Considering the delay in the formation of the new cabinet and the increasing international pressure for an agreement between the king and the political parties, the latter was confident the monarch's position was weak and an agreement was imminent. Last Thursday's meeting at the royal retreat in Nagarjun proved them wrong. King Gyanendra's first sentences were: "Now that the prime minister has resigned, this is the time to restore peace and hold elections. You have been invited to offer your suggestions on how these two goals can be achieved."
Before the parties could reiterate their demand for an all-party government and the reinstatement of parliament, the king pre-empted their move. "Don't ask me to make extra-constitutional moves and don't assume you are parliamentary representatives at a time when there is no parliament. If a prime minister is appointed just because of the street agitations, it will create a bad precedent and pave the way for an even more difficult crisis the in future."
It was only after the party leaders heard those words that his view became apparent: their 18-point program and demand for return of people's sovereignty were not acceptable to King Gyanendra. It was also a slap on the face for civil society, which felt it could navigate a way out of the impasse if the parties united to form a government. Unfortunately, the king's opening statements in the meeting made it clear that parties can offer suggestions but not act on them, and that he wouldn't hand over state power.
To appease the king, leader of the Nepali Congress, Girija Prasad Koirala, stated it was not the culture of the Congress to chant anti-king slogans and asked his party workers to follow that tradition. Immediately after the Nagarjun meeting, however, Madhab Kumar Nepal issued a statement that the students were responsible for their own street slogans. Clearly, both were trying to convince the king that they had nothing to do with the republican slogans on the streets. But the palace obviously had not softened its stance.
The leaders of the major parties may not have understood the king's true intentions. But the king himself appears quite clear about his agenda: 19 months ago, the palace recovered the power it had lost 14 years previously. King Gyanendra does not want to lose it again. He will be flexible only with a democracy that he can guide. In other words, he wants to appoint a prime minister and ministers, make laws and rules, implement his plans and programs and be in charge of the country.
The sole reason he talks about democracy is because he cannot fund state-management and the security agencies without the people. He harps on about elections because without it, the donor mantra of democracy, good governance and decentralisation cannot be established. He met with civil society and the parties because if he failed to do so, he ran the risk of being labelled a dictator.
Are the parties unaware of what the king is really up to? Perhaps they just do not want to know. It is hard to believe that these politicians who witnessed so many ups and downs in their political careers fail to see through the king's stratagem. The real issue is the crisis of confidence between the main parties, especially within the leadership in the Congress and the UML.
The UML worries that the Congress, the king and the international community will unite to undermine it. Meanwhile, the Congress suspects that over one late night meeting, the UML will forge an alliance with the king, Deuba Congress, RPP and other smaller parties to leave it out in the cold. These suspicions took root after the UML publicly stated that it would accept the reinstatement of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government. This powerplay among the parties is the greatest obstacle in getting the people on their side. Meanwhile, the fate of the 18-point agenda remains undecided and the party workers' enthusiasm is dwindling.