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Recent Political Developments in Nepal and the Way Forward

Recorded on September 28, 2006

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

Minister Sharma has served as Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs since May 2006, following the reinstatement of the Nepali parliament and the return to democracy after fourteen months of autocratic rule. He previously served as Nepal's Minister for Home Affairs from 1994-95, and has been a member of the Nepali Parliament from 1991-2002, serving as Deputy Leader of the major opposition party from 1999-2002.

Remarks by Hon. K. P. Sharma Oli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs at The Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, 28 September 2006

 

Nepal's Recent Political Developments and the Way Forward

 

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you so much, Mr. Needham, for your kind words of introduction.

I am delighted to be here this morning to share my views with the distinguished group of well- wishers of Nepal on the recent political and other developments taking place in my country.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Heritage Foundation for organizing this event.

Let me begin with a brief account of the background of the Democratic Movement that led to the restoration of democracy and reinstated the Parliament as the supreme representative institution and returned the sovereignty back to the people. 

Although, Nepal never came under any colonial power, it didn't remain unaffected by colonial influence. It was ruled by the Rana oligarchy for more than a century. A popular revolution brought down the Ranas in 1951, paving the way for the Nepali people to take first steps towards democracy. The country became known to the broader external world only after it joined the United Nations in 1955.

 

After some hesitant preparations for nearly a decade, the first ever general elections were held in Nepal in 1959, and a democratically elected government was formed. Within less than one and a half years, King Mahendra dissolved the newly elected government and grabbed power. He threw political leaders behind bars, banned political parties, and installed an autocratic party-less Panchayat system in 1960. However, political parties sustained their activities against the autocratic Panchayat system. In 1990, a peaceful movement brought down the party-less system and the door for a multiparty system was opened. 

 

The successful democratic movement the same year for the first time in Nepal's history recognized the Nepali people as the inherent source of sovereign authority. The constitution guaranteed basic human rights, adult franchise, independent judiciary, a parliamentary system of government under multi-party democracy and made the institution of monarchy a constitutional one.

 

The first general elections under the new dispensation were held in 1991. With this, Nepal's new democracy started taking roots gradually. Three general elections had been held until 1999. Elections for the local bodies and for the national Assembly - the upper house - of the parliament were also held during the same period. The press was free and flourishing. The judiciary was independent. Fundamental rights and civil liberties were guaranteed. Although internal squabbles within and between political parties were not uncommon, the basic thrust of the political system was to institutionalize democracy and empower the people. Elections were peaceful, spirited, and mainly based on healthy competition. The economy was growing at a respectable rate.

However, the Maoists withdrew themselves from the democratic parliamentary process and started a so-called 'people's war' in early 1996. The declared objective of the insurgency was to dismantle the existing democratic institutions and state structure through the force of arms, violence and terror. This came as a serious threat to Nepal's fledgling democracy. Although the extremist ideology adopted by the Maoists has been largely discredited and outdated, the rebels were able to take advantage of the democratic openness and the inequitable and exploitative socio-economic structure of the traditional Nepali society on the other. 

While the Maoists were aggressively consolidating their hold on the rural areas of Nepal through terror, intimidation and extortion, King Birendra and his entire family were killed in the palace massacre in 2001 and his brother Gyanendra ascended the throne. Even as the Maoists were stepping up their activities, the incumbent government fell in 2002 over the question of continuing the state of emergency and elections were declared. Nonetheless, the polls could not take place on schedule due to the deteriorating security situation amidst threat from the Maoists against the elections. It created a political vacuum. Taking advantage of this fluid situation, the ambitious King Gyanendra grabbed power himself on 1 February 2005. Thus, a young democracy was nipped in the bud.

 

The fourteen months of King Gyanendra's direct rule further aggravated the whole situation. Democratic parties, spurned by the king in their efforts for reconciliation, had no option but to launch a peaceful people's movement to restore democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people. An alliance was formed by the seven democratic parties to achieve this goal. The Maoists became more ruthless in their tactics hoping to benefit from the popular disaffection with the monarchy. Keeping all these circumstances in mind, in November 2005, the alliance reached a historic 12-point understanding with the rebels that paved the way for peaceful democratic movement against the royal autocracy. By April 2006, the situation was ripe for a mass uprising and after a 19-day-long peaceful movement, the Nepali people finally succeeded in getting the democracy restored and the state authority handed back to the people. It was indeed a historic accomplishment, the acme of the success of people power. The international community that was sympathetic to the people of Nepal in their struggle for democracy has welcomed this positive political development.

 

At this point let me express our deep gratitude to the friendly government and people of the United States of America who have consistently supported our continued struggle for democracy and development.

 

The Way Forward   

 

Democracy being one and the only desirable universal political goal, Nepal is strongly committed to achieving, strengthening and institutionalizing democracy for the benefit of our people.  The restored parliament has made a historic proclamation on 18 May 2006 announcing itself as the supreme state authority until a new constitutional arrangement is put in place. Accordingly, an interim constitution is also in the making. We are now in the midst of a major political transition, which the current government has been trying to navigate with caution and confidence.

 

For the Government of Nepal, which is a land-locked and least developed country, there are many challenges ahead. It has to reduce poverty, illiteracy and unemployment; it has to provide clean, transparent and good government. While we prepare the ground to attain those goals, we have three immediate objectives at present:

 

(a)  To protect and consolidate democracy, institutionalize the achievements made by the people

(b)  To end the armed conflict translating the peace process into permanent peace bringing the Maoists to the peaceful democratic political mainstream

(c)  To hold free and fair elections to a constituent assembly that will write a new constitution.

 

At the same time, we also have to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation activities for people to lead a normal life.

 

The Government is currently holding talks with the Maoists to achieve these objectives.  As we do that, we are always guided by the belief that democracy provides the best common ground to settle differences in an amicable manner. It helps to promote respect for universal human values, human dignity and human rights. Likewise, democracy unleashes the people's ingenuity and enterprise for development and prosperity.

 

We are fully cognizant of the fact that the road ahead is full of hurdles and obstructions. But our goal is clear, and our commitment to peace, democracy and progress is unshakeable.

 

As we engage in an internal peace process, we know the world is watching us. We have sought assistance of the United Nations to help us in the process. I am confident that, given the goodwill and support of our friends and well-wishers in the international community, we will be able to restore a lasting peace and stability and sustainable progress in our country. Our experience in this regard is going to be unique.

 

Thank you.