225. Telegram From the Embassy in Nepal to the Department of State1

3098. Subject: Panchayat System or No?—Issue To Go to the People. Ref: Kathmandu 3090.2

1. (U) In the wake of last night’s disturbances in Kathmandu, these in turn following on serious troubles over the past week in the Terai, Radio Nepal announced on the 6:45 a.m. news morning of May 24 that the palace has ordered that an election commission be formed within one week to present the following choice to the people of Nepal in a referendum, on the basis of universal adult franchise via secret ballot:

(1) Retain the present Panchayat system with suitable reforms; or

(2) Set up a multi-party system of government. The palace announcement defended the Panchayat system as having been designed to accommodate all the people under a democratic system that reflected the wishes of the people, provided a suitable umbrella for development, and protected Nepal’s territorial integrity; but it went on to say that “in view of the present situation”, in order explicitly to understand the type of system desired by the people, the above questions would be offered. (Exact text of royal proclamation follows).

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2. (U) The King said that, since setting up the referendum would take some time, the present government would continue in office for the present.

3. (C) Clearly there are questions still to be answered. What role will the Back to the Village National Campaign and the existing [garble] structure take in the election process? Will campaigning in favor of one choice or the other be permitted? Will freedom of assembly to discuss issues be allowed? These are important issues [garble—presumably] to be clarified by the election commission, but nevertheless it appears that the palace has truly bitten the bullet and acknowledged that uncompromising defense of the Panchayat system is no longer tenable.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790235–0662. Confidential; Niact Immediate. Sent for information to Beijing, Colombo, Dacca, Islamabad, and New Delhi.
  2. In telegram 3090 from Kathmandu, May 23, the Embassy informed the Department that the police response to a student protest led to a major outbreak of violence in the center of Kathmandu. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790234–0755)
  3. In telegram 3137 from Kathmandu, May 25, the Embassy reported: “In the second major announcement in two days, morning radio broadcasts and press May 25 carry a notice from the palace reporting the resignation of Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista. The release goes on to state that the present Council of Ministers will remain in office until the King can obtain a recommendation on a successor to Bista from the forthcoming session of the Rastriya Panchayat, the National Assembly. The release also states that the King is summoning the Rastriya Panchayat two weeks earlier than originally planned—i.e., May 30. Bista is the King’s man and, while he may have doubts about recent policy decisions, we do not believe that he would be leaving if the King desired otherwise. In short, this is a palace decision intended to help defuse the current unrest.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790237–0929) Nepal’s national referendum took place on May 2, 1980; see Documents 227 and 228.