Political developments in Nepal appear to be occurring at an extraordinarily rapid pace, and this impression can only have been accentuated by the resignation of Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand, and the appointment of another royalist, Surya Bahadur Thapa, in his place. In actual fact, however, politics has remained at a standstill since King Gyanendra took over executive power and dismissed the caretaker Deuba Government on October 4, 2002, compounding the protracted crisis in the country.
Major political parties
represented in Parliament consider the royal action retrogressive, and have sought to resist it jointly.
However, they waited for about seven months, hoping that the King would correct his action by bringing the
Constitutional process back on track. The King, meanwhile, took steps to open a dialogue with the Maoists in
order to find a political solution to their seven-year old 'People's War'. The previous Deuba Government had
held the first peace talks in August-November 2001, but these broke down suddenly in the last week of
November, following the Maoist attack on the military
barracks at Dang and other places.
By the time the King's Government and the Maoists announced the cease-fire as a prelude to the second round of peace talks on January 29,2003, about 8,000 people had already lost their lives. As the cease-fire drags on, there have been reports of violations of the code of conduct in different parts of the country, and clashes between the Maoist insurgents and the security forces continue to occur during the present interregnum. Such incidents appear to suggest that simultaneous preparations for war by both sides are underway.
The two rounds of talks held on April 27 and May 10, 2003, have yielded no results. The first round took place only after three months of the announcement of the cease-fire and was characterized by mutual distrust and wrangling. The Government and foreign donors wanted to concentrate on reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed during the course of the Maoist People's War, and on humanitarian aspects, including the rehabilitation of displaced persons. But the Maoists wanted to address their core political agenda, maintaining that the Government's proposal was only a conspiracy to delay the peace process. Later, retracting on some aspects of its position, the Government agreed to address all outstanding issues and procedures to be followed during the negotiations.
The second round, held on May 9, was overshadowed by remarks made by the spokesman of the Royal Nepal Army, who said that the laying down of arms by the Maoist insurgents should be a precondition for the peace talks. Among many other issues agreed upon by both the negotiating teams, the confinement of the Army to a radius of five kilometers from their barracks was objected to by the Army as well as by some prominent political leaders.
Unfortunately, the Government team demonstrated that it had come to the negotiating table without any serious homework. Conflicting opinions were expressed by two members of the official team, with one of the ministers stating that there was no understanding on restricting the movement of the Army, while other Government members dithered on the issue, lacking confidence in their own capacity as negotiators. The Maoist leaders threatened that they would pull out from future talks if such decisions, supposedly agreed upon by the two teams, were changed due to the pressure from the Army. Issues relating to disarming the guerillas and their future management are likely to dominate upcoming negotiations, while the other core political demands - an interim government, a round table conference and a new constituent assembly - are yet to be addressed.
The triangular conflict between the King, political parties and the Maoists has added complexity to Nepali politics. On the one hand, while the Maoists deal with the King, who is at the centre of power in the present royal dispensation, they also want to rope in other major parties represented in the dissolved Parliament in order to secure a greater legitimacy in the negotiation process. Moreover, any final agreement between the Maoists and the King will have to be acceptable to major political parties, as their popular base cannot be denied despite their marginalization since King Gyanendra's October 4, 2002, decision to take over power. The political parties, however, feel themselves betrayed by the King, as the latter has preferred to be an active monarch rather than to conform to the spirit of the country's Constitutional Monarchy. The gap between the King and the political parties has widened further since the King has twice rejected the collective demand of the parties to constitute an all-party government in order to put the Parliamentary system back on track. On the contrary, the King picked up both the former Prime Minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, as well as the present incumbent, Surya Bahadur Thapa, out of the ranks of those who had served the Royal (partyless) regime prior to the restoration of the multiparty system in 1990. The Maoists and the Parliamentary Parties have, consequently, not accepted the appointments made by the King in contravention of the spirit of the country's constitutional monarchy.
Both the Maoists and the Parliamentary Parties have thus criticized Thapa's appointment on June 4, 2003, as yet another royal ploy to consolidate the monarchy. Political parties feel betrayed by the King, since the demand of the six major parties to appoint Madhav Kumar Nepal - the leader of the Opposition in the dissolved Parliament, and one of the key members of the five-party coalition formed against the King's action - was rejected. Instead, Thapa, whose party had only eleven members in a House of 205 representatives, was appointed Prime Minister, once again provoking all the parties to oppose the King's move.
King Gyanendra's choice of Thapa can be assumed to have been prompted by certain considerations. First, Thapa like his predecessor (Chand) was non-committal on reducing the powers and privileges of the King. He is considered a thoroughbred royalist, despite his liberal image during the 'partyless' regime. The King might have thought that his experience, his past image of a liberal and a manipulator would protect various royal interests from both the Maoists and Political Parties who are bent on bringing about radical transformations in the existing power structure. Thus, while the Maoists want to replace the present Constitution with a new one to be prepared by a Constituent Assembly; the Political Parties want to restore the dissolved Parliament and then carry forward an agenda of qualitative reforms that would reduce the King's role. The crucial and shared agenda today, consequently, is to deal with an ambitious monarch from whom the new Prime Minister derives his orders to function.
Professor Lok Raj Baral is Executive Chairman, Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies (NCCS), Kathmandu. This appears here courtesy South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
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