Nepal Table of Contents
Election Commission building in Kathmandu, formerly a
Courtesy Janet MacDonald
Growing political unrest, accompanied by massive demonstrations, forced King Birendra, as a palliative tactic, to call for a nationwide referendum to choose the form of government. Following the May 2, 1980, referendum--the subject of charges of rigging--the panchayat system was reaffirmed. However, members of the Rashtriya Panchayat would henceforth be elected directly by the people on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
In May 1981, the king promulgated the third amendment to the 1962 constitution incorporating the results of the referendum. There was no change in the fundamental principle of partylessness; all candidates for the Rashtriya Panchayat competed as individuals.
The first direct election to the Rashtriya Panchayat was held in May 1981. In the midst of an election boycott by the Nepali Congress Party and other banned political parties, the exercise only legitimized the administration of Prime Minister Thapa as a democratically elected popular government. Indirectly, however, the election was counterproductive because it intensified further the increasingly sharp divisions within the various panchayat and the continued opposition of the Nepali Congress Party, various communist factions, and peasants' and workers' organizations.
There were 1,096 candidates contesting 112 seats in the 1981 elections. Campaign appeals were made on regional, ethnic, and caste lines rather than on broad national issues. Among the contestants were forty-five candidates from pro-Moscow communist factions, thirty-six candidates from the Nepali Congress Party, and several multiparty pancha. Voter turnout was 63 percent. Despite Thapa's reelection, more than 70 percent of the official candidates were defeated. Candidates who supported the multiparty system also fared poorly. The election of fifty-nine new members in the Rashtriya Panchayat indicated the voters' rejection of the old guard. The indirect participation of the political parties was a symbolic gesture toward national consensus and reconciliation; the chief protagonist was the moderate Nepali Congress Party leader, B.P. Koirala.
In the tradition of panchayat political patterns of instability, the quick fix of a referendum and new elections failed to restore political equilibrium to the system. Corruption and general administrative inertia further vitiated the political climate. Even senior panchayat leaders, who were openly critical of the system, became willing participants in intrigues, which only precipitated counterplots by paranoid palace advisers. Clashes between students, which were at times supported by faculty members, created disturbances throughout the country.
Data as of September 1991