The Breakdown of Democracy in Nepal: A Comparative Study between 1960 and 2002.

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Priscilla Lambert, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jim Butterfield, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Y. K. Wang, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Ali Riaz, Ph.D.


Democratic breakdown, Nepal, political actors, political pressure, political significance, strategic stalemate


Nepal experienced two democratic breakdowns, first in 1960 and again in 2002. In both cases, the king dismissed an elected government and effectively dismantled democratic institutions. This begs the question: Why did democracy break down in Nepal in 1960 and 2002? What motivated both kings to dismantle democracy? This in-depth analysis of two breakdowns helps fill a gap in the literature on why democracy failed in Nepal and also makes significant contributions to the general democratization literature.

This dissertation uses a political actor model to explain the fall of democracy in Nepal. According to this model, the fate of democracy depends on the choices, actions, and non-actions of political actors, regardless of the level of structural conditions such as development and political culture (Capoccia, 2005; Diamond et al., 1999; Linz & Stepan, 1978; Mainwaring & Pérez-Liñán, 2013). Political parties, political leaders, social movements, Prime Ministers, and Presidents are important political actors. Political actors are conceptualized as system, semi-system, and anti-system actors. While system actors are ideologically committed to democracy, anti-system actors are committed to undermining democracy (Capoccia, 2005; Gunther et al., 1995; Linz & Stepan, 1978; Sartori, 1976). Semi-system actors are the most opportunistic ideologically, sometimes professing their commitment to democracy, but, in reality, they are ambivalent or even hostile to democracy; semi-system actors play a decisive role in the process of a democratic breakdown (Linz &Stepan, 1978).

Drawing on interviews with political elites, historical accounts, and government docu-ments, this dissertation explores the role that political actors played prior to the breakdown of democracy in Nepal in 1960 and 2002. I find that in both periods, the kings were semi-system actors who ended democracy by taking advantage of the weaknesses of system actors. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), an anti-system actor, also was a critical actor in the break-down of 2002. My findings confirm Linz and Stepan’s (1978) earlier claims: semi-system actors played a decisive role in bringing down democracy in Nepal and became the immediate beneficiary.

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