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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK
Nepal's uncertain future
Arrest of curfew violator
Many Nepalis do not accept the story of an "accident"
By Michael Hutt

The implications for Nepal of the events of recent days are potentially very serious.

Although King Gyanendra is undeniably the legitimate heir to the throne in terms of the line of succession, it is unlikely that civic calm will be restored until the Nepali public are convinced that the succession has not come about as the result of some kind of premeditated coup.

No end can be foreseen to the expression of violent disbelief on the streets

At present, they do not find the story of an "accident" credible, and they are deeply unwilling to believe that the then Crown Prince, Dipendra, was really capable of committing the crime of which he has been accused.

In the absence of a widely-believed explanation for the murders, no end can be foreseen to the expression of violent disbelief on the streets of Nepalese towns and their suppression by security forces.

King Gyanendra has set up a commission which is charged with the task of investigating the events of 1 June and making its findings known, but the question of this commission's membership has already become controversial, with the leader of the opposition declining to join it.

In the longer term, questions have to be asked about what this will mean for the future of the multi-party democracy that was established in 1990, to which the late King Birendra is almost universally regarded as having acquiesced with considerable grace.

War against Maoists

While the new king's initial public statement suggests that he is committed to maintaining the present dispensation, it should not be forgotten that the 1990 constitution grants him emergency powers that might be exercised in the context of continued internal strife.

King Gyanendra of Nepal
King Gyanendra: Expected to get tough with Maoist rebels
It is also widely predicted that the new king will be less reluctant than King Birendra had been to unleash the Royal Nepalese Army against the Maoist insurgents who now control large swathes of the hill country, and who will certainly be seeking to take advantage of the present uncertain state of affairs.

The Maoists are strongly republican and nationalistic. Their aims include the abolition of the monarchy and the expulsion of all Indian interests from the country.

If they were to gain the upper hand in Nepal, the conflict would move up a gear and begin to cause serious concern not just in India but possibly also in China too.

On the other hand, strong doubts must exist about the capability of the army to crush a movement which draws on genuine ethnic and socio-economic grievances and which appears to have supporters and activists in almost every district.

Democracy threatened

The murder of King Birendra's family took place against the backdrop of a state of near-paralysis of Nepal's democratic institutions.

PM Koirala has been urged to resign
The parliamentary opposition has refused to cooperate with the government for several months, and the country was shut down for three days by opposition groups calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, on grounds of alleged corruption.

In these circumstances, it will be difficult for the elected politicians to take control of events, and it is more likely that the palace and the army will take the upper hand in the weeks to come.

Whether Nepal's vulnerable new civic society can come though this crisis with its freedoms intact will depend on the speed with which trust can be re-established between the palace and the people.

Michael Hutt is Reader in Nepali and Himalayan studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London

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05 Jun 01 | South Asia
05 Jun 01 | South Asia
04 Jun 01 | South Asia
04 Jun 01 | Media reports
02 Jun 01 | South Asia
02 Jun 01 | South Asia
05 Jun 01 | South Asia
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