Nepal Is Burning; Returning Power to Civilian Politicians, Even Abolishing the Monarchy, May Not Be Enough to Restore Stability to the Himalayan Kingdom

Newsweek International, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Nepal Is Burning; Returning Power to Civilian Politicians, Even Abolishing the Monarchy, May Not Be Enough to Restore Stability to the Himalayan Kingdom


Byline: Amitabh Dubey (Dubey is an analyst at the Eurasia Group.)

King Gyanendra's decision last week to restore power to Nepal's democratic parties was long overdue. But it hasn't ended the country's volatile political crisis. At the weekend, the king's failure to accept the protesters' chief demand--a constituent assembly to devise a new constitution to limit his powers--remained a major sticking point.

Even if the king gives in to the demands for such an assembly, as seems likely, Nepal faces a long road to stability. On the face of it, the country's second democratic transition is in the hands of an unlikely alliance. Nepal's seven-party front is an unwieldy group ranging from leftists to former monarchists. More problematic is the fact that it's allied with the Maoist movement that, not long ago, had targeted some of the coalition partners for death. The various parties are today united only by their aversion to the autocratic king, who seized power in February 2005 and threatened them with permanent marginalization. The street protests could have the positive effect of pressuring the politicians to perform. But the notion that this motley group will save Nepal is questionable.

The seven major parties, led by the conservative Nepali Congress party and the mainstream communist party (officially called the Unified Marxist Leninists), may have trouble with even the first precondition to taking power--choosing an interim prime minister to take control of the government from the king. These parties have ideological and policy differences, and rivalries could lead to the choice of a weak consensus candidate unable to form a representative, cohesive cabinet. Many believe that the king and his allies intend for this arrangement to fail, thus discrediting the democracy movement. Given the fractious history of the mainstream parties, that is a reasonable fear.

The second major task will be to arrange a ceasefire between the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) and the Maoist rebels, and to separate them geographically to prevent renewed fighting. The king made no mention of a ceasefire in his April 21 speech, and there is no evidence of a dispute-resolution mechanism to deal with any future fighting that might erupt between local Maoist cadres and Army units. Crafting both must be a priority. A September 2005 agreement between the Maoists and the political parties envisioned the deployment of U.N. and international observers to monitor a ceasefire and subsequent elections, but there has been little discussion since. The king has limited access by U. …

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