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BEYOND THE PALACE

Nepal’s King Gyanendra faces a Himalayan challenge. False moves by the palace in Kathmandu can plunge the country into political chaos and suck the monarchy into it. The recent warning of the former prime minister, Mr Girija Prasad Koirala, that his party, the Nepali Congress, might be forced to demand the abolition of constitutional monarchy and the setting up of a republic may not be merely rhetorical. The Maoists have been carrying on their violent underground movement for six years on precisely the same demand. It would be a serious matter if the Nepali Congress, the country’s biggest political party whose movements led to the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1990, joined hands with the communist rebels on this demand. It is another matter, though, that the two biggest parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — have failed the people over the last twelve years. None of the elected governments completed its full term. And the governments were marked by unending inner-party squabbles, corruption and abysmal incompetence. So when the king dismissed the government of Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba last October and took over executive powers, the people blamed the political parties for the stalemate.

But the king’s actions since then seem to have confounded the confusions. The first cause of suspicion was his choice of the interim prime minister, Mr Lokendra Bahadur Chand, who is seen to be a symbol of the palace-sponsored panchayati raj that predated multi-party democracy. The king’s refusal to involve mainstream political parties in the formation of the interim government also sparked suspicions that he was trying to restore absolute monarchy through the backdoor. Even his overtures for talks with the Maoists have sent out wrong signals to mainstream parties who rightly argue that such dialogues should be the responsibility of an elected government. Finally, his complete silence on holding the next elections has upset both the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML). This political uncertainty can be crippling for a country which is already facing the Maoist onslaught on its institutions. The people may be frustrated with the political parties. The nascent democracy may be still on trial in the mountain kingdom. But any attempt to subvert multi-party democracy and restore the reign of the palace would be seen as a conspiracy and unleash a huge political upheaval. King Gyanendra must not lose any more time to initiate the process to restore the democratic political system.

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