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King gives, but not enough

Kathmandu, April 21: A hesitant, nervous but unapologetic King Gyanendra today made an overture to restore democracy in Nepal by inviting the seven-party alliance for democracy to select a Prime Minister.

He said that sovereignty, which was in his “safe-keeping”, was now being returned to the people. The king claimed he was returning executive power to the political parties.

The seven-party alliance, scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss the offer, may not be able to accept it easily.

While India has welcomed the offer, informally the Nepalese political parties are describing it as a “betrayal”.

Indian ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee met the king for more than an hour this morning but did not take the parties into confidence about what transpired in the talks. India’s controversial role in what was being described by some as “a dirty quick-stitch solution” may come in for questioning by the agitators.

The king’s offer, after two weeks of mass protests and shooting of several agitators, may turn out to be too little too late. It may not be able to curb the movement against the monarchy.

“There is no room to be optimistic about the king’s proclamation,” Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the Nepali Congress (Democratic), said.

About 200,000 people were agitating in the city centre defying the curfews, extended till midnight, even as the king made his offer.

In his 10-minute televised address, the king said he remained committed to multi-party democracy but insisted on a role for himself claiming that the Shah dynasty believed in “constitutional monarchy”.

The monarch was unapologetic about his snatching of power. He, in fact, justified all his actions since October 2002 claiming that he had done so “to set in motion a meaningful exercise in multi-party democracy” and for “ensuring peace and security and corruption-free good governance”.

Ignoring the surge of mass protests, which forced him to make this offer, he claimed the people’s support for his actions. However, he did admit he had not been successful in achieving the goals he had set for himself.

The king left out several major issues agitating the people. He said nothing about restoring Parliament ' a key demand of the political parties; made no promise that the transfer of power was irreversible; gave no indication of who would deal with the Maoists and how; and said nothing about who would control the Royal Nepal Army.

The political parties went into a late-night huddle to discuss the address. Their initial reaction was that there was nothing new in the proposal ' he had appointed Prime Ministers over the last four years under the same provision of the Constitution (Article 35), which he was invoking now.

“This is meant to divide the political parties. He has offered executive power to the political parties but wants to keep state power for himself,” said Shekhar Koirala of the Nepali Congress.

“How can the leaders of the seven parties choose a Prime Minister' This is a job best done by Parliament,” Koirala said.

Diplomatic pressure was being put on the parties to react favourably. The US and Chinese ambassadors met Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala.

Chakra Bastola, a former Nepali Congress foreign minister, voiced similar sentiments. “This offer falls short of the need of the hour and people’s expectations.” He said the offer ignored “the constitutional, political and the Maoist crisis facing the country”.

Rajendra Mahato of Nepal Sadbhavna Party (Anandi Devi), another constituent of the alliance, said: “The king is trying to project politicians as greedy people while not saying anything about the issues of the people’s movement.”

Hari Sharma, a political activist, felt the proposal would not work as “its foundations are weak”. It does not provide “the procedure and structures to create an inclusive polity”.

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