Will Nepal king return to royal palace? (Lead)

May 23rd, 2008 - 8:13 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 23 (IANS) As Nepal’s besieged King Gyanendra left the Narayanhity royal palace, from where his ancestors had ruled their kingdom for generations, while some called it his final exit as the last king of a nearly 250-year-old dynasty, some predicted a return following a reported secret meeting between the king’s envoy and the Maoists. “The king left the palace for his summer residence Nagarjuna palace (about 8km north of Kathmandu) around 9 P.M. Thursday,” said Kishore Shrestha, editor of Nepali weekly Jana Aastha.

The tabloid, a close watcher of the royal family, had said Wednesday that the king, accompanied by his wife, Queen Komal, would exit the palace Thursday in a bid to avoid an undignified tussle with the rabble.

The report led to a media siege of the palace gates, where reporters and lensmen kept vigil till late Thursday in a vain bid to record what could be the last departure of the king from his palace.

But the royal entourage outwaited the paparazzi, departing only after they had packed up and left disappointed.

The once Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, whose kings were revered as incarnations of a Hindu god and considered above law, is rapidly moving towards a new chapter next week when an assembly elected by a historic poll last month is expected to ring the death knell of monarchy.

On Wednesday, the 601-member constituent assembly will hold its first meeting, which, according to the Maoists who emerged as the biggest party in the poll, will transform Nepal into a republic and ask the royal family to leave the palace.

To facilitate the radical change, the assembly members will be sworn in Tuesday.

Readying for the change, the government has started drafting an ordinance for the ceremony.

The king, who issued two statements last month, first urging his “beloved countrymen” to vote without fear in the April 10 constituent assembly election and then welcoming the results, has maintained an enigmatic silence since then.

The royal silence fed contradictory rumours.

A section of the Nepali media speculated that the strong-willed king would refuse to vacate the palace even after Wednesday and had instructed the large contingent of army men deployed inside the palace to defend it against invading mobs.

Others said that the Maoists, who are trying to form the next government, had assured the king that there would be no threat to his life and property, following which he was quitting the palace well before the deadline to avoid confrontation.

There was a twist in the royal tale Thursday night when, according to Shrestha, Maoist supremo Prachanda went to Dhunche, a difficult to reach village in Rasuwa district, by air at 11 P.M. to meet the king’s son-in-law, Kumar Bahadur Singh.

“Singh was sent to advocate for some space for the king,” Shrestha said. “Why did Prachanda have to go to such a remote place and meet Singh secretly if the Maoists’ future plans are transparent? Now I can’t be so sure that the king would not return to the palace from Nagarjuna Monday.”

Once omnipotent monarchs, Nepal’s kings began losing their power in 1990 when a pro-democracy uprising forced the then king Birendra to lift the ban on political parties and become a constitutional monarch who remained the decorative head of state while an elected prime minister exercised the real power.

Nepalis feel monarchy would not have come to the present pass had the king and his entire family not perished in a mysterious massacre in the palace in 2001.

Birendra’s younger brother and successor Gyanendra stepped out of constitutional monarchy and began controlling the government.

In 2005, dispensing with all subterfuge, he seized power with an army-backed coup and began ruling the kingdom directly.

The 14-month authoritarian royal regime, marked by corruption and nepotism, stoked nationwide protests and forced the king to surrender power in April 2006.

The disenchanted nation then vowed to hold a first-time election to put monarchy to vote.

The April 10 election saw 17.6 million voters choose change and welcome the Maoist guerrillas, who had fought a 10-year war trying to overthrow the royal family, while giving the thumbs-down to the king.

“As you sow, so you reap,” said Shrestha. “If the king had not engineered the coup, he would not be where he is today.”

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