Nepal's parliament asserts power

Arguments erupt at military headquarters after legislators resolve to strip royal powers and take reins of the Army.

Thursday may have marked the end for the world's only Hindu kingdom. Nepal's parliament, restored by King Gyanendra after a massive civil uprising in April, passed a sweeping resolution to strip the palace of its powers, wrest control of the Army, and declare Nepal a secular nation.

The nine-point declaration is part of an effort by an alliance of seven political parties to clear obstacles to the formation of a new constitution. Thursday's changes aim to keep the king out of the process while meeting many of the Maoist rebels' conditions for taking part in upcoming elections.

The declaration received unanimous support within parliament, even from legislators favorable to the palace. But it remains to be seen whether the military will acquiesce to the changes, particularly since the declaration overrides current constitutional provisions.

Tabled by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the resolution leaves the king with only a ceremonial role by:

• ending the king's title of commander in chief of the Army;

• declaring the king's income and assets taxable;

• removing the king's power to select an heir;

• changing the name of the government from "His Majesty's Government" to "Nepal Government";

• and dissolving the king's advisory council.

The resolution also declares parliament the supreme legislator and nullifies any current laws that contradict these points.

One such contradiction: Under the 1990 Constitution, no parliamentary decision can be finalized without the king's signature. Analysts are therefore debating the legality of the proclamation. Many constitutional lawyers note, however, that the restoration of the parliament was already beyond the scope of the 1990 Constitution, and that the source of parliament's legitimacy now rests instead on the people's movement.

"Those who disrespect this declaration will be swept away," warned Prime Minister Koirala.

The 90,000-strong Army - whose name has been changed from the Royal Nepalese Army to the Nepal Army by this resolution - may see things differently.

According to a highly placed official, a hot argument erupted at Army headquarters after the resolution passed between stanch royalists and neutral officers.

Top Army brass, the source says, had been assured earlier by the prime minister that the king's title as commander in chief, as well as his right to choose an heir would be protected.

The resolution has also given full authority to the prime minister to appoint the commander-in-chief of the Army, and to mobilize it upon approval from parliament. Henceforth, all security wings of the state are under direct control of parliament; and all executive rights of the state are vested on the government.

Despite hints of unhappiness in the barracks, the move appears to have broad political support.

Even leaders from parliamentary parties that are not a part of the alliance welcomed the declaration and appeared willing to give credit to the Maoists. Last year's 12-point agreement between the Maoists and the political parties is widely seen as a turning point in public opinion against the palace's hard-line approach to ending a civil war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

"Various factors made this announcement inevitable. One of them is the Maoists," says Surya Bahadur Thapa, president of Rastriya Janashankti Party, a pro-palace party which is not a part of the alliance. "There are several things that remain to be done. I hope the constituent assembly will take care of that, and also respect this announcement."

Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal welcomed and expressed support for the declaration, calling it a partial success of the 12-point understanding and the people's movement. But he said in a statement that the declaration gives the monarchy a ceremonial role which goes against the people's desire for a republic.

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