King Gyanendra and Democracy in Nepal

By Kumar, Ram Narayan | Contemporary Review, May 2005 | Go to article overview

King Gyanendra and Democracy in Nepal


Kumar, Ram Narayan, Contemporary Review


ON 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra of Nepal usurped all executive powers of State through a proclamation of a State of Emergency in the country that has been precipitously descending into bloody chaos since his anointment as king following the inexplicable massacre of most of the royal family on 1 June 2001 (see Contemporary Review, November 2001). The king justified the proclamation by citing the failure of the political parties in taking a unified approach against terrorism, their inability to hold elections in time and also their betrayal of the people's aspirations for social, political and economic justice. The accusations are uncanny for the reason that the monarchical manipulations, as enumerated below, have directly contributed to these failures of the multiparty system in Nepal.

A Fraud on the Constitution

In his televised address, King Gyanendra promised that the council of ministers being appointed under his chairmanship 'will give utmost priority to reactivating multiparty democracy in the country within three years'. The king referred to Article 27(3) of the 1990 Constitution to claim legitimacy for his takeover. Article 27 (3) says that 'His Majesty is to preserve and protect this Constitution by keeping in view the best interests and welfare of the people of Nepal'. The communique issued by his press secretariat explained that the declaration of a state of emergency by the king was in accordance with Article 115 (1), which allows him to take the step in the event of a grave danger to the sovereignty or integrity of the kingdom. The Article requires the proclamation to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Lower House of Parliament within three months or of the National Assembly, meaning the upper house, when the lower house, having been dissolved, does not exist. The proclamation of a state of emergency under Article 115 can last, with the approval of parliament, for a maximum period of nine months. The Lower House of Parliament has remained dissolved since 22 May 2002. Consequently, the 60-member National Assembly too remains defunct. Its composition ensures that a motion to ratify the emergency, even if the king should allow it to meet, would fail. However, in brazen contempt of the constitutional procedure for the ratification of the emergency and its permissible period, the king has promised to 'give utmost priority to reactivating multiparty democracy', through the council of ministers under his chairmanship announced by him on 1 February 2005, within three years. This fraud on the constitution, irrespective of the consequences, is nothing short of a coup comparable only to the capture of political power by Gyanendra's father, King Mahendra on 15 December 1960 when he had introduced the Panchayat (literally meaning 'an assembly of five') system after dismissing the first elected government in the country under Prime Minister B. P. Koirala.

Monarchical Manipulations and the Failures of the Multiparty System

Gyanendra, who became the king of Nepal for the second time under circumstances of calamity for the country, had been crowned once before, in November 1950, when he was a three-year-old infant. His grandfather Tribhuwan, along with all his sons, had then moved to India to work out the Delhi Agreement of 1951, which promised the end of feudal autocracy in Nepal and a democratic rule for its people under a constitution to be framed by an elected Constituent Assembly. The young Gyanendra was relieved of the crown when his grandfather returned to Nepal in February 1951 to proclaim the inauguration of a democratic era under a constitutional monarchy.

The story of the more than five-decades-long struggle of the Nepali people to obtain that promise and their travails under royal machinations is long and harrowing. The so-called Democratic Revolution of April 1990 has been hailed as a significant, even if partial, achievement in that direction. The achievement got quickly dissipated as the combined political leadership of the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front, in their haste for power, failed to safeguard the promise of a democratic rule under a constitution to be framed by an elected Assembly. …

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