Political parties join hands against King
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Political parties join hands against King

King's seizure of power has pushed Nepal's political parties to strengthen their resolve and close ranks against his autocratic rule.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 16:21 IST

King Gyanendra's seizure of power one year ago has pushed Nepal's disparate political parties to strengthen their resolve and close ranks against his autocratic rule.

As Gyanendra intensifies his crackdown on the political opposition and protests spill into the streets of the capital, Katmandu, the parties insist their fight will end only when multiparty democracy is restored.

"Adversity has brought the political parties together. And this time, they are committed to remain united to restore democracy," says Khadga Prasad Oli, a senior communist party leader.

On February 1 last year, Gyanendra seized absolute power and declared emergency rule, promising to bring stability to a nation governed by weak and ineffective political parties and end a violent Maoist insurgency that has claimed more than 12,000 lives in the past decade.

Since then, the king has arrested scores of political leaders, placed others under house arrest for months at a time, suspended civil liberties and clamped down on protests.

But the king's failure to restore peace and eliminate the insurgents, coupled with his efforts to weaken Nepal's democratic institutions, have again cast the spotlight on the country's political parties.

It was only in 1990, after massive street protests, that Nepal's political parties got their first stab at running the kingdom.

The next decade saw nine shaky governments, each marked by petty squabbles as politicians jockeyed for power and traded charges of corruption while a violent Maoist insurgency gained ground.

In June 2001, then-King Birendra and nine other members of his family were killed in a palace massacre, apparently gunned down by Birendra's son, the crown prince, who also died.

Gyanendra assumed the throne. But within a month fighting intensified between government forces and Maoist militants who extended their presence to 65 of the country's 75 districts.

In October 2002, the king dismissed the government and appointed a series of royalist governments before seizing absolute power last February.

Prompted by the king's autocratic rule and his growing unpopularity, the mainstream political parties, led by the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, have forged a seven-party alliance to confront the king and demand a return to democracy.

"Today, the parties realise there is no alternative but to forget differences and join hands against the king," Oli says.

Reinforcing the parties' position is their growing popular support, gauged from the large turnout at protests -- one demonstration last week in a provincial town drew 120,000 protesters.

The alliance, while loosely knit, has also stiffened the parties' resolve.

On Monday, a day after his release from house arrest, GP Koirala, 78, a former prime minister and head of the Nepali Congress, said the fight for "restoring democracy and putting an end to the dictatorial monarchy, will forge ahead."

The alliance has even succeeded in getting the Maoists to agree to a 12-point democratisation agenda.

As part of that agreement, the Maoists pledged not to resort to violence if their demand for elections to a constituent assembly are met.

They also agreed to support a multiparty democracy in Nepal and indicated they would not be averse to a ceremonial role for the king.

Political analysts say the king's refusal to begin a dialogue with the parties has increased instability.

They expect the violence to escalate as the date for municipal elections, slated for February 8, draws near.

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 16:21 IST