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Nepal moves closer to ditching king

March 15, 2007

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KATHMANDU: Nepal has moved a step closer to ditching its monarchy with the Himalayan nation’s premier turning on embattled King Gyanendra and calling for him to quit, analysts and officials said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the respected octogenarian architect of Nepal’s peace process, on Monday said King Gyanendra should abdicate — a major about-turn for a politician previously seen as sympathetic to the throne.

“The prime minister was the only man in the ruling party who supported the monarchy and now he has given it up,” Rabindra Khanal, a political analyst and professor from Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, said.

Koirala had argued on Monday that the king, viewed by his supporters as a God-like figure, was trying to undermine a peace deal between the government and the fiercely republican Maoist rebels.

Politicians have already accused the king’s allies of stirring a recent wave of deadly ethnic unrest in the south of the country.

The prime minister also said Gyanendra, 59, should have quit last year after protests forced him to relinquish dictatorial powers, state-run Nepal Television reported.

“Even now a new environment would be created if the king abdicates voluntarily,” said the prime minister, who has in the past extolled the virtues of a constitutional monarchy, preferring the system to more radical change.

Gunaraj Luitel, a senior editor from the Kantipur media group, said Koirala’s damning comments simply reflected the increasing desire in impoverished Nepal for a republic — or at least a significant rolling back of royal powers.

“He (Koirala) wants to give a clear indication to the king that he needs to remain outside politics and that if he takes part in political activities his future will be very dark,” said Luitel.

“There is a slim chance this monarchy can survive, but there are a vast amount of people who are not in favour of monarchy,” the editor said.

According to Khanal, the prime minister and the Nepali Congress Party can also not afford to be out of step with the electorate during an election year.

“There is massive demand for a republic,” said the professor. “It could be a move to protect his political party because the Nepali Congress cannot be seen to go against the sentiments of the people.” Local media ran front-page stories about the premier’s comments, with the English language Kathmandu Post reporting “Nation on republican path: PM,” and the Himalayan Times reporting “Time he gave up the throne, says Koirala.” King Gyanendra’s dynasty has a 238-year history, and Nepal’s kings have for centuries been revered as incarnations of the Hindu Lord Vishnu, the god of protection.

But the rotund Gyanendra has had a tough five years as king since he was vaulted to the throne by the massacre of his brother and most of the royal family, staged by a drink-and-drug fuelled crown prince who later killed himself.

Since the king abandoned his ill-fated attempt at direct rule aimed at crushing the Maoists, he has been accused of abuse of power and has been stripped of his status as head of state.

Even the state bank has decided to remove images of the king from banknotes.

His ultimate fate will soon be decided. In June the country is scheduled to vote in a body that will permanently rewrite the constitution.

For Nepal’s Maoists, who have agreed to end their ten-year “People’s War” in exchange for a place in government, Koirala’s comments have been taken as yet another nail in the coffin of a king they want to see the back of.

“The prime minister’s change in stance is very progressive,” top Maoist official Dinanath Sharma told in an interview, adding that the king should sit up and listen.

“Now it would be wise decision on the king’s part if he abdicates from the throne. There should not be any form of monarchy in the country,” Sharma said.—AFP