KATHMANDU - The graceful exit of former monarch Gyanendra from the palace last
Wednesday made the May 28 proclamation of a republic an official act, but
Nepal's squabbling politicians have yet to elect a president to work as head of
The ceremony held on Sunday at the palace premises, in which caretaker Prime
Minister Girija Prasad Koirala hoisted Nepal's national flag to replace the
royal standard, does not offer any dependable clue that the country will have a
proper government any time soon.
Sensing that existing confusion and uncertainty could create
bigger national challenges, the Nepal army chief swiftly moved to the forefront
with a public pledge that the army will remain a key promoter and defender of
democracy. "The army will remain as the ground on which nascent democracy can
take roots and flourish in the days ahead," General Rookmangud Katawal told an
audience a day after the king vacated the palace, marking an occasion to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nepal's participation in United Nations
peacekeeping activities worldwide.
The other pithy message he put across was to remind politicians that the army
will carry out orders as long as these emanate from the legitimate government
mandated by the people. The army, he also added, will never compromise on the
territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation. While he offered to
promote and defend democracy in these transitional times, Katawal also utilized
the opportunity to deliver a warning to all possible stakeholders: "... we
strongly believe that in the name of democratization the army's purity,
sanctity and integrity should not be compromised."
In a commentary published on Sunday, the newsmagazine Nepal described the army
chief's remarks as an indicator that the incumbent civilian authority is, from
the army's point of view, negligent on the issues of its own legitimacy as well
as on the growing threat on the country's sovereignty.
Analysts also attach considerable significance to the timing of Katawal's
statement. Firstly, it came immediately after the ouster of the king, who was
traditionally the supreme commander-in-chief ; secondly, the views have been
aired ahead of the election of a new head of state who also has to perform the
duties of the supreme commander. Switching allegiance from one institution to
another obviously entails changes in processes and procedures. And if the
ongoing political negotiations make way for a Maoist to occupy the office of
the president, the subject will be even more sensitive.
Since April 10 elections did not produce a clear winner from among the parties
chosen to form the country's first Constituent Assembly (CA), the political
party consisting of former Maoist rebels staked a claim, as the largest group,
to head a coalition government which is expected to oversee the writing of a
new constitution within two years. Rival parties do not have a legitimate basis
to reject this Maoist claim, but their leaders are apprehensive about a
possible Maoist takeover of Nepal. It is against this background that they
placed a set of pre-conditions before the Maoist leadership, officially known
as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
Important among them are issues related to what they call the People's
Liberation Army (PLA), numbering 20,000, and the Young Communist League (YCL)
which is said to have half a million members scattered over the country. Former
militias were renamed as YCL shortly after the Maoists entered a peace accord
with the government in November 2006. PLA members are sheltered in
government-run cantonments which are being supervised by a United Nations field
mission. Their weapons are stored in designated containers.
The Maoists now want these combatants to be integrated with the national army,
as per the provisions of the peace accord and interim constitution. Leaders of
other major parties, however, contend that the Maoist leadership must not be
allowed to lead any kind of government as long as the PLA remains intact. It
deserved to be dissolved forthwith because the objectives of declaring Nepal a
republic and electing an assembly which would write a new constitution have
already been accomplished. How can a country have two competing armies
The Maoists allude to the reference made in the interim statute where there is
an undertaking to look after PLA members, and their subsequent "adjustment and
rehabilitation". It is on this basis they are demanding that the PLA be
integrated with the Nepal army. One counter argument is that adjustment or
rehabilitation must not be understood as something strictly associated with the
army alone. Once the PLA is dismantled, some of its members could be recruited
for the civil police or the armed police forces. As individuals, some of them
could join the army if they met the physical and educational qualifications.
The main consideration is that a politically indoctrinated group like the PLA
cannot be allowed, en bloc, to join an army maintained for professional
soldiering. This is where the army chief 's observations look relevant.
That the Maoists must not be encouraged or facilitated to head a new government
in haste is not a view shared only by non-communist groups such as the
Koirala-led Nepali Congress and the Terai-based regional party Madhesi
Janaadhikar Forum (MJF). The Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist), for
example, has made a gloomy prediction that conflict might escalate anew if a
new government is set up without resolving the issue of the Maoist army and its
"Power cannot be handed over to the rebel force unless the issues ... are
settled," said Chandra Prakash Mainali, general secretary of the Communist
Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist), in a newspaper interview published on
Sunday. His party is the sixth-largest among 25 parties with representation in
the 601-strong assembly.
But Maoist leader Prachanda feels these preconditions are nothing but a part of
a bigger conspiracy to stop his party from taking the lead in forming a viable
government. "Some international powers do not want to see us in power," the
Maoist leader told an audience in Kathmandu on Saturday.
He did not specify who those powers are, but it appeared directed at the US,
because India - and the Chinese - seem eager to see the Maoists in power as
early as possible.
Indian envoy Rakesh Sood's high-profile parleys with Nepal's top leaders have
drawn considerable media attention. That his activities have not been
criticized by the Maoists is striking proof that Indian support, at least on
the surface, has been towards the newly elected revolutionaries.
On the other hand, the Nepali Congress, with centrist credentials, and the
Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), a party of moderate communists, have described
Sood's initiatives as interference in Nepal's domestic politics.
One section of the Indian establishment appears to believe that by helping the
Maoists Delhi can reap two distinct benefits. One, to get the Maoists to agree
to a sensitive security pact and two, to convince Maoists in India that it
would be expedient for them to follow the Nepali example of joining mainstream
politics and assume power through elections.
However, media reports originating from New Delhi show that some influential
writers and commentators consider the present Indian policy on Nepal to be
flawed. Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary, is one of them.
"The underlying factors complicating our relations have not changed for the
better with recent developments; some have changed for the worse," Sibal said
in an Indian Express article published on June 11. He mentioned the "China
factor" and suggests that it could embolden the Maoists to be tough in their
dealings with India. Prachanda has lately been saying that his future
government will maintain a policy of "equidistance" towards India and China.
And he has already indicated his wish to visit Beijing soon.
Political players are now locked in a debate that is expected to produce
power-sharing arrangements, based mainly on the number of seats their parties
Efforts are ostensibly underway to allocate three top posts to the leaders of
the three main parties: the ceremonial presidency to Koirala, prime
ministership with full executive authority to Maoist leader Prachanda and
chairmanship of the newly elected Constituent Assembly to former speaker Subas
Nembang of UML. The posts of their deputies could then be distributed to other
prominent parties. They all talk about the April 10 electoral mandate which
requires them to work together, at least until the time the new constitution is
But should octogenarian Koirala, who is not in good health, be burdened with
the responsibility of head of the state?
This question continues to exercise the minds of several party leaders. Most of
Koirala's supporters, however, think he deserves the honor and respect for his
contributions to the democratic process made over a period of 60 years. But
there are others in the Koirala-led Nepali Congress who tend to suspect that
the Maoists will find plausible pretexts to remove him from the presidency once
their regime acquires legitimacy, and recognition and support from the
Koirala is not bothered by such considerations, and his lust for power is well
known. "His love for the chair is so intense that he would not know even if the
earth under it was swept by floods, sliding the entire area into the Bay of
Bengal," said an influential government functionary who has been a regular
visitor to the official residence of since Koirala headed the present
transitional setup in May 2006.
But whether the leadership of Nepal's army will take a back seat, essentially
overseeing the Maoists' rise to power under the nominal supervision of Koirala,
is another matter.