demands. By that point, many police did not engage with protesters but looked on as some protesters smashed government property, such as the prime minister’s car and a statue of the king’s father. After Nepali Congress and ULF leaders met with the monarch, the king announced that he would reinstate multiparty democracy and the leaders called off the protests. On April 8, 1990 the king removed the ban on political parties.

The prime minister left office and an interim government was established until the May elections the following year. The interim Prime Minister L.B. Chand announced that this communist dominated government would not take action against former members of the panchayat but “if wrongdoing is discovered, we will take action". Freedoms of speech and of the press were also reestablished during this time.

In December of 1990 several communist parties left the ULF, stating that the coalition had no more purpose since it had achieved its goals. In May of 1991, the ULF and NC took most of the seats in congress.

Research Notes
Influences: 

This Nepalese democracy movement, modeled itself after campaigns from Beijing to Bucharest.

Sources: 
"Rights Protesters Attacked in Nepal." The New York Times. (February 20, 1990 , Tuesday, Late Edition - Final ): 755 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

Nepal in 1990: End of an Era. Niranjan Koirala. Asian Survey. Vol. 31, No. 2, A Survey of Asia in 1990: Part II (Feb., 1991), pp. 134-139

"ASIAN NEWS; NEPALESE KING REJECTS MULTIPARTY DEMOCRACY." Japan Economic Newswire. (MARCH 16, 1990 , FRIDAY ): 238 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

"For Nepalese, Talk Now Centers on Politics." The New York Times. (April 18, 1990 , Wednesday, Late Edition - Final ): 544 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

"Tardily, Democracy Reaches Nepal." The New York Times. (May 18, 1991 , Saturday, Late Edition - Final ): 324 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

"PROTESTS IN NEPAL LEAVE FOUR DEAD." The New York Times. (February 19, 1990 , Monday, Late Edition - Final ): 440 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

"Nepalese Students, Demanding Democracy, Clash With Police." The Washington Post. (February 19, 1990 , Monday, Final Edition ): 597 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

"Nepal: Between Dictatorship and Anarchy." Journal of Democracy 16.4 (2005) 129-143. Web Date Accessed 2012/09/16

"ASIAN NEWS; MARXISTS WITHDRAW FROM NEPAL'S UNITED FRONT." Japan Economic Newswire. (DECEMBER 10, 1990 , MONDAY ): 264 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/16.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Chris Capron, 03/10/2012