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POLITICS-NEPAL: Monarchy’s Fate Sealed, Maoists to Rejoin Gov’t

Damakant Jayshi

KATHMANDU, Dec 26 2007 (IPS) - Having negotiated an agreement for the formal abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is now set to rejoin the government.

”We will return to the government in a day or two,” CPN (M) leader Puspa Kamal Dahal told reporters on Monday.

On Sunday, after a seven-hour discussion ended months of bickering over the monarchy issue between the two major constituents of the seven-party alliance – the centrist Nepali Congress party and the CPN (M) – the death knell for the beleaguered monarchy, led by the hugely unpopular king Gyanendra Shah, was sounded.

The CPN(M), which led a decade-long armed struggle against the monarchy, before laying down arms under a November 2006 peace accord and joining an interim government, had threatened to disrupt elections to constituent assembly if the country was not declared a republic first.

For the Maoists, who as part of the peace accord had agreed to confine some 30,000 of their fighters in United Nations supervised camps, the main concern was that pro-monarchy forces could still undermine the elections and move to reverse the hard fought gains of the armed struggle.

But the Maoists relented after other parties – chief among them the Nepali Congress – refused to declare the country a republic before an elected assembly convened. As per the 23-point deal agreed to by the parties, Nepal will become a federal democratic republic after the first meeting of the constituent assembly, elections to which are to be held in mid-April. The parties have agreed to announce a date soon.

Until the first meeting of the assembly convenes, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala will perform all the functions of the head of state, thus effectively denying any role for the king.

The parties have also agreed to hold the assembly polls under a parallel electoral system where 335 members of the 601-member assembly will be elected through proportional system, while 240 members will be elected through first-past-the-post system from parliamentary seat constituencies that were redrawn and increased from the existing 205. The rest will be nominated by the prime minister.

“A Nepal republic is inevitable,” Prof. Krishna Khanal, a well-known political analyst, told IPS. “It is a welcome development.”

Khanal, however, was critical that the political parties were “wasting” a lot of time debating the fate of the monarchy. “The country already had entered republican mode right since the massive popular movement against Gyanendra in April 2006. So why this fuss over declaration?”

There was immediate opposition to Sunday’s decision from the monarchist camp.

Former prime minister and chairman of the Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP) Surya Bahadur Thapa blasted the deal, terming it unacceptable and lacking any mandate from the people of the country.

“This is an infringement on the rights of the people,” said the five-time prime minister, considered close to the royal palace, while speaking in the interim parliament on Monday. “This also is an attack on the fundamental norms of democracy.” He was speaking during the debate on the government-tabled proposal reflecting the new agreement to amend the interim constitution.

Thapa has been insisting on implementing an earlier pact between the parties and the Maoists in which they had agreed that the very first meeting of the constituent assembly would decide the fate of the monarchy by a simple majority.

Another pro-monarchy party which has been playing the role of opposition in the interim parliament was also critical of the decision to abolish the monarchy. “The people should be allowed to take such a decision,” said Pashupati Shumsher Rana, leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). The RPP, which had all along been pro-palace, had, however, decided to withdraw all references to the monarchy from its party’s statute.

The latest move against the Shah Dynasty, established by Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1768, was expected, once the country’s largest party, the Nepali Congress, decided to go for a federal republic state. Right after the success of the ‘April movement’ that was largely aimed at Gyanendra, his unpopular son Paras – and by extension the institution they represent – the debate was more about when and not if the monarchy should be abolished.

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

Nepal’s 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 that the then heir to the throne, Gyanendra’s nephew, killed nine members of his family before shooting himself.

Gyanendra, who succeeded to the throne after the massacre, dismissed the elected government in February 2005 after charging it with failure to end the Maoist insurgency and ruled as an autocratic monarch for 14 months.

But faced with mass demonstrations, Gyanendra was compelled to restore parliament in April 2006. Once his title as head of the army was removed his authority was severely crippled.

With even the top officers of the Nepal army now saying, both in private as well as public, that they would accept the verdict of the elected constituent assembly, it is truly the end of the road for the ‘world’s last Hindu kingdom’.

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