Nepal's communists at loggerheads over king
Mar 5, 2007 - 10:06:43 AM

Kathmandu, March 5 - Two of Nepal's biggest communist parties are at loggerheads over the fate of King Gyanendra, raising fresh doubts about the intentions of the seven-party government.

The new spat is between Maoists, who began an armed uprising 11 years ago to abolish monarchy, and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist -, the second largest party in parliament with a deputy prime minister in the government.

The fresh discord arose after the UML Sunday tabled a proposal in parliament, asking for the inclusion of a new clause in the recently promulgated constitution that will allow the house to impeach King Gyanendra if he performs unconstitutional activities.

The proposal came after the king triggered a countrywide furore last month when he issued a message to the nation on the occasion of Democracy Day. In the message, the monarch justified his power grab two years ago by saying it was prompted by people's desires since a succession of governments had failed to improve the law and order situation and hold elections.

In an unprecedented move, Nepal's parliament rapped the monarch for the act, saying since the new constitution had stripped him of his role as head of government, it was the prime minister's prerogative to issue such messages.

Since then, the house has directed the government to take action against the king for his 'unconstitutional, undemocratic and unwarranted' gesture.

If the UML proposal for the king's impeachment is okayed by two-thirds of the legislators, it will pave the way for action against the monarch in future.

Currently, there are no provisions in the constitution to bring the monarch to task since by tradition, Nepal's royal family had been above law.

However, the UML proposal has angered the Maoists, who are accusing the ruling coalition of trying to safeguard monarchy.

Last year, the rebels signed a pact with the government and agreed to end their guerrilla war in exchange of an election by June, in which people would be asked to vote between the crown and a republic.

Though the parties agreed to the election, some of them, including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala himself, has been advocating retaining a ceremonial monarch in the new government without axing the 238-year-old crown that some still regard as a symbol of national unity.

Alarmed by growing protest movements in the country, the Maoists feel elections may not take place by June and have been accusing the king of fomenting disruption to sabotage the polls.

Since last month, they have been urging the government not to wait for the polls but to declare Nepal a republic immediately through a proclamation in parliament, a demand resisted by the government so far.

Now the UML proposal has fuelled suspicions afresh that the government is envisioning a place for monarchy in future.

'When we are campaigning for a republic, the UML proposal smacks of a design to retain ceremonial monarchy,' senior Maoist leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai said.

The Maoist fear has been strengthened by the government so far not taking any action against the king or royalist ministers and officials who ordered the use of excessive force on unarmed protesters during anti-king protests last year.

The report of the commission that probed the involvement of royalist ministers and officials has not been made public. Instead, the government referred the report to another commission that is now freshly interrogating the same officials.

Also, despite parliament last month ordering the government to take action against the king, the cabinet has been dragging its feet, saying the matter will be decided after consultations with the major parties, which could go on for months without reaching any agreement.

The situation is highly evocative of the scenario in 1990 when though a pro-democracy movement clipped the king's absolute powers and a commission found several ministers guilty of trying to suppress the agitation, the panel's report was buried.

Some of the royalists indicted in the 1990s report are among those indicted in the report last year as well.

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