Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government and a population of approximately 25 million. On February 1, King Gyanendra dismissed the cabinet, declared a state of emergency, and assumed direct control of the government under the emergency powers article of the constitution, citing the need to fight a Maoist insurgency. The state of emergency was lifted on April 29. Prior to February 1, the king ruled through a council of ministers that was under his chairmanship. International observers considered the most recent elections, the 1999 parliamentary elections, to be generally free and fair; however, elections have not been held since 1999 because of, according to the government, security concerns related to the Maoist insurgency, which has intensified since its inception in 1996. While the king generally maintained effective control of the security forces, elements of the security forces often acted independently of government authority.
Before Nepal's emergence as a nation in the latter half of the 18th century, the designation 'Nepal' was largely applied only to the Kathmandu Valley. Thus up until the unification of the country, Nepal's history is largely the history of the Kathmandu Valley. References to Nepal in famous Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata, Puranas and also Buddhist and Jain scriptures, establish the country's antiquity as an independent political and territorial entity. The Vamshavalis or chronicles, the oldest of which was written during the 14th century, are the only fairly reliable basis for Nepal's ancient history.
Gurkha armies seized territories far beyond the present-day Nepal; but their invasion of Tibet, over which China claimed sov
ereignty, was defeated in 1792 by Chinese forces. An ensuing peace treaty forced Nepal to pay China an annual tribute, which continued until 1910. Also in 1792, Nepal first entered into treaty relations with Great Britain. Gurkha expansion into N India, however, led to a border war (1814–16) and to British victory over the Gurkhas, who were forced by treaty to retreat into roughly the present borders of Nepal and to receive a British envoy at Kathmandu.
The struggle for power among the Nepalese nobility culminated in 1846 with the rise to political dominance of the Rana family. Jung Bahadur Rana established a line of hereditary prime ministers, who controlled the government until 1950, and the Shah dynasty kings were mere figureheads. In 1854, Nepal again invaded Tibet, which was forced to pay tribute from then until 1953.
Nepal was created from an amalgam of small principalities in 1768 under King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Under the control of a hereditary king, Nepal then became a ‘buffer state’ between the British empire and the territories to the north. The main instrument of British rule from the mid-19th century onwards was a hereditary prime minister drawn from the Rana family. The country became formally independent in 1923, but it was not until 1947 (the year of Indian independence) and the total withdrawal of the British from the region that Nepal achieved genuine independence. In 1951, the Ranas,
who were still in power, were overthrown in a coup organized by the Nepali Congress, and a hereditary monarchy was restored under King Tribhuvan.