Nepal King loses his biggest prop
Kathmandu | September 06, 2007 2:05:07 PM IST
With elections in 76 days when the people will for the first time decide if they should still have a monarch, Nepal's King Gyanendra's fortunes continue to plummet with his biggest support group - the Nepali Congress headed by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala - deserting him.
Nepali Congress, the biggest party in the country, finally succumbed to the growing demand for a republic, and announced that it would fight the November election on a manifesto of a federal democratic republic, snapping its old loyalty to constitutional monarchy.
The decision comes after prolonged debates between its pro-monarchy and pro-republic groups during which Koirala at first tried to save the monarchy.
The Nepali Congress' decision to go to the hustings under a republican banner is now Koirala's move to appease both the Maoists and the dissidents in his own party, who support a republic.
The party will hold a crucial meeting of senior members on Sep 23-24 when the manifesto will be officially endorsed.
Koirala had first proposed retaining a ceremonial monarch without any real power. When Maoists opposed this proposal fiercely, he advocated jettisoning King Gyanendra, who had become immensely unpopular due to his attempt to rule the country through an army-backed coup, and passing over Crown Prince Paras, also unpopular due to his wild ways.
As a last-ditch effort to save Nepal's 238-year monarchy, Koirala had suggested the appointment of a "baby king", meaning King Gyanendra's seven-year-old grandson, prince Hridayendra.
However, all proposals triggered strong protests from the Maoists, who warned they would quit the government and start a new "revolt" for abolition of the monarchy.
While most of the parties in the eight-party ruling coalition have made public their support for a federal republic, the Nepali Congress, despite a decision by the party leaders two years ago to support a republic, was still dragging its feet.
But now, with the Maoists issuing a fresh ultimatum that they would quit the government by mid-September and call a series of strikes if the government did not scrap monarchy, the Nepali Congress has been forced to toe the republic line.
Besides his sympathy for the king, Koirala is also under intense pressure from the international community to hold the constituent assembly election in November as scheduled and let it decide the fate of the king instead of abolishing the monarchy before elections through a parliamentary proclamation.
Nepal's parliament has the power to abolish the crown if two-thirds of the members agree. However, since the house was revived after an uprising against the king and not chosen through a general election, Nepal's major donors say such a decision would not reflect the true aspiration of the people.
However, abandoning the king will still not be an easy job for the Nepali Congress.
Already, Koirala's daughter Sujata, who is an MP from the party, has taken up cudgels on behalf of the crown, advocating a baby king on the ground that the fragile security situation was not conducive to an immediate republic.
She has also been voicing distrust of the Maoists, saying the rebels have still not given up violence. According to her, they are exploiting the parties to remove the king and would welsh on the peace pact once they got their way.
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