A continuing political vacuum has set Nepal on a dangerous drift. The resignation of the prime minister, Mr Lokendra Bahadur Chand, is only a footnote to the general state of flux in the Himalayan kingdom. Handpicked by King Gyanendra after the exit of his predecessor, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the dissolution of parliament, Mr Chand never had any political legitimacy and therefore offered little hope of ending the political crisis. Worse still, his appointment raised serious questions about the king’s commitment to constitutional monarchy. Little wonder that the major political parties began suspecting the intentions of an “overactive” king and threatened to demand, in line with the Maoists, the abolition of the monarchy and the setting up of a republic. Neither the king nor Mr Chand could hope for a breakthrough in the peace-talks with the Maoists without the cooperation of the parties. But the negotiations are absolutely crucial for peace and governance in Nepal. Seven years of insurrection by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), in which over 7,000 people were killed, have proved this beyond doubt. A political deadlock will only help the rebels’ strategy to derail the kingdom’s fledgling parliamentary democracy.
Mr Chand’s resignation has created an opportunity to restore the democratic process. But for that to happen both the king and the political parties must play their cards sensibly and transparently. It would further complicate the situation if the parties suspect the king of exploiting the divisions in their ranks and trying to rule by proxy. At the same time, leaders of the mainstream parties, particularly the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), have to behave more responsibly than they have done in the recent past. Their failure to rise to the occasion may leave the king with no option but to foist another prime minister on the country. Although the major parties had been agitating for the restoration of the dissolved parliament, the supreme court’s verdict makes such a step difficult. But then the constitution gives the king wide-ranging powers and debars anyone to challenge his actions in any court of law. Despite these, there is little doubt that it is a constitutional monarchy and that the real powers are vested in the elected government. It should be in the interest of both the king and the parties to have a representative government back in place. Multi-party democracy, however flawed, is Nepal’s only political choice.