- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

Nepal’s tripolar political conflict among the monarchy, parliamentary parties and republican Maoists appears to have turned into bipolar conflict between monarchists and Maoists, whose demand for a republic is getting a boost from the parliamentary parties.

While the Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the 235-year-old monarchy and establish a People’s Republic in line with the ideas of China’s late Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the political parties supportive of constitutional monarchy have recently begun seriously discussing the utility of the monarchy, which they now view as bent on royal absolutism.

King Gyanendra, while giving lip service to multiparty democracy and a constitutional monarchy, has openly asserted his role as “constructive monarch.” In an interview published in the Jan. 26 Asian edition of Time magazine, the king blamed party leaders for bringing chaos and instability to the country, and claimed that had he not dissolved parliament on Oct. 4, 2002, the situation in Nepal would have become worse.

He repeated this position at a civic reception last Sunday in the western town of Nepalgunj, where he said: “The days of monarchy being seen but not heard, watching the people’s difficulties but not addressing them, and being a silent spectator to their tear-stained faces are over.”

Analysts say the king’s Time interview and his speech in Nepalgunj left nothing to interpret, as he has clearly spelled out his intention to exercise power. They also contend that Gyanendra’s support of multiparty democracy is a ruse to deceive the people and donor countries so Nepal can continue receiving military hardware in the name of fighting the Maoists.

Party leaders including Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress and Madhav Nepal of the Unified Marxist and Leninist Party have expressed bitterness and lost hope for a political understanding with the king, while Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai sarcastically thanked the monarch for vindicating the Maoist party’s long-standing view that he is an autocrat at heart.

The counsels of Gyanendra’s international well-wishers — the United States, Britain, the European Community and India — for an alliance of Nepal’s political parties and the king to fight the 8-year-old Maoist insurgency together, appear to be faltering as antimonarchical slogans are shouted in the streets of Nepali towns and at the gate of the Royal Palace in Katmandu.

The five-party alliance has begun a campaign against the king’s bloodless coup 17 months ago and is seeking restoration of the dissolved parliament and creation of an all-party government.

Gyanendra has remained not only unresponsive but his government has declared its intention to suppress any movement against the monarchy. Media reports from Nepal are full of news about skirmishes between riot police and students in Katmandu and other urban centers. The students demand that the king and Crown Prince Paras leave the palace, and are demanding a republican political system.

In the Time interview, Gyanendra described the antimonarchy movement as a pressure tactic by the party leaders.

While the parties lack a republican agenda in their platforms, many analysts say agitation in the streets for the departure of monarchy is beyond the control of party leaders.

Though the five-party alliance repeatedly has expressed its hope for a negotiated settlement, with the reconvening of parliament and formation of an all-party government, it has also declared that the alliance will seek abolition of the monarchy by the middle of April if the king remains obstinate.

Student leaders declare their campaign will not end until the monarchy is gone.

The demand for a republican state is spreading. A student discussion campaign on “the relevance of monarchy” reportedly has reached down to the high school level. News reports from Nepal say that at these debates on the relevance of monarchy, student leaders warn the parties not to indulge the king.

Past student agitation in Nepal — in 1951, 1980, and 1990 — acted as a catalyst of political change. Many analysts see it as harbinger of major political changes that could include abolition of the monarchy.

Concerned that the continued stalemate between the parties and the king could lead to a Maoist takeover in Nepal, the governments of the United States, Britain and India have counseled an accord between the king and the parties.

In mid-December, Christina Rocca, assistant U.S. secretary of state for South Asian affairs, visited Nepal. She advised there could be no military solution to the insurgency, and that the political parties would have to be included in a solution.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee also advised the king and the parties to come together, and said that the best system for Nepal is constitutional monarchy and a multiparty system.

Perhaps in response to these friendly counsels, the king met the leaders of the five-party alliance in early January to seek a consensus. The meetings produced nothing, however, as each side stuck to its prior positions.

In his meetings with party leaders, Gyanendra distributed a seven-point memo — critics called it a “homework assignment” — asking the parties to come up with a national plan for peace and security, corruption control, good governance, national unity, all-party government, parliamentary elections and so forth.

Lately, Nepal has had too many political cartographers drawing “road maps” for the solution of political conflicts. The five-party alliance has an 18-point road map, the United Marxist and Leninist (UML) party, which is also a member of the alliance, has a nine-point plan, the king has a seven-point proposal and the Maoists have a three-point solution.

No one seems to be interested in merging the maps and linking the roads to each other.

Amid strong accusations by Amnesty International of extrajudicial executions and disappearances of people in the custody of security forces, the Royal Nepali Army (RNA) is claiming victories over the Maoist insurgents. Human-rights groups monitoring the casualties say more than 10,000 lives have been lost in the past eight years, and that the RNA and Nepal’s police were responsible for more than 7,000 of these deaths.

Amnesty International suspects more than 4,000 of the 7,000 killed by agents of the state were innocent civilians.

The RNA’s claims of victories over Maoist guerrillas appear to be based on body counts and kill ratios, which do not distinguish between enemy combatants and civilian bystanders.

Moreover, the army spokesman claims that the Maoists have not been able to mount large attacks because they are running out of ammunition, and that the guerrillas are deserting and surrendering.

Independent observers, however, contend that because the “people’s war” operates simultaneously on political and military levels, Maoists in Nepal appear at the moment to be lying low militarily while expanding their political efforts. They have been busy declaring “autonomous people’s governments” in nine regions of Nepal, and may next declare a national government and seek international recognition.

As a prelude to diplomatic relations, top Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (“Prachanda”) was quick to welcome a Feb. 2 call by the European Union urging Nepal’s government and the Maoists to agree to a cease-fire and initiate a peace process. Prachanda expressed willingness for a settlement negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations. He has proposed putting both the RNA and People’s Liberation Army, Nepal (PLAN) under U.N. supervision while a constituent assembly is elected to draft a new constitution that will define a role for each of the political contestants.

Prachanda knows very well that the royal regime will not agree to place the RNA under U.N. supervision and conduct constituent assembly elections as long as it continues to receive Western and Indian military support. In fact, the royal regime’s refusal to convene a constituent assembly led to the breakdown of peace negotiations last August, resulting in renewing the violence between the Royals and the Reds.

Sensing that the United Nations might be inclined to intervene in Nepal, former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the head of the five-party alliance, has urged the world body to consider the legitimacy of the royal regime to participate in peace negotiations with the Maoists. Mr. Koirala says he favors U.N. mediation in a peace process for Nepal, provided a constitutional government is reinstated.

Observers of Nepal’s political imbroglio note a lack of confidence between the monarchists and the democratic parties. Each has failed to persuade the other that it does not threaten the other’s existence. The king suspects that a constituent assembly will abolish the monarchy, while the centrist parties suspect that any peace deal between the king and Maoists would eliminate the democratic system.

The Maoists, on the other hand, have been telling the centrist parties for two years they will relinquish their one-party doctrine in favor of a multiparty system, in exchange for support for the Maoist party’s republican agenda. In the light of recent agitation against the monarchy, the Maoists appear to have “sold” their republican agenda to the rank and file and student members of the centrist democratic parties.

Viewing a three-way struggle involving the king, the parties and the Maoists resolving into a simpler conflict between monarchists and republicans, many analysts see Nepal heading clearly toward a republic. The only question is whether Nepal will be a democratic republic, or a “people’s republic.”

Chitra Tiwari, formerly a lecturer of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, is a District-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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