The King and the People
Is Nepal again headed for a monarchy or will the CA frame a constitution this time leading to a truly democratic system?
In the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, voices are becoming louder for the restoration of the 240-year-old-monarchy. Former King Gyanendra, regarded as the reincarnation of God by the Hindu majority, is working to regain his lost empire. A large number of people gathered around Gyanendra during his recent visits to flood-affected areas as he generously distributed relief goods. His growing popularity is certainly unnerving many politicians.
The move for the revival of the monarchy is getting impetus due to perpetual political instability, economic hardships faced by the masses and the failure of politicians to forge a national consensus on framing a constitution. Many are of the view that the demise of the monarchy, once the symbol of national unity, was a wrong decision. Quoting an anonymous high-level source, weekly People’s Review of Nepal recently reported that “efforts were on a roadmap to restore stability and protect sovereignty of the country.” Claiming close connections and frequent meetings with the deposed king, Maoist leaders and others, the source said that he (Gyanendra) was not involved in small things like elections.
“Instead I am trying my best to give stability to this country,” the source said, explaining his roadmap that included giving space to the king as head of the state, allowing premiership to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN-Maoist) Chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda and bringing the National Communist Party-Maoist (NCP-M), the Rastriya Prajtantra Party (RPP) and the Tarai-based political parties in the government by keeping the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Unified Marxist–Leninist (UML) in the opposition.
With their bases in India, the Maoists had fought a decade-long guerrilla war against the Nepal government until a Delhi-orchestrated deal was accepted by major political parties in 2002 to end the monarchy. The war ended in 2006, leaving around 13,000 people dead. Democratic elections to a Constituent Assembly (CA) were held but power-hungry politicians were so divided that they could not complete the task even after extending the term of the CA to four years. Finally, the CA was dissolved and Bhattarai of the UCPN headed an interim government which handed over power to the country’s Chief Justice, Regmi for holding elections in November 2013.
More than 70 percent of Nepal’s eligible voters participated in the polls despite an election boycott and a transport strike by a coalition of 33 parties, led by hardline Maoists. The NCP’s front-ranking leader, Netra Bikram Chand alleged that efforts
were underway for the distribution of Nepali citizenship to Indians (living in Nepal) and for the Sikkimization and annexation of Nepal. He claimed that his party would form an alliance with the former king, the Nepali Army and other patriotic forces to protect the national interest, integrity and sovereignty.
The Nepali Congress, the country’s
The fate of democracy in Nepal hinges on how quickly the CA tackles the issue of constitution framing. Will Nepal be a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy with the king as the titular head?
oldest political party and one that has close ties with India, won 105 of the 240 directly elected seats. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) came second with 91 seats. Despite their party’s name, the Marxist-Leninists are considered centrists in Nepal. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the dominant Communist party, secured only 26 seats in the direct election, a small fraction of the total it earned in the 2008 elections.
Political observers say that Dahal now wants to develop a greater nationalist front even at the cost of giving space to the former king. He and many of his colleagues have realized that they have already lost a precious seven years and that in a country like Nepal, the role of a king is vital. He has, under compulsion, come closer to Baidya, his political guru. They can join hands any time sidelining the Bhattrai camp. He has already sent the proposal of an alliance to the former king and if he gets a positive response, the Nepalese press says Dahal would be ready to issue a statement urging the restoration of the institution of monarchy and developing a greater alliance among the nationalist forces.
Even some in the Nepali Congress Party appears convinced. Dr Shasanka Koirala, son of BP Koirala, the founding member of the NC and former prime minister, said in an interview with the BBC, “The institution of monarchy should be restored to save the country…it is the symbol of national unity. We committed a mistake in removing the institution from the constitution.”
The RPP Chairperson, Kamal Thapa also advocates the monarchy concept, warning that a failure to address the issue will lead to protests. "The monarchy has to be given some space in politics. If our demand is not heard, we will launch massive protests inside the parliament and on the street," Thapa said. "The king has to be re-installed as the ceremonial head. This is the main agenda of the RPP-N," Thapa went on to add. Fielding queries about his party's role inside the CA, he said, “My party will play a key role in re-establishing Nepal as a traditional Hindu Kingdom and will stand against any effort to form ethnicity-based states.”
The establishment of a constitutional democracy is still a far cry in Nepal. The second Constituent Assembly is facing the tough challenge of framing the country’s constitution. It will have to overcome the deadlock over whether to adopt a parliamentary or a presidential system of government and whether ethnicity or geography should be used to divide the country into states.
In the midst of such confrontations, the fate of democracy in Nepal hinges on how quickly the CA tackles the issue of constitution framing. Will Nepal be a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy with the king as the titular head or whether he will enjoy a more effective and central place, is not clear. There is, however, little chance of a complete collapse of the multiparty system or total restoration of the monarchy in Nepal, even though Gyanendra and royalists may desire this.