With the democratic opposition's promised million-person march on the Nepalese capital less than 12 hours away, King Gyanendra has finally stepped back from the brink. The question now is how quickly the parties can press ahead with a Constituent Assembly.
Gyanendra blinks, announces revival of parliament
Kathmandu: With the democratic opposition's promised million-person march on the Nepalese capital less than 12 hours away, King Gyanendra finally stepped back from the brink. Appearing on national television at 11:30 pm local time, he announced the revival of Parliament, a key demand of the Nepali Congress and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) it is part of.
Stating that he was "cognizant of the spirit of the ongoing people's movement as well as [the need] to resolve the on-going violent conflict and other problems facing the country according to the road map of the agitating Seven Party Alliance", the Nepalese monarch said the reinstated House of Representatives would meet at 1 pm on Friday, April 28.
The King reiterated his belief that the "source of state authority and sovereignty of the Kingdom of Nepal is inherent in the people of Nepal". He also expressed his "heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost their lives in the peoples' movement."
Unlike his royal proclamation on Friday, which the SPA rejected as insufficient, King Gyanendra's statement Monday night did not seek to specify what the newly revived Parliament should do other than to "contribute to the overall welfare of Nepal and the Nepalese people." Nor did he explicitly seek to confine its activities to the 1990 Constitution. Indeed, the only reference to the Constitution – which most Nepalese want to change – was when he mentioned that the dissolution of Parliament in May 2002 had been ordered by him on the advice of Prime Minister in accordance with the Constitution.
Though the King's latest offer is bound to take some of the steam out of the mass protests planned for Tuesday, the revival of Parliament is unlikely to offer anything other than a very temporary respite for an increasingly beleaguered monarchy.
"If Parliament is reconvened, I think it would have less than 24 hours to announce its decision to hold elections for a Constitutent Assembly," said Krishna Khanal, a key civil society leader of the democracy movement. "Otherwise the people will turn against the parties too".
He spoke to this reporter on the sidelines of a massive outdoor public meeting in the working-class Kathmandu suburb of Kirtipur on Monday afternoon amidst rumours that the King's emissaries were trying to reach an understanding with the parties. The mood in the meeting was distinctly republican and the 8,000 strong audience did not seem very inspired when one or two speakers from the SPA laid emphasis on revival of Parliament. According to Mr Khanal, the Nepalese people will not settle for anything less than a Constituent Assembly.
Shekhar Koirala of the Nepali Congress agreed with Mr Khanal's assessment that a restored Parliament would have less than 24 hours to decide on a Constituent Assembly. "If the Maoists are to be brought into the mainstream and take part in multiparty elections, then there has to be constitutional change". Mr Koirala said that even though the King may say that Parliament has no right under the 1990 Constitution to convene a Constituent Assembly, the parties would invoke the doctrine of necessity to do so. "There is no room for legal hair-splitting now".
A senior South Asian diplomat concurred. "The only way out of the present crisis is for the King to bridge the gap between himself and the parties. And the only way he can do this is by surrendering on each of the demands raised by the SPA". And this would include the popular demand for a Constituent Assembly effected through the revived Parliament.
Even as the streets of Kathmandu witnessed spirited clashes between youthful demonstrators and the police, Monday saw back and forth movement between the palace and key leaders of the SPA as the King sought an eleventh-hour way out of the present impasse. Diplomatic sources familiar with the back-channel negotiations said the delay in the King's announcement was caused by his advisers looking at various legal options -- primarily to do with forestalling constitutional change -- while the parties too felt obliged to consult the Maoists, with whom they have established a united front of sorts on the question of a roadmap to genuine democracy.