Nepali Times
Guest Column
The king’s way


There is no shortage of commentary in the Nepali press advising the king publicly on how to tackle the two political problems facing the country: the non-cooperation of the parliamentary parties post-October Fourth, and a peaceful resolution of the Maoist insurgency.

Although committed in principle to the constitutional provisions of a parliamentary democracy, the king\'s actions have since indicated he is not satisfied with the status quo which until recently limited the monarch to a ceremonial role, leaving the effective rule of the country to an elected government. Without going into the merits or shortcomings of his October Fourth declaration, it is reasonable to conclude in retrospect that his action has proved to be a strategic blunder with serious implications for
the country.

What motivated the king to take the current course of action? There are as many opinions as there are commentators. If there is some consensus, it is that he lost faith in the Deuba-led government and the parliamentary parties to tackle the insurgency, or solve the country's development crisis.

From events that unfolded later, his desire to broker and oversee negotiations with the rebels, too, seems to have been a likely motivation for action. Of course, the king may have used all this as a pretext to grab political power in a soft take-over cannot be ruled out. Indeed, many of the parties fervently believe this.

Taking over the reigns of power is one thing, but effecting a lasting solution to the country's formidable problems is another, and it is here that the king\'s course of action has proved to be regrettable. First, the king's hope that he could impose a Panchayat-style government led by old palace loyalists has failed. It is true that major parliamentary parties are discredited by the near-total anarchy they unleashed in the country in the last decade.

The agitation the parties spearheaded forced the king's hand, and he had to roll back the Chand administration. But the real point here is even after the king put together a government of his liking, he seemed powerless to exercise popular authority to bring about much needed political or social change, or impose his will on the people. The king enjoys a unity of command of the country's executive, legislative and judicial powers unhindered by constitutional provisions. But due to the same weaknesses that plagued Nepal's monarchy during its Panchayat years, it cannot translate its formidable authority into effective political and administrative action.

Already the signs of its decaying authority are everywhere. Numerous press reports tell us about how the Maoists are running amok in the countryside with extortion, intimidation, and forced recruitment in a scale bigger than the last time they sat for the talks with the Deuba regime. Despite all the negotiation that is taking place, it is clear that the rebels are preparing for battles on a larger scale. Soon, there will be temptation to use accumulated weapons to gain political advantage in a later stage in the negotiations.

The establishment does have international support. But if it can't figure out how to translate diplomatic or military advantage into effective political or administrative action, no amount of international support will make any real difference on the ground.

Now that his government of royal nominees is no more, at the fundamental level the king's challenge is whether or not he can exercise enough moral, political and coercive authority to bring the warring political forces to the parliamentary mainstream and encourage constructive leadership toward modernisation.

A big leap in economic and political reforms along the lines that China took in the early 1980s, or India in the 1990s, is not just a slogan. It is what the country direly needs at the moment. For this to happen, the king will have to learn to work with the existing political forces whether he likes the individuals who lead these forces or not. The last eight months have been wasted, not just because the Chand administration lacked popular mandate to rule, but because rule by decree is hardly the way to usher Nepal into the 21st century.

The king must now use his position of authority to strengthen the institutions that monitor the corrupting powers of an irresponsible government: the CIAA, the investigative processes of the parliament and the judiciary. Only a monarchy that refuses to compete with democracy at the political level has a future in a country surrounded by two fairly radical systems of ideas (China's state capitalism with socialist characteristics and India's bourgeois democracy).

Chand's resignation as prime minister has opened up an opportunity for Nepal's political elite (including the Maoists whose leaders, despite their rhetoric, are alienated from the same middle class they despise so much) to work together one more time. But a number of things are still likely go wrong:
. The palace may still want to sabotage the transfer of power to the elected parties by trying to meddle in the process of creating the next government. It is likely that the change hasn't come about because of the king's change of heart, but through international pressure and strategic calculations.
. The major political parties already seem inclined to declare the change in government a victory of their street agitation. It may partly be true, but they should also know that it masks their shameful failure to institute a politics of possibility for over a decade.
. The Maoists' desire to play kingmaker has been interrupted by Chand's resignation. A functioning democracy, not the king per se, is their real enemy. Historically, communists have shown a capacity to fight feudalism, but they have failed to win the war of ideas in a pluralist democracy.

So, expect the Maoists to continue making threatening noises. Their hope of positioning themselves as the harbingers of a new totalitarianism is now truly threatened.

(BP Giri is editor of Center for South Asian Studies Newsletter at the University of Virginia in the United States.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)