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King's fate splits Nepal rulers

The Seven Party Alliance has divergent views on the future of the kingdom's monarchy, writes Vinod Sharma.

india Updated: May 11, 2006 08:09 IST

The Seven Party Alliance (SPA), which led the struggle for democracy in Nepal, has divergent views on the future of monarchy -- with the communists partners striving for a republic and Prime Minister GP Koirala envisaging a "ceremonial role" for the king.

Insisting that he was not a republican, Koirala on Wednesday said Gyanendra could be a ceremonial king like the British queen. At a meeting with a delegation of the South Asian Free Media Association, Koirala asked: "What is the harm if he stays as Lord Pashupati?"

Forever a centrist, Koirala defined the ceremonial monarchy-multi-party democracy combination as "borderline" to the republican system. "I've nothing to say if the people want to cross that," he said. "I'm expected to lead rather than being led by popular opinion."

The ailing PM's comments are unlikely to go down well with the Maoists, who have not yet responded to the SPA's invitation for formal talks on the roadmap to a constituent assembly.

If Koirala persists with his stand, his Nepali Congress (NC) could also end up alienating all alliance partners barring, perhaps, Sher Bahadur Deoba's breakaway Nepali Congress (Democratic), the only SPA constituent with which it could strike common ground on the ticklish issue.

But more worrisome for Koirala should be the prospect of getting clubbed with those sections of royalists who remained neutral during the anti-monarchy protests and are now pushing for a symbolic role for Gyanendra.

Against this backdrop, Koirala's juniors in NC fear early formalisation of the incipient pro-republican front, comprising the CPN-UML, other Left-leaning SPA partners and possibly the Maoists, who would go to any length to capture popular imagination and a bigger space in the constituent assembly.

To a poser on the NC's stand, UML's Madhav Nepal said: "People are above the Nepali Congress, in fact, above all parties, who have to respect their views. Nepal doesn't need monarchy. We are for a democratic republic."

That leaves Nepal with a daunting question: who would prevail upon whom, especially when the SPA's 12-point agreement with the Maoists merely talks of doing away with "autocratic monarchy"? Any division on the issue will only benefit the king and the Maoists, whose integration in the democratic framework, in Koirala's words, was his foremost challenge -- "That will set an example to the world".

Be that as it may, a greater confluence of views is visible on another complex question -- that of institutionalising the Royal Nepal Army's accountability to civilian authority. "It's a national army…not of the king alone. We will curtail the king's powers (by changing the existing constitution) and place the army under democratic control," the PM said.

And if Madhav Nepal is to be believed, a parliamentary declaration is on the anvil to rename the RNA as "Nepal Army". Its palace-based military secretariat -- dealing with promotions, dismissals and transfers - will be dismantled and placed under the Defence Ministry. The new regime will bar one-on-one meetings between the king and the army chief, who will be accompanied by "a minister during such calls".

First Published: May 11, 2006 01:47 IST