January 16

Nepal: danger of vacuum



…Maoists up demands…

Nepal will hold its first national elections in nearly nine years on 10 April, 2008, the government announced on 10 January. According to Reuters, this should cap the “peace process” with the Maoists after a long civil war which has cost thousands of lives.The holding of elections for the constituent assembly, with the power to decide the future of the monarchy, had been a central demand of the Maoists. When the other parties agreed to this, the communists then walked out of the interim government three months ago.

They changed their demand to the instant abolition of the monarchy even before the elections were even held. The Economist says this was because they feared electoral defeat. That would have been a demoralising blow for the communists including large numbers in UN camps.  The other parties caved in to the communist demand in December. Parliament voted to abolish the monarchy which is to be confirmed by the constituent assembly.

Only the naive would believe that the Maoists will be satisfied with this. To them the abolition of the monarchy is only one obstacle to their taking absolute power.  

…PM calls for abdication…

There can be no doubt that King Gyanendra blundered very badly in seizing power in 2005, then being forced to hand it back.  That is not the role of a constitutional monarch, and certainly not the way his late brother, King Birendra behaved.

 The Economist says that King Gyanendra is “popularly believed” to have been involved in the murder of his brother, King Birendra, in 2001.  There is absolutely no evidence of this, but if this is a popular belief, it explains in part the surrender by the politicians to the communist demands. In 2007 Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who until recently was a constitutional monarchist, called on the King to abdicate in favour of his grandson Prince Hridayendra.   The Prime Minister is an honourable and modest man, whose primary concern is the best interests of the Nepali people. That was my very clear impression from two or three meetings years ago with him when he headed another governmnt in Kathmandhu, and nothing I have heard since has diminished that.

…abolition is not the answer…

Meanwhile, the country is in a terrible state. The southern Terai region, where about 40% of Nepalis live, is witnessing a breakdown of order. Economic growth  is barely keeping pace with the population. Crime is on the rise. There is doubt whether elections will improve the situation – the interim government with or without communist participation has not.  The Economist thinks that if this situation is prolonged, an army coup is possible.

The army chief General Rookmangud Katwal, “egged on by India, which fears a Maoist takeover above all”, said no former Maoist fighter would be allowed to join the army.

 The Prime Minister, Mr Koirala agreed but the Maoists are outraged. But as Preeti Koirala  warned in this column on 8 October, 2006, the 20th century is full of case studies in which the vacuum left by the monarchy has been filled by radical elements almost all the time resorting to dictatorship rather than democracy. Abolishing the Nepalese monarchy is only likely to lead to a worsening situation in Nepal.

According to the Melbourne based  Monarchist Alliance, the Minister without portfolio Sujata Koirala has come out in favour of retaining the monarchy. 

Let us hope that a solution is found which benefits the good people of Nepal.    



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