In issuing a proclamation ending the absolute power of the monarchy, Nepal’s House of Representatives has acted in the best traditions of sovereign parliaments the world over. In one swoop, King Gyanendra has lost his kingdom and his realm, his army and his immunity. He is no longer free even to decide on his own successor.
He remains king, of course, but only because the people, acting through their representatives, have postponed a decision on the matter till the establishment of a constituent assembly. It is tempting to see in Thursday’s historic decision the distant imprint of England’s `Long Parliament’. Revived by Charles I in 1640 after a long interregnum, Westminster moved almost immediately to make the king subordinate to it. Charles I’s eventual insistence on absolutism led to more than a decade of civil war. It also cost him his head. But at the end of that turbulent period in English history, the limits of the monarchy were clearly established. In Nepal, the civil war - between the Maoists and the Nepal army - preceded Gyanendra’s drive for absolute power and it is only with the restoration of Parliament that the conflict appears to have got a chance of finally ending. As in revolutionary England, such a change in the nature of the monarch’s position would not have been possible without an end to his absolute monopoly over the control of armed forces. If the Long Parliament was forced to raise its own army to confront Charles I, in Nepal the erstwhile `Royal’ Nepalese Army was wise enough to read the writing on the wall and change sides. But General Pyar Jung Thapa is no Oliver Cromwell and Nepal’s parliamentarians would do well to ensure he does not aspire to the role of a Lord Protector.
For the political parties and the Maoists, the transition to representative democracy from the absolute monarchy that existed before April 24 has been dramatic and remarkably smooth. But as the two sides start discussing the process of elections to the constituent assembly as well as the manner in which the Nepalese Army and the People’s Liberation Army are to be sequestered or confined during this period, there will be need for statesmanship and patience all round. An urgent priority has to be the signing of a formal ceasefire agreement between the PLA and NA, which goes beyond the armistice and `code of conduct’ being considered by the Maoists and the Government. Since the process of framing a new constitution and holding elections after that could take a couple of years or more, participation of the Maoists in an interim government is important. On their part, the Maoists need to re-evaluate their attitude towards the political parties. It is the vigilance of millions of ordinary people that has brought Nepal’s democratic revolution to this point. As for India, it should be ready to provide the people and the democratic process in Nepal any assistance they may require.