May 27, 2008
END OF THE KING
Tomorrow is the historic moment when the newly elected constituent assembly is scheduled to officially proclaim Nepal a republic, thereby ending nearly two and a half centuries of monarchal rule.
King Gyanendra quietly left the Narayanhiti Royal Palace after dark on May 22. It may have been his final exit. Accompanied by his wife Queen Komal, he drove to his summer Nagarjuna Palace (about eight kilometers north of Kathmandu) – a move that, according to Jana Aastha, a royal family tabloid, was to avoid an “undignified tussle with the rabble.”
Groups in support of the monarchy are nevertheless working overtime to prevent Gyanendra from becoming a commoner. Jana Aastha’s editor, Kishore Shrestha predicted, “Gyanendra will no doubt stay very quiet for the next two to three years, but nobody can rule out the king coming back.” In local politics, the RPP (Rastriya Prajatantra Party), which has registered unconditional support to the monarchy, has predicted a crisis of unprecedented scale and dimension, if the king isn’t treated with the utmost respect. A global pro-Hindu organization, The World Hindu Federation (WHF), has threatened to mount a massive protest at the site of the key Constituent Assembly meet on May 28 to step up pressure on the political parties in Nepal to hold a referendum on the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy. The monarchy is of great concern to Hindu fundamentalists since, up until two years ago, Nepal was the only Hindu nation in the world. For the most devout believers, the king of Nepal is regarded as an avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu.
And Gyanendra has limited his public appearances to religious observances. His latest outing was to the southern rim of Kathmandu Valley: Dakshinkali, a dark and secluded temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. Kali is Shiva’s consort in her most bloodthirsty incarnation of death and destruction. She is also the goddess of rebirth. Gyanendra and his queen came to observe Panchabali, (five animal sacrifice), undertaken to receive power and to ensure the well being of his family. Temple assistants slit the throats of a duck, chicken, lamb, goat and water buffalo. As blood flowed, the animals were decapitated in front of a wrathful Kali statue. Their livers were cut out and placed in a container that the king took with him.
But sacrificial rites – be it of death or rebirth -- may not be enough to protect Gyanendra from tomorrow’s massive shift in tradition. The Maoists promised on May 26 that they had called tens of thousands of members of the YCL, their feared youth wing, to enter the capital in anticipation of tomorrow’s abolition of the monarchy. A top Maoist official said the former rebels only intended to "celebrate" the king's demise and would respect security restrictions -- which would bar them from attempting to lay siege or storm the royal palace. "We are going to bring in 50,000 Young Communist League members to celebrate the declaration of a republic on Wednesday," said Sagar, the head of the Maoists' youth wing, who goes by one name.
END OF PRIME MINISTER KOIRALA?
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who has been a leading fixture of Nepali politics for over a half-century, may be at the end of his career as well.
On May 24, he formally asked Maoist leaders to take the reins in forming the new government. This followed a meeting of leaders of three major parties – the Maoists, Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) – held at the Prime Minister’s official residence.
The move came after several Maoist leaders demanded the prime minister's immediate resignation to clear the way for them to form a new cabinet. He ignored the demands.
"The prime minister has urged Prachanda to initiate moves to forge the necessary political consensus to form a new government as the biggest political party in the constituent assembly," Ram Chandra Poudel, the peace and reconstruction minister, told reporters after a meeting between the two leaders.
"Prachanda will come up with a proposal now," he said. He did not give details on how the government might look.
Although Koirala has been elected into the new assembly, it is unclear what position he will hold under a Maoist-led government. Some analysts said his long post-election silence could have indicated that he was negotiating with the Maoists for a suitable role.
The Situation may be further complicated by his meeting, on May 25, with visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dr. Even A. Feigenbaum. Feigenbaum was also scheduled to meet leaders of the UML, Maoists, and the Madeshi People’s Right Forum. One thing is certain, the Maoists find Koirala completely unacceptable as the future head of state.
BOMB BLASTS AS A PRELUDE
May 26: As Kathmandu politicos prepared themselves for the swearing-in ceremony of the new members of the Constituent Assembly, two explosions created a sense of foreboding.
Motorcycle-borne youths hurled two bombs at around 5.30pm in front of the Birendra International Convention Centre, the venue of the Constituent Assembly. No one was injured in the explosion. Police claimed both the bombs exploded in front of the south gate of the high-security convention centre. Cadres of a newly formed Nepal Ranvir Sena is responsible for the blast, the police said. The outfit has vowed to fight against the abolition of monarchy in Nepal. Then, a third bomb went off outside the home of a pro-republic rights activist. Again, no one was hurt.
Security has been ramped up all over Kathmandu. And everyone -- royal and non-royal -- holds his or her breath on the eve of the Constituent Assembly.