The Royal Surrender
Now it is pointless to talk about the past, writes CHIRANJIBI KAFLE, but the King could have avoided his surrender if he had simply rectified the first royal takeover (October 4, 2002), which was his, not the parties’, doing.
Finally, on April 24, 2006, King Gyanendra was compelled to give in to the voice of people. The sudden royal announcement in the mid-night of Monday came as a big reason to cheer for the Nepali people pining for democracy and freedom.
While this address came as a harbinger of victory, the address delivered barely three days earlier on Friday, April 21, inviting the alliance of seven political parties to recommend a name for prime minister, had come as a big disappointment and shock. People had thought the king would take a ‘historic’ move at the very outset to quell the mounting protests and resolve the stretching political crisis in the country.
The crux of the recent crisis was a political cold (turned hot later, until April 24) war between the King versus Parliamentary as well as the Maoist insurgency forces. It would not take an expert to say that. Anyone familiar with Nepal’s contemporary history, inside or outside the country, would agree that the principal political actors shared the blame for the mess. By meddling directly in everyday politics, the king only helped to worsen the situation.
The tactical address of April 21 had failed to address the sentiment of people, by deliberately dodging the key issue of handing over ‘the people’s power to people’ by effectively rectifying the first royal takeover (October 4, 2002). Humble-worded though it was, the proclamation had only assured the monarch’s willingness to rectify his second takeover (February 1, 2005), in which the key to all state powers still rested with the King.
However, one thing was vocally admitted. Despite all his adamancies to impose active monarchy, the King had accepted people as the “sovereign” authority and had duly acknowledged the failure of the successive moves taken by him (to rule the country without the support of main political parties), especially after February 1, 2005 takeover. But he was silent on the issue of rectifying the October 4 takeover, which was the root cause of the King-Parties stalemate.
It was Avoidable
Many people—from laymen to intellectual groups—believed that even a slight hint of realization, indicating a return to pre-October 4, rather than the second takeover of February 1, 2005, would have compelled the seven political parties to consider the monarch’s proposal to forward a candidate for the post of prime minister.
But the doomed royal address (April 21) only hinted at the King's readiness to form a government of the seven-party alliance that would be considered “powerful.” But its actual authority would be no more than that enjoyed by the nominated governments of Surya Bahadur Thapa or Sher Bahadur Deuba between the two royal takeovers.
If anything, the previous (April 21) invitation simply brought an offer of ‘premiership’ to the alliance of the seven parties, who were seeking a more comprehensive and accommodative action—either by restoring the dissolved House of Representatives and/or forming a consensus multi-party interim government to hold election for a Constituent Assembly—which, in their opinion, could resolve Nepal’s political crisis, including the Maoist conflict, for good.
Now it is pointless to talk about the past. But many people who sympathized with constitutional monarchy felt that even if the monarch was adamantly motivated against the idea of reinstating the Parliament—which was of course dissolved by the parties’ own elected government rather than by the King—then he could at least have chosen the option of simply rectifying the October 4 takeover, which was his, not the parties’, doing.
The King had frequently tried to justify his takeover of powers by suggesting that it was done for the overall good of the nation, in the given circumstances. But, ultimately, even he was compelled to admit that successive moves taken by him only failed to resolve the problems of the nation.
So, in the least, if only the first takeover had been rectified, the elected government of Sher Bahadur Deuba would have been back in place, which could then have taken any legitimate course to diffuse and resolve the prevailing crisis. Now it is even better that the dissolved House has itself been reinstated, and has started to function as a “sovereign” representative body of the sovereign people. With this move now, and unless the nation embarks upon a new system, the monarch may remain aloof from blames and complaints, so long as things move according to the generally accepted norms of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
Amid mounting agitation, the country had been expecting that the King may now change his mind and make a constructive and pragmatic announcement so that the broader interest of the people and the nation could be genuinely safeguarded. But that did not happen. Or at least that process was delayed. As a result, people started feeling that the monarch was enamored with none else except his own personal roadmap for reining the country.
Was It Compulsion or a Paradigm Shift?
Massive suppression of demonstrations fueled people’s anger. More than a dozen protestors were killed and more than 5,000 people were injured. The royal delay in taking some positive action and persistent clampdown on the street protests had compelled the people to think this: In principle, King Gyanendra never objected to multiparty parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. He also never denied the authority of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 (which existed without life until April 24.) But in practice, he abhorred multi-party democracy and wanted to subvert it.
For too long, there was a sustained absence of Parliament and other legitimately elected bodies. Political stalemate was growing to the extent of total disagreement between the royalists and the democratic forces. The King’s role and commitments, in effect, had seemed to be on the side of consolidating the powers of the Royal Palace at any cost. Thus, in words, he always agreed that people were ‘sovereign,’ but in practice he always reserved that term for his own discretionary use.
The leaders of the Seven Party Alliance out-rightly rejected the monarch’s previous offer. They maintained that the royal offer did not address the actual demands put forth by them; nor did it try to address the 12-point understanding they reached with Maoist insurgents for resolving the decade-long armed rebellion.
The agitation unleashed by the Alliance had already spiraled across the nation. In spite of the loss of at least 16 citizens (which later reached 19) who attained martyrdom in their peaceful quest for democracy, the agitation gathered support from all quarters and took the form of a civic uprising, with active and passive non-cooperation against the dictatorial royal regime.
On the 19th day of political agitation, millions took to the streets in an unprecedented show of people-power. Apparently, the public was as adamant for democracy and freedom as King Gyanendra had been for his own autocratic rule. Ruled by the situation, the king’s surrender had to be eventually worked out.
That led to the 24 April royal proclamation. It not only reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives but also recognized the strength of people by admitting the role of popular uprising, and authorizing the House to take any right course as per the roadmap of the Seven- Party Alliance to address the problems of the nation, including the lingering armed conflict unleashed by the left-wing Maoists. Some commentators even interpreted this as a paradigm shift on part of the Nepali royal palace.
If only the announcement had been delayed, the country could possibly had adopted an alternative path, either through a parallel government with a potential of wide national and international support or an announcement of a new system of governance by people themselves, right from the street, on the power and mandate of the very uprising that had gained the national magnitude.
And, needless to say, both these courses could have been mercilessly painful to the institution of monarchy in Nepal.
Chiranjibi Kafle is co-editor of Nepal Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Editor on June 4, 2006 2:09 PM