Ever since Himalmedia started commissioning public opinion polls in 1999, the results have indicated that the country is sliding into an ever-deepening crisis.
The conflict has intensified, with half the 10,000 people killed since 1996 having died in the past two years. The royal massacre was an indelible blow to the national psyche. The kingdom's infrastructure and development have been pushed back decades. The democratic process is in reverse gear: parliament and local bodies are in limbo, an elected prime minister was sacked, the king took over and there have been three royal-nominated governments in quick succession.
With their changing fortunes, the people have also sharpened their perceptions of what is wrong with the country, who is responsible and what should be done to bring things back on track. One of the most glaring transformations since last year's poll is the stark polarisation in the polity: the people blame the king and the Maoists for the mess, and they think the two should talk. Some still think the political parties should be involved in a solution, but the public mood reflects their diminished role.
In 2001, most respondents in our nationwide poll felt democracy was in danger and the threat came from the political leaders. They didn't blame the system, but the parties. Last year, 63 percent of respondents in another nationwide poll blamed the party leadership for taking democracy down. But this year's Kathmandu Valley poll shows that although cumulatively more than 20 percent still blame the parties, the two entities they hold most responsible are the Maoists (18 percent) and the king (12 percent).
Although there is talk of elections, most people don't believe they can be held. Since 2001, Himalmedia has been tracking public response to the question: if elections were held and the Maoists gave up violence who would you vote for? The number of undecideds has grown, the mainstream parties are now in the single digits, and the numbers who say they will vote for a disarmed Maoist party has shrunk by half from last year to nearly 15 percent. Interestingly, a full 15 percent in the capital wouldn't even bother to vote.
Being traditionally more conservative than rural Nepalis, Kathmanduites have contradictory opinions about the roles of the parties and the king. While they have in the past blamed politicians for the country's crisis, today over 40 percent want the same parties to get together to solve the problem.
Similarly, nearly half the respondents think the king is actually in charge and one-third say he should be responsible for setting things right. Asked what the king should do, 45 percent say he must talk directly to the Maoists himself. Interestingly, this is also what the Maoists say they want to do. A quarter say he should get together with the political parties, only 11 percent think he should rule himself. Less than two percent want a reinstatement of parliament.