Nepal's turmoil

Print edition : July 04, 2003

King Gyanendra (right) with the newly appointed Prime Minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, after the swearing-in ceremony at the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu on June 5. - GOPAL CHITRAKAR/REUTERS

Despite stiff opposition from major political parties, King Gyanendra replaces Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand with another royalist, sparking fresh protests.

MULTI-PARTY democracy, which in 1990 replaced a Palace-dominated panchayat system, is yet to bring political stability to Nepal. With the resignation of Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand in the last week of May, the Himalayan kingdom is facing another spell of uncertainty. Chand, who belongs to the royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), has been replaced by one of the senior most members of the party, Surya Bahadur Thapa. Yet, Nepal remains in the vortex of turmoil. Meanwhile, the King, as the head of the constitutional monarchy, is taking advantage of the conflicts among political parties. Since 1990 there have been three general elections. Governments changed 13 times.

Last October, King Gyanendra sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (N.C.), Nepal's main political force, for his inability to hold elections following the dissolution of Parliament five months earlier. The King then nominated Chand as the Prime Minister. Chand initiated talks with the Maoists, whose seven-year-old insurgency had brought the country to the brink.

Chand, Nepal's 12th Prime Minister since 1990, resigned on May 30 in order to ease the pressure that political parties such as the N.C., the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) or CPN(UML), the People's Front and the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party have put on the King for the revival of Parliament, which was dissolved more than a year ago, and for the formation of an all-party government. Chand received flak from his own party and from a second member of his coalition government, the Nepal Sadbhavana Party.

Over the past year, the N.C., the CPN(UML) and other Opposition parties have been organising agitations demanding the ouster of the royalist Chand government and the revival of Parliament. Demonstrations, road blockades and bandhs had become the order of the day, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley. Chand's resignation came after weeks of agitation by four major political parties, including the N.C. and the CPN(UML), which demanded the formation of an all-party government and the restoration of Parliament.

The Opposition parties, which had protested against the dismissal of the Deuba government, had their wish fulfilled when Chand, whose government they had been calling illegitimate, decided to quit. Chand blamed the Opposition for not cooperating with his government and said that he was quitting in order not to waste time over parleys with the Maoists.

At a rally organised by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) in Kathmandu on June 1.-GOPAL CHITRAKAR/REUTERS

The day before Chand resigned, the N.C. threatened to demand the abolition of the constitutional monarchy along with the Maoists and the setting up of a republic if the King refused to concede the demand for a popular government. Chand's government was a puppet regime that was propped up by the King. Deuba, a factional leader of the N.C., once helped the King's cause by dissolving Parliament.

Although the country's Constitution says that there cannot be a gap of more than six months between the dissolution of one Parliament and the formation of the next through elections, Nepal has not had a Parliament for more than a year now. The political drift worsened when the Supreme Court rejected a plea for the restoration of the dissolved Parliament. Prior to Chand's resignation, more than 100 members of the 205-member Pratinidhi Sabha (Lower House) held a "parliament session'' at a convention hall in Kathmandu.

Thousands of people protested across the country even as the Opposition parties kept up the pressure on the King. "We do not want an arbitrary King,'' said pamphlets handed out by chanting protesters, some waving red flags, as they marched through the streets of Kathmandu. King Gyanendra had asked the main Opposition parties, including the RPP, to propose a candidate for Prime Minister. But the Opposition parties wanted either an interim administration formed by themselves, or the reinstatement of Parliament.

Lokendra Bahadur Chand, who resigned as Prime Minister.-GOPAL CHITRAKAR/REUTERS

Defying the demands, the King replaced Chand with another royalist, Surya Bahadur Thapa, setting the stage for more turmoil. The Opposition parties vowed to continue the protests. Apparently on the advice of the King, Thapa contacted leaders of all Opposition parties in an attempt to form an all-party Cabinet. But his attempts failed. Leaders of the two largest parties in the dissolved Parliament, the N.C. and the CPN(UML), rejected Thapa's proposal. Before the appointment of Thapa, the King had asked the agitating parties to name a consensus candidate for prime ministership. They suggested the name of Madhav Nepal, general secretary of the CPN(UML), the biggest party in the dissolved Parliament. But the King chose Thapa, a former Prime Minister, who had served three of his four previous terms during the three decades of direct rule by the monarchy from 1960.

Soon after his nomination, Thapa said that the agitation could no longer be justified because with his appointment, executive powers had been transferred to a Premier. But none of the Opposition parties was prepared to join his government, and on May10 Thapa recommended to the King the expansion of his Cabinet, including seven Ministers from his party, the RPP.

Thapa's manoeuvres come amid growing criticism of the King by political parties and the Maoist rebels, who are currently observing a ceasefire. Addressing a rally in his home district of Gorkha, west of Kathmandu, Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said that King Gyanendra's refusal to relinquish control over the Army was hindering the progress of peace talks. The political parties too have become increasingly vocal in their demand that the King declare his own assets and those of his late brother, King Birendra. This was one of the resolutions passed at the June 6-7 `special session' of the National Assembly, which had to be held in a public place after the Opposition MPs were barred from Parliament.

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