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Nepal’s royal mess

Political developments in Nepal suggest that the country has taken another major stride towards democracy.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2007 22:36 IST

Political developments in Nepal suggest that the country has taken another major stride towards democracy. The ruling Six Party Alliance (SPA) has given in to the former Maoist rebels’ demand for abolishing the monarchy and signed a 23-point agreement with them to declare Nepal a ‘federal democratic republic’. With the Maoists seemingly ready to rejoin the interim government, the deadlock in Kathmandu’s political establishment will hopefully end, and breathe new life into the faltering peace process, paving the way for Constituent Assembly (CA) elections next April.

It seems Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala preferred a ceremonial monarchy in a democratic Nepal, leaving it to the CA to have the last word on the issue. But the need to salvage the peace process with the Maoists evidently forced his hand.

After all, it’s hardly democratic for the monarchy to be arbitrarily dismissed by an administration that itself is only interim, and which was expressly constituted to hold constitutional elections. It is just as well for the SPA leaders that Gyanendra happens to be one of the most unpopular monarchs in the world, after pro-democracy protests ended his authoritarian rule in April 2006.

The Maoists, who waged a ten-year rebellion against the king before renouncing violence and joining the political mainstream, had never made any bones about abolishing monarchy in all forms — even a ceremonial king without any actual power. So it seemed the obvious thing for them to do when they walked out of the interim government last September to press their demand. What was not so obvious, however, was the fact that they were actually unsure of facing the electorate after trading their guns and fatigues for a chance to become elected lawmakers. Such jitters prompted them to demand the election of a larger section of the new parliament on the basis of proportional representation.

Although this demand appears to have been scrapped in the new deal, it is not very reassuring that the Maoists have yet to give a guarantee that they would allow free polls to take place.