- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

A week after firing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, calling him "incapable," Nepal's King Gyanendra yesterday appointed a new nine-member government headed by former Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand.

The king formed the government on his own, without consulting the main political parties, whose plea for an audience with him to form an all-party government was rejected.

Gyanendra, who had also suspended the Nov. 13 elections, commanded the new government to maintain law and order in the country and hold elections as soon as possible.

After taking the oath of office, Mr. Chand said he would "try to build a conducive environment for talks with the Maoists," who have waged a violent, seven-year insurgency to end the monarchy.

Mr. Chand, 63, a leader of the royalist National Democratic Party (NDP), had been prime minister in the pre-1990 absolute monarchy. He is believed to be untainted by corruption.

Nepal's second experiment with parliamentary democracy suffered a setback last week when the king fired Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and dismissed his Cabinet, taking over the government.

Popular reaction to the Oct. 4 takeover was mixed, with sporadic demonstrations for and against the king's actions in a few urban centers, including Katmandu, the capital, last weekend.

Nepal has been on a political roller-coaster ride since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1990 amid the quarrels of inefficient and corrupt politicians, a Maoist armed insurgency, and last June's massacre of the late King Birendra and his family.

With King Gyanendra's takeover of executive powers, Nepal is, not surprisingly, in a constitutional crisis as well.

The country's first experiment with parliamentary democracy suffered a similar fate at the hands of late King Mahendra father of Gyanendra and of the late Birendra on Dec. 15, 1960. But while Mahendra's takeover was undemocratic but not unconstitutional, that of Gyanendra this month was both unconstitutional and undemocratic, according to many constitutional experts.

Mr. Deuba's dismissal as prime minister came a day after he asked the king to postpone the parliamentary elections scheduled next month until Nov. 19, 2003, because of concerns about attacks by Maoist rebels fighting to replace the monarchy with a people's republic.

In a television address to the nation, King Gyanendra declared: "I have a responsibility to protect the nation, the national interest, sovereignty and the interest of the people." The monarch announced that he was assuming executive powers "for the time being" within the "preamble and aspirations of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal."

The king invoked Article 127 of the constitution, which states: "If any difficulty arises in connection with the implementation of this Constitution, His Majesty may issue necessary orders to remove such difficulty and such orders shall be laid before parliament."

The "prime minister's recommendation to postpone the poll by more than one year had created a vacuum," said the king, adding, "It is also our responsibility to protect nationalism, unity and sovereignty of the nation, to maintain law and order in the country and to lift the country out of any kind of deteriorating situation by any means available to us."

The king branded Mr. Deuba as "incapable" for failing to hold elections as scheduled. While seeking cooperation from the political parties, King Gyanendra asked them to quickly recommend individuals of "clean image and who will not contest the elections" to be included in the new government.

The king, in his broadcast last week, asked people from all walks of life to "continue fulfilling their responsibilities." He asked the personnel of the army, police and civil administration to stay calm and continue performing their duties without any confusion.

Interestingly, the royal proclamation nowhere mentioned words like "Maoist insurgency." In a statement issued after last week's royal proclamation, top Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias "Prachanda," appealed to all political forces to unite with the Maoists and "dissolve the feudal palace and dismiss the monarchy."

Last week's royal takeover of Nepal's government and yesterday's naming of a nonparty government are only the latest startling turns of events since political parties were legalized in 1990. Analysts predict there are more to come.

Leaders of major political parties have described the royal takeover as "unconstitutional and undemocratic."

Legal experts also say that the king can not invoke Article 127 of the constitution without the recommendation of the prime minister.

Many political analysts, however, say that the government's inability to conduct elections within six months of the dissolution of parliament has led the country into a constitutional deadlock. A joint meeting of the parliamentary parties suggested two alternatives to the prime minister: To recommend that the king invoke Article 127 either to revive the dissolved parliament or postpone the elections.

Political and legal analysts say both these suggestions were not within the framework of the constitution. In other words, the constitution would have been violated anyway if the king had accepted Mr. Deuba's recommendation to postpone the voting.

At the heart of the constitutional crisis is the ongoing civil war between the Maoist rebels and government security forces. Last November, all political parties had welcomed Mr. Deuba's imposition of the state of emergency and deployment of the military against the Maoist guerrillas, rather than the previous reliance on police.

Emergency rule, however, had to be approved and extended by parliament every three months.

The parliament extended emergency rule without hesitation in February, but in May, the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) party became divided over further extensions. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the NC president, ordered Mr. Deuba a member of the party as well as his successor as prime minister to withdraw the proposal seeking further extension of a state of emergency. The opposition Unified Marxist and Leninist (UML) party also opposed extending the emergency.

Faced with uncooperative party colleagues and opposition lawmakers, Mr. Deuba recommended that the king dissolve parliament and order new elections for Nov. 13. In doing so, Mr. Deuba hoped to discipline the uncooperative parliament on the one hand and buy time to suppress the Maoist rebellion on the other.

When his decision was challenged in court, the Supreme Court supported Mr. Deuba, ruling unanimously that it was the prime minister's prerogative to dissolve parliament.

With political and military support from Washington, London, and New Delhi, the prime minister thought he could disarm the Maoists within a short time and hold elections in six months as required by the constitution. But Mr. Deuba utterly miscalculated both his own strength and that of the Maoist revolutionaries.

In early September, the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA), backed by 5,000 to 7,000 supporters, carried out deadly attacks at the Bhiman police garrison and Sandhikharka district headquarters, killing 130 police and soldiers of the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA). The rebels captured more than 300 rifles, light machine guns, heavy machine guns, and grenade and rocket launchers.

At a news conference, Col. Deepak Gurung, the RNA spokesman, conceded that the "Maoists have not lost their strength, and that the military suffered from lack of intelligence."

Right after these deadly attacks, the Maoist party offered the government the choice a dialogue or a nationwide strike on the same day as the scheduled election. In the latter case, party leaders and rank-and-file members were warned they would be at risk if they ventured into villages for electioneering.

In view of the deteriorating security situation, all political parties felt it would be impossible to hold election campaigns. Even the chief of police said it would be impossible to provide security to all voters and candidates, and conceded that the security forces do not have the support of the people.

The government, however, promised to conduct elections in six phases.

Toward the end of September, an all-party meeting told Prime Minister Deuba to either revive the dissolved parliament or defer the elections by recommending that the king invoke Article 127 while the government undertook a dialogue with the Maoists.

King Gyanendra, unhappy with Mr. Deuba's performance, ignored his recommendation and took the power himself without regard for constitutional niceties.

The king appears to be playing his cards carefully. He has been assured of support from India, the United States, China, and other international players, provided he does not discard multiparty democracy.

The royal takeover is not likely to change the deteriorating political, economic and military situation.

Nepal watchers think that the crisis is unlikely to be solved without the participation of Maoist revolutionaries, who now virtually control the countryside and have significant infiltration in the urban centers waiting to ignite an armed uprising.

The royal takeover, however, has a further message: It is no longer necessary to find a constitutional solution to Maoist demands all can be solved by political decisions and a gentlemen's handshake among the Maoists, parliamentary parties and the monarchy.

Chitra Tiwari is a Washington-based free-lance analyst of international affairs specializing in South Asia. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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