Friday, May 25, 2007

Uncertainty of CA Elections and the Republic Question

- By Dr. Bal Gopal Shrestha

It is bizarre to see the failure of the ruling eight parties to meet even a month after the deferral announcement of the elections to constituent assembly. A country in transition cannot afford such a delay in the political process. In addition these parties are also openly accusing each other for the deadlock. Especially, the head of the state and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala proved himself most irresponsible by not taking the initiative to end the uncertainly.
We know that the sole basis of the present eight-party interim government is the 12-point agreement that they signed in November 2005. The first and foremost agenda of the agreement was to bring to an end to autocratic monarchy and to establish absolute democracy. To institutionalize this purpose the agreement proposed to hold an election to a constituent assembly. The massive people's movement in April 2006 forced king Gyanendra to relinquish his power, which paved the way to implement the road map of the seven-party alliance. A year has passed since the seven-party alliance came to power, but it failed to hold constituent assembly elections as they had agreed with the Maoists. Already it was very late when they announced the interim constitution and interim parliament on 15 January 2007. After that, things could have moved more rapidly if the parties had shown sincerity and realized their responsibility, but apparently they miserably failed in this regard.
The Maoists' demand to let the interim parliament announce Nepal a republic did not come all of a sudden. The eight parties agreed to held elections to a constituent assembly on 20 June 2007, but the postponement of elections came amidst heavy national and international pressure. Especially, we saw James Moriarty, American envoy to Nepal, extremely reckless in his wish to postpone the elections. Until the last minute, he tried to use his influence to postpone the elections and to keep the Maoists out of the interim government. For a year, the Maoists waited patiently for the elections. When the deferral announcement came, the Maoists' outburst can be imagined.
The chief election officer (CEO) said that he needed 120 days before he could prepare the elections, but his announcement came only when he had less than a hundred days. Why the CEO did not come with this fact when he still had more than 120 days is unexplained. Since he failed to hold the elections in a stipulated time, it is but logical that he himself and his team had resigned but that did not happened. The prime minister also did not feel it necessary to hold an urgent meeting of the eight parties to find an amicable solution without delay. Given the uncertainty that prevailed after the deferral of the elections, the Maoists’ move to declare Nepal a republic from the parliament is not unreasonable.
At present, there is no party in Nepal that can speak in favour of any form of kingship, except Kamal Thapa's National Democratic Party, which supported king Gyanendra's February 2005 coup. Now and then, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala talks about retaining a ceremonial king, but he could not stand firm on his words as a large section of his own party, the Nepali Congress appeared against retaining the monarchy. We also noted even Prime Minister Koirala himself advised king Gyanendra and his son Paras to voluntarily abdicate before declaring Nepal itself a republic. On 7 May 2007, Prime Minister Koirala, though, managed to pacify Congress district presidents, and had to tell them that by gradually stripping away all the powers of the king then would Nepal be finally declared a republic. Not only members of civil society but also a vast majority of people are in favour of declaring Nepal a republic straight away. Family members of the martyrs of the April 2006 people's movement and those injured in the movement have also been demanding Nepal to be declared a republic immediately.
During the April 2006 people's movement, defying brutal suppression, hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously took to the streets of cities and villages throughout the country for 19 days chanting slogans against the autocratic king Gyanendra. More than two dozen people sacrificed their lives and thousands were injured. Their single demand was to declare Nepal a republic by ending the monarchy instantly. On 23 April 2006, however, the leaders of the seven-party alliance hastily agreed to let king Gyanendra reinstate the parliament instead of removing the king himself. The Maoists who also actively participated in the people's movement denounced that act of the seven-party alliance, but yielded at Prime Minister Koirala's persuasion of holding an early election to a constituent assembly. Already the general people blamed power hungry leaders of the seven-party alliance for deceiving the people by ending the movement in a secret compromise with the king. Now with the deferring of elections, they feel that these leaders are conspiring to retain the redundant monarchy in Nepal.
In fact, the relevance of the monarchy in Nepal was lost after the 1 June 2001 palace massacre. The palace massacre was the death of monarchy as it wiped out the traditional line of succession to the throne. Although, the official prove-commission put the blame on crown prince Dipendra, who himself was killed in the incident, nobody in Nepal is ready to accept it. Of course, there is no evidence since no proper investigation was carried out, but the Nepalese people have openly been blaming king Gyanendra for staging the palace massacre to achieve the throne. The Nepalese people never gave the same respect to king Gyanendra as to his late brother Birendra because of Gyanendra's image as a notorious businessman and his scandalous son Paras. On top of all this, his autocratic acts against democracy made him the most detested king in the history of Nepal. The February 2005 coup was his final step, which left the people with no option than to take to the streets against him.
Soon after the success of the April 2006 people's movement, the House of Representative (HoR) stripped the king of all powers. On 18 May 2006, it declared Nepal a secular state and scrapped the Supreme-Commander-in-Chief post of the king, and changed the Name of the Royal Nepalese Army to Nepal Army. The 2007 interim constitution again completely deprives Gyanendra of any administrative rights and rejects his rights to the properties of the deceased royal family members. Further it also declares to nationalize all properties he obtained by virtue of being king, such as the palaces, forests and national parks, historic important heritage sites, etc.
At present, the king holds no formal position. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala himself is working as the head of state. Practically the country is already functioning as a republic without declaring itself a republic. If the present interim parliament can strip the king of all powers and passes so many important bills, it can declare Nepal a republic at any time. Rightly, the speaker of the house Subhash Nemang said that he was ready to declare Nepal a republic a minute after the leaders of the eight-party agree for the same. Only we have to see if they will indeed be able to come to an agreement or remain undecided on the issue. It is needless to say that the people are eager to see Nepal declared a republic at the earliest.
(The author teaches at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. He can be reached at
Source: Ekantipur

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