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World > Asia > Nepal > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Nepal - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
A Maoist insurgency--punctuated by cease-fires in 2001, 2003, 2005, and the latest one from April 26, 2006--has been ongoing since 1996. After King Gyanendra announced the reinstatement of Parliament on April 24, 2006, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire on April 26, 2006 which the new Koirala government reciprocated on May 3, 2006. Since then the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists have signed five agreements, culminating in the comprehensive peace agreement of November 21, 2006, effectively ending the insurgency. However, Maoist violence and intimidation have continued since the agreement.

The main agenda of the SPA and the Maoists is to hold a Constituent Assembly (CA) election. The Constituent Assembly would draft and promulgate a new constitution defining the future political system in Nepal. The interim constitution, adopted on January 15, 2007, expressed full commitment to democratic ideals and norms, including competitive multi-party democracy, civil liberties, fundamental human rights, adult enfranchisement, periodic elections, press freedom, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. The interim constitution also guaranteed the basic rights of Nepali citizens to formulate a constitution for themselves and to participate in the Constituent Assembly in an environment free from fear. The interim constitution transferred all powers of the King as head of state to the prime minister and stripped the King of any ceremonial constitutional role. Under the interim constitution, the fate of the monarchy will be decided by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. The interim Parliament is a unicameral house.

After promulgation of the interim constitution, many socially marginalized ethnic communities, including the Madhesis of the lowland Terai, began widespread protests against the proposed proportional representation system incorporated in the new constitution. After a Maoist shot and killed one of the demonstrators, violent protests erupted with clashes between police and demonstrators and attacks on government facilities in at least 10 districts, resulting in the death of over 30 people. Prime Minister Koirala, in an address to the nation on February 7, 2007 promised to amend the constitution to meet the demands of the Terai people. However, the situation remains tense, with continuing protests and violence.

Nepal's judiciary is legally separated from the executive and legislative branches and, in practice, has increasingly shown the will to be independent of political influence. However, by asserting executive control over the judiciary, the interim constitution called into question this independence. Under the interim constitution, the Prime Minister appoints the Chief Justice on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, and the Chief Justice appoints other judges on the recommendation of the Judicial Council. All lower court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal.

Human Rights
Since political reform began in 1990, some progress has been achieved in the transition to a more open society with greater respect for human rights; however, substantial problems remain. Poorly trained police sometimes use excessive force in quelling violent demonstrations. In addition, there have been reports of torture during detention and widespread reports of custodial abuse. In 2000, the government established the National Human Rights Commission, a government-appointed commission with a mandate to investigate human rights violations. The government is sometimes slow to follow the commission's recommendations or to enforce accountability for recent and past abuses. The King's February 2005 dismissal of the government, subsequent imposition of emergency rule and suspension of many civil rights--including freedom of expression, assembly, and privacy--was a setback for human rights in Nepal. During this three-month period, censors were deployed to major newspapers, and many political leaders were kept under house arrest. The King's government restricted the media from publishing interviews, articles, or news items against the spirit of the royal proclamation of February 1, 2005 or in support of terrorist or destructive activities. The reinstated government, led by Prime Minister Koirala, reversed these decisions in May 2006. The interim constitution promulgated on January 15, 2007 ensured unrestricted freedom of expression.

Both the Maoists and security personnel have committed numerous human rights violations. The Maoists have used tactics such as kidnapping, torture, bombings, intimidation, killings, and conscription of children. Within the Nepalese security forces, violations ranged from disappearances to executions. After the royal takeover on February 1, 2005 and subsequent imposition of the state of emergency, the security forces arrested many political leaders, student leaders, journalists, and human rights activists under the Public Security Act of 1989, although all were released by June 2005 when the King ended the state of emergency.

After the April 2006 cease-fire announced by the government and the Maoists, incidents of human rights violations by the government declined substantially while incidents of human rights violations by the Maoists remained relatively unabated. Even after signing a comprehensive peace agreement with the government in November 2006, Maoists' extortion, abduction, and intimidation largely remained uncontrolled. Although activities by other political parties have increased significantly in the rural parts of Nepal, political party representatives, police, non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, and journalists reported continuous threats and intimidation by Maoist cadres. During the January-February 2007 uprising in the Terai, reports of government security forces using excessive force to quell demonstrations were common.

There are three major daily English-language newspapers, 'The Kathmandu Post,' 'The Himalayan Times' and 'The Rising Nepal.' The last and its vernacular sister publication are owned by a government corporation. There are hundreds of smaller daily and weekly periodicals that are privately owned and of varying journalistic quality. Views expressed since the 1990 move to democracy are varied and vigorous. Currently, 75 radio and four television stations are privately owned and operated, following liberalization of licensing regulations. Radio Nepal and Nepal Television are government-owned and operated. There are nearly 200 cable television operators nationwide, and satellite dishes to receive television broadcasts abound.

Trafficking in women and child labor remain serious problems. Discrimination against women and lower castes is prevalent.

Principal Government Officials

Cabinet Ministers
Prime Minister, Defense--Girija Prasad Koirala
Peace and Reconstruction--Ram Chandra Paudel
Foreign Affairs--Sahana Pradhan
Information and Communications--Krishna Bahadur Mahara
Education and Sports--Pradip Nepal
Environment, Science and Technology--Mahantha Thakur
Finance--Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat
Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs--Narendra Bikram Nembang
Home Affairs--Krishna Prasad Sitaula
Local Development--Dev Prasad Gurung
Industry, Commerce and Supplies--Rajendra Mahato
Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation--Prithvi Subba Gurung
Forest and Soil-Conservation--Matrika Prasad Yadav
Agriculture and Cooperatives--Chhabilal Biswokarma
Physical Planning and Works--Hisila Yami
Land-Reforms and Management--Jagat Bahadur Bogati
Women, Children and Social Welfare--Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma
Health and Population--Giriraj Mani Pokharel

State Ministers
Labour and Transport Management--Ramesh Lekhak
Water Resources--Gyanendra Bahadur Karki
General Administration--Ram Chandra Yadav
Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs--Indra Bahadur Gurung
Education--Mohan Singh Rathour

Ambassador to the United States--vacant
Ambassador to the United Nations--Madhu Raman Acharya

Nepal maintains an Embassy in the United States at 2131 Leroy Place, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (Tel: 202-667-4550; fax: 202-667- 5534). The Nepalese Mission to the United Nations is at 300 E. 46th Street, New York, NY 10017 (Tel: 212-370-3988/3989).


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