- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

Nepal has plunged into further instability after King Gyanendra, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, dissolved parliament last week and ordered new elections on Nov. 13.
There have been 11 changes of government in Nepal since the nation's transition from absolute monarchy to multiparty democracy in 1990.
At the center of the May 22 dissolution was the issue of extending emergency rule which was to expire May 25 to fight Maoist insurgents. Mr. Deuba asked parliament for a six-month extension, but most members of his ruling Nepali Congress (NC) party and all opposition lawmakers argued that emergency rule was irrelevant since the armed forces could be mobilized under an anti-terrorism law.
The emergency rule declared by King Gyanendra in November allows the government to suppress press freedom, detain suspects without charges, and deploy the Royal Nepalese Army against Maoist rebels fighting to overthrow the 233-year-old monarchy. Six months of emergency rule, however, has failed to contain the insurgency, and the government is seeking foreign military assistance to fight the internal war.
The NC ordered Mr. Deuba to withdraw his proposal, and the opposition Unified Marxist and Leninist (UML) party decided to vote against the proposal. Faced with an uncooperative parliament and pressures from the military, Mr. Deuba decided to recommend dissolving parliament and seeking a fresh mandate.
The NC, angered by his action, expelled Mr. Deuba from the party for three years on disciplinary grounds. Party President Girija Prasad Koirala, who was prime minister until Mr. Deuba succeeded him last July, accused his successor of conspiring to "weaken democracy" and ordered all ministers to resign within three days. The party spokesman, Arjun Narsingh K.C., characterized Mr. Deuba's action as a "conspiracy of ultra-right-wing elements to destabilize democracy."
On Monday, King Gyanendra re-imposed the state of emergency for three months, two days after it had lapsed.
Mr. Deuba had returned to Nepal triumphantly on May 15 after meeting President Bush in Washington and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London to seek military assistance to fight the Maoists. Mr. Bush's request for $20 million in aid to Nepal is pending in Congress, while Mr. Blair is organizing a June 19 meeting in London to discuss how international donors could help the country.
Meanwhile, describing the political turmoil in Katmandu as an "internal matter," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker has reiterated Washington's intention to provide economic and security assistance to the Himalayan nation.
Mr. Deuba's bid for Western military hardware and expertise to fight the Maoists raised eyebrows among his nation's moderate political forces, including members of his own party. Mr. Koirala warned the government against bringing in foreign powers and recommended negotiations with the rebels.
An observation tour in April of uniformed U.S. military officers to Maoist areas of influence raised concern in Nepal of foreign intervention. The opposition parties, intellectuals, civic leaders and human rights activists began to urge a negotiated settlement. Mr. Koirala, once a hard-liner against the Maoists, has joined those who see talks as the only solution.
Mr. Deuba, however, has categorically refused to talk with the rebels until they lay down their arms, a precondition Mr. Koirala considers unrealistic. The Maoists, on the other hand, say they are open to talks, provided they lead to positive political outcomes.
Those who disagree with the prime minister see no possibility of suppressing the insurgency through military means, nor do they see any possibility of holding elections in the next six months in a civil-war atmosphere.
Observers say that for all practical purposes, Westminster-style democracy has failed in Nepal. They fear that Mr. Deuba's actions are a prelude to a military takeover in favor of absolute monarchy.
In 1999, when the insurgency was less advanced, the government had to hold elections in two phases to ensure security of the ballot boxes. No one knows how many phases it would require this time, and concerns have been raised as to how free and fair the voting could be.
Independent observers note that squabbling within the NC, since its formation in 1947, has led to much unpleasantness. The late King Mahendra's dissolution of parliament and ban on political parties in 1960, which lasted until 1990, followed party struggles seeking the king's favor. Fears of a repeat of the 1960 royal takeover are being voiced in Nepal.
The Maoist insurgency means different things to different people. For the government, it is "terrorism" along the lines of al Qaeda and the Taliban, from which it hopes to be saved within the framework of the U.S. global war on terrorism. To the Maoists, it is a "people's war" against a feudal monarchy.
Independent observers, however, variously see the insurgency as a communist revolution, an ethnic alliance against a high-caste Hindu-dominated political elite, a peasant revolt or one against political and economic monopolists, a bid to overthrow a corrupt establishment, or a revolution of rising expectations.
The legitimacy crisis, however, centers on the issue of monarchy vs. republic. The Nepalese Constitution, adopted after the 1990 urban-led people's movement that introduced Westminster-type democracy, was a compromise document between the king and leaders of an NC-United Left Front (ULF) alliance.
The king agreed to relinquish absolute power, while the NC-ULF alliance consented to let him remain as constitutional monarch with command of the army. Sovereignty was transferred to the people from the king.
As a compromise, both sides sought to perpetuate their interests and banned any amendment of the four provisions of the constitution: the constitutional monarchy, multiparty system, parliamentary government and adult franchise.
Furthermore, the constitution was not approved by any elected body, but rather promulgated by the king in the name of the sovereign people. This made it impossible to abolish the monarchy by parliamentary vote, leaving violence as the only way to achieve such an outcome.
It was in this context that Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ("Prachanda") on May 25 criticized Mr. Deuba's bid for midterm elections as "a sham." He said the dissolution of parliament was done at the "clear behest of foreign imperialists and the headquarters of the feudal army," against the wishes of the people and parties for peace.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the ideologue of the Maoist party, has declared that "if the NC and UML, along with other parliamentary parties, are ready to raise themselves up for a Republic, we Maoists are ready to step down to the programs of Multiparty."
He added that in the context of the dissolution of parliament through conspiracy, the possibility and rationality of "republic" and "multiparty" as a common platform has become solid and relevant.
In the last two months, Maoists have carried out a political and diplomatic offensive trying to convince the world that they are not against multiparty democracy. They wrote an open letter declaring that Western tourists are welcome in Nepal. The party has repeatedly rejected one-party dictatorship as its political goal.
In a statement issued March 27, Prachanda declared: "We want to clarify once again that we are committed to guarantee party freedom in the new state-power to be constructed after the destruction of feudal autocracy. The state envisaged by us will not be a one-party dictatorship. The freedom to operate political parties according to one's ideological convictions and contest elections will be guaranteed."
Since starting their "people's war" in 1996, the Maoists have thoroughly penetrated all segments of society and have expanded to the national level. They have successfully capitalized on Nepal's social, political and economic ills by finding recruits among unemployed youth, women, the low-caste population, deprived communities and other marginalized groups. Teen-agers, especially those ages 14 to 18, appear to be the focus of recruitment, giving the insurgency an opportunity to mold the next generation.
The Himalayan country has already been devastated by this war, and many parts of it are inaccessible to the central government and its programs. Among Nepalis, most noncombatants dread foreign participation and an escalation of the conflict.
Chitra Tiwari is a free-lance analyst of international affairs. He was previously a lecturer of political science at Nepal's Tribhuvan University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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