Nepal king welcomes fateful election

April 9th, 2008 - 6:01 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 9 (IANS) In the most surprising twist yet to a plot already thick with violence, tension and the unexpected, Nepal’s beleaguered King Gyanendra Wednesday welcomed next day’s fateful election that will decide his fate and urged his subjects to cast the ballot without fear. The 61-year-old king, who with his family is not eligible to vote in Thursday’s constituent assembly election that seems directed towards the abolition of the nearly 250-year-old lineage of Shah kings, Wednesday issued a message to the nation from the Narayanhity royal palace that could become a museum if royalists fail to win over people.

“Beloved countrymen,” began the short message, still adhering to the royal “we” used by the king before his fall from grace two years ago when he tried to seize absolute power with the help of the army.

“It has always been our desire to ensure that under no circumstance is the nation’s existence, independence and integrity compromised and to build a prosperous and peaceful nation through a democratic polity in keeping with the verdict of the sovereign people.”

The royal message urged all adult citizens to “exercise their democratic right in a free and fair environment…while upholding mutual harmony and unity”.

When the battle line between royalists and republicans is drawn Thursday, by a quirk of fate the king himself, his queen Komal, crown prince Paras and crown princess Himani will have no say.

Till 2006, when the king was revered as an incarnation of god and was considered above law, the royal family’s names were not included in the voters’ list.

Though the fall of his government in April 2006 due to a public uprising resulted in the new government shearing him of all his power and privileges, the revised electoral list did not include the names of the royal household as workers said they had found the tightly guarded palace “inaccessible”.

The king’s message indicates, according to royal watchers, full confidence that Thursday’s election will not succeed in scrapping his snake throne.

The Maoists, who waged a 10-year war in a bid to abolish monarchy, came close to their desire last year when they lay siege to parliament through their MPs and forced the house to proclaim Nepal a republic.

Though the election is expected to rubber stamp the decision, there is speculation that it could throw up a big surprise.

While the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal headed by a former royalist minister is the only major party to contest the election in support of monarchy, there are over two dozen fringe parties supporting the king.

Besides, two opposition parties, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and its splinter, the Rastriya Janashakti Party, despite having supported the republican proclamation in parliament, are regarded as royalist parties.

A debutant party from the Terai plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum that is challenging the ruling parties in south Nepal, could also sway in favour of the crown, given its list of candidates that include some known royalists.

The most clinching step will come from two ruling parties, Prime Minster Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

Though the big two support a republic on the face of it, there are crosscurrents in the parties with many of their leaders still plumping for a constitutional king.

At least two opinion polls in the past have indicated that though King Gyanendra himself is not popular, the majority still desire a king.

The Terai, that accounts for 102 constituencies out of 240, could be a deciding factor with the majority there supporting monarchy.

Besides the parties’ moves, the serene king himself could have a card up his sleeve.

In an interview to a royalist weekly recently, he indicated that he had handed over power to the opposition parties in 2006 after an understanding that they would support a constitutional monarch.

If push came to shove, the king had indicated in the interview, he would reveal the secret understanding.

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