Year after king bowed, Nepal remains at crossroads

Year after king bowed, Nepal remains at crossroads
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First Published: Mon, Apr 23 2007. 10 56 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Apr 23 2007. 10 56 AM IST
Gopal Sharma, Reuters
Kathmandu: Nepal began celebrations on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the end of King Gyanendra’s absolute rule, but the political future of the Himalayan nation remains far certain.
Analysts say confusion about the date of constituent assembly elections, a violent campaign for autonomy in the southern plains, doubts over the sincerity of the former Maoist rebels and a weak government mean Nepal is still at a crossroads.
“The initiation of the peace process was definitely a major achievement,” said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of popular magazine Samay.
“But whether political parties, including the Maoists, will take it to a logical conclusion is something that people are curiously watching,” he said.
A year ago, there was much rejoicing in the impoverished country after King Gyanendra bowed to weeks of protests and returned power to political parties.
The new government and the Maoists who had been fighting the monarchy since 1996 signed a peace deal, ending a civil war that had killed more than 13,000 people. The former rebels are now part of an interim parliament and government.
Authorities have urged residents to illuminate their homes for three days from Monday to mark the celebrations. On Tuesday, the anniversary of the king bowing out, ailing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala will address the nation.
Separately, human rights activists plan a rally to press for a republic.
The achievements so far have been impressive, ordinary Nepalis and analysts say. But the challenges ahead are daunting.
When the government and the Maoists signed the peace deal in November they promised constituent assembly elections in June. The Maoists see the polls as an opportunity to achieve their goal of abolishing the monarchy.
The country’s top election body, however, says it is not prepared to hold the vote and needs time. The former rebels are fuming over the delay and friction within the interim government could lead to instability, it is feared.
“There is confusion,” one Western diplomat said. “Political parties and the government must assure the people that the election is going to be held.”
New problems have only added to their burden.
Protests by the ethnic Madhesi people demanding regional autonomy in the southern plains bordering India have left 58 people dead this year and overshadowed the peace deal.
The pact has also failed to inject confidence among investors as the former rebels continue to extort businesses. Politicians are worried that the Maoists did not submit all their weapons for U.N. monitoring and continue to intimidate people.
Analysts urged the Maoists to truly reform.
“The Maoists’ military strength is not in their weapons but in the militarisation of the political process,” said Rhoderick Chalmers of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
He said it was crucial to encourage the Maoists to stop using fear as a political strategy.
For some ordinary Nepalis, like Prabha Khadka, wife of a man killed during last year’s anti-king protests, reconciliation also means punishing those guilty of shooting down demonstrators.
An official investigation blamed King Gyanendra — who has now been stripped of virtually all his powers — and 201 other politicians, army and police officers for ordering the crackdown in which at least 22 people were killed.
“Everyone who is guilty, including the king, must be punished,” said 27-year-old Khadka, tears trickling down her face. “There will be no lasting peace until then.”
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First Published: Mon, Apr 23 2007. 10 56 AM IST
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