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'Nepal king starts secret parleys to save crown'
Kathmandu | January 03, 2007 1:15:05 PM IST
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Nepal's King Gyanendra has stepped up secret parleys with royalists to save his crown, reprieved by the delay in installing the new constitution that will remove him as head of state, said a report.

"King begins secret meets at night," a Nepali weekly said Wednesday, saying consultations were going on in full swing inside the Narayanhity royal palace.

The monarch, who faces the abolition of his 238-year-old throne during a decisive election scheduled to be held this year, has met three former prime ministers and an ex-minister, the Jana Aastha weekly reported.

Marichman Singh, who was prime minister during the oppressive panchayat system when the king was supreme and parties were banned, as well as two royalist politicians appointed head of government by King Gyanendra in 2002 and 2003 - Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa - are among the royalists who met the king, the report said.

In 2002, King Gyanendra began controlling the government directly after he sacked elected prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and began appointing a succession of premiers of his choice.

Lokendra Bahadur Chand succeeded Deuba and was able to begin peace talks with the Maoists. However, he was forced to resign after continuous opposition by major political parties.

Surya Bahadur Thapa was nominated prime minister by the king after Chand's exit. But he too had to follow Chand after the opposition by the parties continued. Thapa's government was marked by the breaking down of peace negotiations after the army killed unarmed Maoists in violation of the ceasefire.

The consultations revive the memory of 2006 when King Gyanendra was ruling Nepal directly as head of government.

Faced with mounting opposition by the alliance of seven parties as well as the Maoist guerrillas, the king began hectic parleying in March, days before the fall of his government, to appoint a new head of government.

Quoting unnamed sources, the weekly said the palace had also sent emissaries to India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that wants Nepal to remain a Hindu state with the king as its head, to drum up support for the endangered crown.

Besides the three former prime ministers, the king also met Rabindranath Sharma, a former minister who heads a royalist splinter party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal).

Under Sharma's initiative, the faction began a "Save the Crown" campaign since late last year. Several of its rallies, demanding a place for the king in the new constitution, have come under attack by the Maoists.

After King Gyanendra seized absolute power with the help of the army in 2005 and ruled for 15 months, the unpopularity of his regime resulted in the new government pledging to hold a constituent assembly election by June 2007.

The nation will choose an electoral college, which will decide at its first meeting if the 238-year-old Shah dynasty of kings should become commoners with Nepal becoming a republic.

A more imminent peril awaits the king before the election. Once the new constitution is implemented, he will lose his position as titular head of state and the property he has inherited from his ancestors as well as slain brother king Birendra, will be taken over by the government.

However, the new constitution is being delayed due to differences between the Maoists and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

The government says the constitution will not come into effect till the Maoist soldiers lay down their arms under the supervision of the UN, a process that is likely to take several weeks.

"Don't worry. Everything will be all right," the king is reported to have told Chand, who was apprehensive the new constitution would further jeopardise the crown.

An opinion poll conducted by a private television channel this week saw over 50 percent voters blaming Koirala for the delay, while just over 10 percent attributing it to manoeuvres by the palace.

Koirala himself advocates retaining a ceremonial monarch, a stance that is the main cause of rift between him and the Maoists, who are demanding the abolition of monarchy.



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