Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS-NEPAL: End of Road for Nepal’s Monarchy?

Damakant Jayshi

KATHMANDU, Jul 25 2007 (IPS) - A republican wave that swept King Gyanendra out of power last year continues to blow strongly through Nepal.

Three times in the past two weeks, the king was put to great embarrassment. His highly publicised three-day, diamond jubilee birthday celebrations on Jul. 7 turned out to be a damp squib, with the government, top bureaucrats, even the once loyal Nepal Army, and diplomatic corps, staying away.

Some 700 well-wishers turned up, most of them loyalists, unlike in the past when thousands of people queued up outside the palace gates to salute their king.

The very next day, nearly everyone who had been invited were present at the traditional ‘bhoto jatra’ function for the Rato Machhindranath deity presided over by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as head of state. Until this year it had always been the privilege of Nepali king.

Last week, outgoing U.S. ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty, appealed to Gyanendra to abdicate if he wished to save the monarchy. During the pro-democracy struggle, the U.S. ambassador was openly pro-king. He had put pressure on Nepal’s political parties to work with Gyanendra although the king had usurped absolute power in February 2005.

Addressing his last press conference in Kathmandu on Jul. 13, Moriarty said: “If he wants to save the institution of monarchy, he has to take a dramatic step.”

This was within days of Koirala’s call that the king should abdicate in favour of his grandson, who turns five years on Jul. 30. In this, the prime minister has found welcome support from Nepal’s influential military. Gyanendra’s son, Nepal’s unpopular crown prince Paras, has a reputation of drunken and irascible behaviour.

Only two years ago, with the army behind him, King Gyanendra and Nepal’s monarchy seemed invincible.

Now hardly a day passes without media reports calling for an end to monarchy. Not all of them are from Maoist supporters. According to a recent survey, those who want monarchy in some form – constitutional, ceremonial, or ‘reformed’ – are currently outnumbered.

Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy has not recovered from a tragic massacre in the royal palace in June 2001. A majority of people do not believe the verdict of a government-appointed probe team that the then heir to the throne, Gyanendra’s nephew, killed nine members of his family before shooting himself.

Krishna Khanal, professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, said the reasons are very obvious: “Monarchy and democracy can never go together in Nepal and our history, post-1950, is proof of that.”

Krishna Pahadi, respected human rights defender, minces no words when it comes to expressing his views on monarchy. The king and monarchy have no place at all in new Nepal, he insisted.

Pahadi, who was named prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International during the king’s absolute rule, was of the opinion that “the parliament, which has been reinstated on the strength of the popular movement against monarchy, should set up a tribunal to try King Gyanendra for his crimes against the people as head of the government.”

Pahadi argued that this would result in the king (along with his family) either fleeing or being convicted, giving parliament an opportunity to abolish the institution he represents.

The Nepal Army, which privately spoke of holding a referendum on the monarchy, has now grudgingly accepted the fact that a constituent assembly, constituted after a free and fair election (without intimidation by Maoists) would decide the fate of the institution.

But right-wing Hindu groups and parties close to the royal palace insist that only a referendum, if required, can decide the future of Nepal’s monarchy. “Since there is so much concerted and calculated hate campaign against monarchy, let us go for a referendum,” said Kamal Thapa, leader of the pro-palace Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP-Nepal).

However, Pahadi who is against the idea of a referendum, calling it a meaningless exercise, feels that as long as the king remains unpunished, there cannot be a constituent assembly election, “let alone a free and fair one”.

“The mood of the nation is for a democratic republic and unless the king is punished for his obvious crimes against people, this will not be possible. Moreover, he will try to prevent the constituent assembly election,” he warned.

Like Pahadi, Thapa too does not believe that an election to the constituent assembly could be impartial because of threats from Nepal’s powerful Maoists.

The RPP (Nepal) leader has put his weight behind a “reformed” monarchy – an inevitable outcome of the agitation last year. That would serve as a cushion for democracy against the ultra left, and for unity and stability of the country. Significantly, the Nepal Army, still suspicious of Maoists’ intentions, would be happy to have monarchy in some form, according to most political commentators.

While the debate on monarchy rages on, all eyes are now on the constituent assembly election. That is, if they are held as scheduled on Nov. 22. Or held at all. (ENDS/IPS/AP/IP HD CS NP/DJ/AN-LD/07)

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