Nepal king accepts his poll lot

April 13th, 2008 - 12:20 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 13 (IANS) King Gyanendra’s five-year gamble to take up the reins of his kingdom and smash the Maoist guerrillas with the help of the army finally recoiled on his own head with the rebels exchanging the bullet for the ballot and leading a nationwide stir for the ouster of the ambitious monarch. As the results of Thursday’s historic constituent assembly election, which put Nepal’s 239-year-old institution of monarchy to vote for the first time, started coming in, the embattled king accepted the writing on the wall that his foes had prevailed.

The 61-year-old king, whose rise and fall was reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, Sunday issued from the royal palace what could be his last message as king, accepting the verdict of the people with grace.

“Beloved countrymen,” the message on the occasion of the new Nepali year said, “We extend best wishes for peace, good health and prosperity of all Nepalis, living in the country and abroad.”

The king, who had adopted silence after the fall of his 14-month government due to a national uprising in April 2006, issued a message in a surprise move last week, urging the nation to vote freely and fearlessly in Thursday’s election.

As over 60 percent of the 17.6 million voters heeded his advice and gave the thumbs-down to him and his followers, the king accepted the decision like a sportsman.

“The enthusiastic participation of the Nepalese people in the Constituent Assembly elections, through which they have emphatically reiterated their firm resolve not to compromise the nation’s existence, independence and integrity under any circumstance is a source of satisfaction for us,” the royal message said.

“Along with peace and democracy, may the New Year inspire us all to uphold our legendary wisdom in ensuring that our national pride, its distinctive values and identity remain uppermost,” it added.

The king’s statement came after Maoist chief Prachanda, whose party was poised for a landslide victory, reiterated his commitment to a federal democratic republic.

Hours before the Maoist pledge, former US president Jimmy Carter, who has endorsed the former guerrillas as a political party committed to multi-party democracy, indicated that the end of Nepal’s controversial Shah dynasty of kings was close.

The Nobel laureate, who had monitored Thursday’s election, said he had broached the issue of monarchy with Nepal’s political leaders and found them sharing a “common opinion” that the king would no longer play a substantial role in the political process. However, the royals were free to stay in the country as distinguished citizens.

The fate of King Gyanendra was the pivotal point of the twice-deferred election.

When the Maoists ended their civil war in 2006 in return for the government of opposition parties consenting to hold a constituent assembly election, it was agreed that the poll would decide the fate of the royal family.

However, as the government failed to hold the election the same year, the rebels began mounting pressure for the abolition of monarchy through a parliamentary vote.

When Nepal’s interim parliament last year agreed to proclaim the Himalayan kingdom a republic, the move was criticised by many who felt such an issue of national interest could be decided only by the people of Nepal.

The overwhelming public support pouring in for the Maoists in Thursday’s election will silence the critics, indicating their desire to see an end to Nepal’s ruling dynasty.

For many, the dynasty ended in 2001, when king Birendra and his entire family died in a midnight massacre in the royal palace.

Gyanendra, who succeeded his brother, had ordinarily had no chance of inheriting the throne.

However, by a quirk of fate, in 1950, when a pro-democracy movement in Nepal forced the then king, his grandfather Tribhuvan, to flee the country leaving Gyanendra behind, the baby boy was enthroned by the then omnipotent Rana prime minister.

The man who was king twice against all odds, however, became the man to give a deathblow to the monarchy by seizing power in 2005 and imposing an authoritarian rule.

Even when Nepal went to the polls, a ray of hope had remained for the royals with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala willing to retain a ceremonial king shorn of real power.

But with Koirala’s party biting the dust and the Maoists poised to get majority, the palace would have to start getting to terms with a new, harsh reality.

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