The Administrative System
The panchayat system represented "democracy at the grassroots," and until April 1990 it included four integrated levels: local or village, district, zonal, and national--the Rashtriya Panchayat. Only the village panchayat was directly elected by the people. Championing panchayat rule as a political system, king Mahendra was able to tap into nascent Nepalese nationalism and also to outmaneuver the evolving political parties which had posed a challenge to the monarchy's vested power.
The country was divided into fourteen zones and seventy-five districts in support of the complex hierarchy of the panchayat system. The lowest unit of government was the gaun panchayat (village committee or council), of which there were 3,524. A locality with a population of more than 10,000 persons was organized as a nagar panchayat (town committee or council). The number of nagar panchayat varied from zone to zone. Above the gaun panchayat and nagar panchayat was the district panchayat, of which there were seventyfive . At the apex of the panchayat system was the Rashtriya Panchayat, which served as the unicameral national legislature from 1962 until 1990.
The district panchayat had broad powers for supervising and coordinating the development programs of the village and carried out development projects through the district development boards and centers. Each of the seventy-five districts was headed by a chief district officer, who was an elected official, responsible for maintaining law and order, and for coordinating the work of the field agencies of the various ministries.
The zonal panchayat was responsible for implementing development plans forwarded by the central government, formulating and executing programs of its own, and planning, supervising, and coordinating district development programs within its jurisdiction. Zonal commissioners exercised full administrative and quasijudicial powers. Each zone was administered by a zonal commissioner and one or two assistant zonal commissioners, all directly appointed by the king. Zones and districts were further regrouped into five development zones in 1971-72, an administrative division that remained in effect in 1991.
A drive for political liberalization, which had begun shortly after the 1959 constitution was abrogated and all political activities were banned in 1960, did not climax until the prodemocracy movement of 1990. At that point, ongoing debilitating interparty conflicts and halting demands for reforms of the political system ended, and national energy focused on a movement to achieve democratic rights. During the prodemocracy movement, some of the pancha (panchayat members) loyalists even were openly friendly with their former adversaries.
The interim government that was installed in April 1990 consisted of strange bedfellows, who, however, succeeded in steering the nation to its first free and fair elections in thirtytwo years. In April 1990, the nagar panchayat was renamed nagar polika (municipal development committee), and the gaun panchayat became gaun bikas samiti, or village development committee. The Ministry of Local Development posted an officer to each district to help with the various programs of the development committees. In mid-1991, a Nepali Congress Party government was in power, and a conglomerate of communist parties was playing the role of constitutional opposition. At that time, there were 4,015 village development committees and thirty-three municipal development committees. Elections for the heads of the development committees were scheduled for June 1992.
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