Wednesday, February 02, 2005

NEPAL: Democracy Gets Royal Flush Down the Drain

+ King Gyanendra's dismissal of Nepal's elected government on Tuesday and assumption of direct power for the next three years is being seen here as a clear snub to India and Western powers that have been urging him to strengthen democracy in his Himalayan kingdom, sandwiched between Asian giants India and China.+

NEPAL: Democracy Gets Royal Flush Down the Drain


Democracy Gets Royal Flush Down the Drain
by: Ranjit Devraj

Nepal expert Prof S.D. Muni described the king's ''ruthless dismissal'' of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government as a '' total snub to India which had specifically advised him not to do it.''

King Gyanendra denied his takeover was a coup, although soldiers surrounded the houses of Deuba and other government leaders.

In an announcement on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and being unable to restore peace in the country.

''All the democratic forces and political leaders should have united to protect the country's democracy,'' Gyanendra said in a half-hour speech.

''Innocent children were found massacred and the government could not achieve any important and effective results. The crown traditionally is held responsible for the protection of national sovereignty, democracy and people's right to live peacefully,'' he said.

Soon the king's address, a state of emergency was declared and Indian news agencies reported that all telephone lines and mobile phone networks were shut down and air traffic suspended, sealing the country off from the rest of the world.

Nepal is currently facing a Maoist insurgency, which has seen more than 10,500 Nepalis die since the fighting began in 1996. The Maoists, who want to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state have refused to come into the mainstream of Nepali politics and end the violence.

A precursor to Tuesday's dismissal of the government was the closure last week of the Office of the Representative the Dalai Lama - Tibet's spiritual leader -- and the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office. Both offices had been in the Nepali capital Kathmandu for the past 45 years despite the Chinese government's displeasure and pressure on the Nepalese government to shut them down.

Muni who teaches international relations at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, drew parallels with the closure of the Tibetan offices to Tuesday's calamitous events and added that India and Western powers like Britain and the United States had to heed the warnings.

''The idea is to tell these powers that Kathmandu can always exercise the China option (as a counterbalance against India and the West),'' Muni told IPS in an interview.

The academic said it would now depend on pressure from the Nepali people as well as the international community to force the King to ''loosen his stranglehold on democracy''.

Officially, India has shown annoyance at the King's move in an official Foreign Ministry statement that described it as a ''serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal'' and one that ''cannot but be a grave concern to India.''

The statement went on to say that India has consistently supported multi-party democracy in the Himalayan kingdom along with a constitutional monarchy and that this ''principle has now been violated with the King forming a government under his chairmanship.''

Tuesday's developments, said the statement, have brought ''the monarchy and mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other''.

In a reference to the raging Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the Foreign Ministry statement said India saw it as ''imperative to develop a broad national consensus particularly between the monarchy and political parties to deal with the political and economic challenges facing the country.''

''We (India) will continue to support the restoration of political stability and economic prosperity in Nepal, a process which requires reliance on the forces of democracy and the support of the people of Nepal,'' emphasised the Foreign Ministry.

But Muni said India had a difficult choice to make.

''Supporting the King would go against democracy and going against him would be to encourage the Maoist insurgency.''

King Gyanendra was enthroned after a gruesome palace massacre in June 2001 left the royal family including his brother King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and the crown prince Dipendra dead.

Immediately after his enthronement, he said he would not be a quiet monarch like his brother and would play a more active role in Nepali life.

Since then the King has on several occasions overstepped the bounds of constitutional monarchy and this is the second time in two years that he has sacked Deuba -- considered a staunch royalist.

Most observers in India believe that the King has little intention of restoring democracy. ''The chances are that he will open a dialogue with the Maoists and the political parties and string them all along as he has done before,'' Muni said.

With all the political parties now sidelined, it is left to be seen how King Gyanendra will be able to bring the Maoist rebels back to the negotiating table and reach some sort of deal in restoring peace in the country.

That in itself could be ironical because the basic aims of the Maoists has long been the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a communist republic.

''We can only have the deepest doubts about the future of democracy in Nepal given that King Gyanendra is not very enthusiastic about it,'' said Kalim Bahadur, a well-known analyst and commentator on South Asian affairs.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission is calling on the United Nations to intervene in Nepal to prevent the use of violence, extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, arrest and torture.

''If no serious intervention is made at this stage by the United Nations and the international community to stop the escalation of violence, a bloodbath could easily take place while the movement of the people and news is restricted,'' said the commission in a statement.