Pressure rises on Nepal's king
As protests continue, some question whether monarchy can survive.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL — An uprising that has gripped this Himalayan nation for 18 days has rapidly moved beyond simply a pro-democratic movement to embrace an antiroyalist force as well, prompting analysts here to say that the days of monarchy - even constitutional or ceremonial - are numbered.
An alliance of seven democratic parties, who sparked the uprising by calling a four-day general strike April 6, has rejected the offer made by embattled King Gyanendra in a televised address on April 21. The king asked the parties to nominate a candidate to form a government and said that he was returning executive powers to the people.
But the offer has barely registered with protesters. Suspicious of the king's willingness to follow through - and wary of the security forces' loyalty - protesters have vowed to continue until democracy is restored and the monarchy's future is placed in the hands of the people.
"This leaves the king with two choices," said Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, the biggest Nepali daily. "The first, he agrees to the parties' demands. If the parties decide to support a ceremonial monarchy, his throne is saved. The second, if he refuses the parties' demand, is to see protests turn violent, with people left with no food, no money, and [with] hatred for the king soaring."
While the United States, Britain, India, and the UN were quick to welcome King Gyanendra's comments, pressure on the king has continued to mount from protesters.
An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets Friday, defying curfew orders, while on Saturday, even more protesters marched from the ring road that surrounds the capital to downtown Kathmandu, defying the curfew and dismissing the king's statement as a "conspiracy."
To prevent the crowds from marching to the palace, rings of security cordons were formed around the palace Saturday.
Protests continued Sunday, but were somewhat quieter than earlier demonstrations. Supplies of basic goods continued to dwindle in Kathmandu, and prices have as much as tripled.
The parties have chosen to continue their movement, stating that Friday's royal address does not accommodate their main demands.
"Reinstatement of Parliament, formation of an all-party government through the decision of Parliament, dialogue with the Maoists, and constituent-assembly elections based on consensus is our clear agenda," the parties said in a joint statement Saturday. "The peaceful and nonviolent movement will continue," they added.
The parties have been particularly concerned over the role of the security forces. Nepal's Constitution of 1990 says that the king is the supreme commander-in-chief of the Royal Nepalese Army.
While the country's Security Council, headed by an elected prime minister, has the constitutional authority to mobilize the Army, the king - and not an elected prime minister - has traditionally held command of the Army.
The Army refused to mobilize against the Maoists when former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wanted to do so in 2001, but agreed to arrest party leaders and march on media offices on Feb. 1, 2005, when the king assumed absolute power.
The demand for constituent-assembly elections, both by the parties and the Maoists, is designed to stymie that possibility by segregating the palace and the Army through a new constitution.
People from all walks of life have participated in the demonstrations, although one young demonstrator in Patan noted significant participation of Maoist sympathizers, supporting the view of some analysts that Maoists are fueling the protests.
The Maoists, so far, have stated that they are committed to a democratic process if there are constituent assembly elections. While they had originally called for a cease-fire only in Kathmandu to assist the "peaceful protests," they had suspended major hostilities throughout Nepal. But late Sunday, there were reports that Maoists had attacked security installations in Chautara, headquarters of Sindhupalchowk district, about 50 miles notheast of Kathmandu.
Khagendra Sangraula, a leading political commentator and columnist in the country, says that the only way forward for the king now is to admit publicly that his experiment has failed and he is willing to hand over the Army to people's representatives and remain a guardian.
"However, going by his background, his pride, and the kind of people who surround him, it is unlikely he would do that. That will only assist his fall," Mr. Sangraula says.
More than 14 protesters have been killed so far in the uprising, and the streets have the feel of a war zone. The Army has mobilized helicopters to monitor the masses in the last three days. Businesses, schools, banks, and shops have remained closed for the third straight week.
Nonetheless, many Nepalis remain defiant.
"We are no longer satisfied with crumbs [the king] is throwing at us," says Sundar Mani Dixit, a senior surgeon and civil society leader.
"We want democracy that cannot be taken back."