The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A poll to crown king of municipalities

Kathmandu, Jan. 15: King Gyanendra has set a very low bar ' municipal elections in 58 urban municipalities ' for legitimising his direct rule.

From being the “king of the Kathmandu Valley”, his detractors say, he wants to be the king of 58 municipalities. Much of the countryside with no municipalities remains under Maoist control.

Municipalities represent 12 per cent of the 15-million electorate of Nepal. About 2 million voters will be eligible to vote in the municipal elections on February 7. With an average turnout of 25 per cent, that would mean five lakh voters. For this, the king does not require much of a high jump.

Why is the king going through the sham of this election' “After the Narayanhiti Palace massacre, Gyanendra’s traditional legitimacy stands challenged. His constitutional legitimacy is shaky. He now wants revolutionary legitimacy as the redeemer and saviour of Nepal,” argued C.K. Lal, a political analyst.

To that end, Lal claimed that the king had set relatively easy targets. “The palace for years has said politicians are corrupt. So, he is trying to create legitimacy by saying Nepal needs a new crop of politicians. Containing the Maoists is seen as another way of gaining legitimacy. Nowhere does he talk of eliminating them. The third goal is the promotion of arrogant nationalism ' that Nepal does things its own way. The fourth target he has set is to hold elections ' even if municipal ones ' which the political parties could not do.”

The king thinks he may have succeeded in the first three goals. The test of the fourth will come on February 7. By opposing the elections, the Nepalese political parties and Maoists are hoping to delegitimise him.

Narhari Acharya, a prominent Nepali Congress leader with Republican sentiments, claimed: “The Maoists have revoked the ceasefire primarily because of the king’s decision to hold elections, otherwise they would have extended it.”

The municipal elections, Acharya said, were irrelevant to the crisis facing Nepal. “This kind of a fake exercise will only increase conflict,” he argued. Acharya, however, said: “The responsibility for legitimising these elections will also depend on the international community. I think that possibility is remote.”

A western diplomat living in Kathmandu agreed that there was little chance of the world endorsing the elections being held in an undemocratic environment.

Describing the king as “a rogue dictator”, he said: “We in the international community have to ask ourselves several questions: Is this really a meaningful exercise in democracy' What kind of positions are we talking about ' city positions where you decide who collects garbage or positions to conduct legislative business' Can this election alter the balance of power' Can there be an election without involving the Maoists who are a credible political force and by leaving out political parties which account for 95 per cent of the last Parliament'”

He argued that “in such a situation elections have to be either an integral part of a peace process or its outcome”.

The seven-party alliance for democracy has apparently come to a tacit understanding with the Maoists on disrupting the elections. The parties will promote their peaceful boycott, leaving it to the Maoists to disrupt it in their own way.

“We are a partisan nation today ' either you are with the king or against him. The number of those against is growing. What I see happening is like the 18 days before the Mahabharat war when the two opposing camps were getting consolidated. People are choosing to join either Duryodhan’s camp or Arjun’s camp,” declared Laxman Basnet, the president of the Nepal Trade Union Congress.

Basnet feels that the king will conduct some kind of an election. “But what happens after the elections will isolate him further. No one outside his patronage network will win. When the people see this, all their illusions about him will go. The king as brand is over. He is preparing for his final adieu,” Basnet claimed.

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