Nepal begins debate to abolish monarchy

By Binaj Gurubacharya, AP

KATHMANDU, Nepal — The world’s last Hindu monarchy faced an uncertain future Thursday with Nepal’s major political parties all saying it should be abolished. The only question, for most lawmakers, was when to get rid of the king.

Nepal’s former communist rebels, who last year signed a peace deal and joined Parliament, want the monarchy abolished immediately, and are threatening a campaign of strikes and protests if they don’t get their way.

But the country’s largest political party, the Nepali Congress, says the king should be removed only after the election of a special assembly to rewrite the Himalayan nation’s constitution, a vote that’s been repeatedly postponed.

The two sides aired their differing views Thursday as Nepal’s parliament began debating the monarchy’s future at a special session called to keep the communists, known as the Maoists, from launching their threatened protest campaign.

Just before parliament began the debate, thousands of Maoist supporters demonstrated in the capital, Kathmandu.

“Declare the country a republic state. Kick out the king,” chanted the estimated 5,000 activists and supporters who marched through the main streets of Kathmandu.

Soon after, inside Parliament, the Maoists pressed their case.

“Nepal does not need the king any more,” said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a senior Maoist leader, presenting a proposal to immediately change the current constitution and replace the king with a president. “The king and his supporters have been behind all the recent troubles.”

Parliament Speaker Subash Nemwang said the debate will continue on Sunday.

King Gyanendra has been unpopular since he came to the throne in 2001 after a massacre in the royal palace left his brother, King Birendra, and nine other royals dead. Gyanendra seized absolute power in 2005, saying he would bring order to a chaotic political scene and quell the Maoist insurgency.

But the political and economic climate worsened, and widespread discontent led to nearly a month of protests across the country in April 2006, which ultimately forced Gyanendra to end his royal dictatorship. The king currently has no real power.

Within days of Gyanendra ceding power, the Maoists gave up their 10 year armed revolt in which more than 13,000 people died.

They joined parliament in January and the government in April but withdrew last month, demanding the immediate abolition of the monarchy and plunging Nepal into a new political crisis.

On Thursday, the Maoists’ chief whip in parliament, Dev Gurung, said the Maoists were negotiating with other parties to persuade them to immediately do away with the monarchy.

Congress leaders, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the crisis could be resolved.

“Talks are being held with all parties to reach an agreement,” Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said.