The Referendum of 1980

The Referendum of 1980

In May 1979, concerned by the unabated political demonstrations and considerable general unrest, King Birendra called for a nationwide referendum to determine the future form of government. The referendum offered two choices: a continuation of the partyless panchayat system, with prospects for further reform; or a multiparty system. Although no clear definition of a multiparty system was provided, the implication was that it stood for a parliamentary system of government run on a party basis. The referendum, the first nationwide vote in twenty-two years, was held on May 2, 1980, and 67 percent of the eligible voters participated. The panchayat system was chosen with a majority of 54.7 percent of the votes. On May 21, 1980, the king appointed an eleven-member Constitution Reforms Commission to be chaired by the acting chief justice of the Supreme Court. On December 15, the king promulgated three constitutional amendments: direct elections to the Rashtriya Panchayat would be held every five years for 112 seats, with 28 additional seats filled by the king's personal nomination; the prime minister would be elected by the Rashtriya Panchayat; the cabinet would be appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister and would be accountable to the Rashtriya Panchayat; and Nepal would commit to the Nonaligned Movement as a zone of peace. These provisions, with a few minor modifications, remained in operation until early 1990, when the prodemocracy movement successfully agitated for a multiparty democratic system.

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