Cat Ballou

Again, Prime Minister Koirala has spoken on the future of the monarchy at a time when there persist some misgivings within the eight-party alliance (EPA) what the Congress wants. On Sunday, he took the occasion of his meeting with Pakistani journalists to advise King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras to abdicate before the constituent assembly (CA) elections if they hoped to rescue somewhat the institution of monarchy. Koirala’s assessment must have been that after the CA gets elected, it would be difficult to retain the monarchy in any form. Therefore, his prescription seems to hold out the possibility of putting on the Throne a minor member of the royal family. Though Koirala did not mention a possible successor, he has lent credibility to reports that have done rounds in the country’s political circles for quite some time that one card that may be used to save the seemingly sinking institution would be this idea of the duo’s abdication plus the enthronement of probably Navayuvaraj Hridayendra. Coming as it does only days after the constitutional amendment that empowered the parliament to abolish the monarchy, should the situation arise, Koirala’s statement may sound contradictory to many people.

Undoubtedly, Koirala’s statement represents efforts to save the monarchy. Perhaps he thinks that it is possible to bring the major pro-republican EPA partners round to this compromise formula. Not long ago, he had said, trying to justify his even earlier statement in favour of giving the King “some political space”, that his talk of a political space for the monarchy was incumbent on the abdication of the duo. However, Maoist chairman Prachanda has dubbed Koirala’s latest statement as the Congress’ attempt to give continuity to the monarchy, which, according to the former, was unacceptable to the Maoists and would weaken EPA unity. Koirala has every right to hold his view and fashion his party’s stance in favour of either a republic or a monarchy. But he seems to be sending up trial balloons, as the prevailing opinion in the country appears to be going against the monarchy, all the more so against King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras, as Koirala himself admitted.

This perhaps explains why Koirala and the Congress, always pro-monarchical, have been dithering on taking a stand on the monarchy v republic issue. They seem to be keeping their last card up their sleeves for use at a later date essentially not to be overwhelmed by the opinion that may sweep the country just before the elections. Some quarters, including the Maoists, have alleged that the SPA, particularly Koirala and, probably CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, may have given word to the King towards the end of Jana Andolan II to retain the monarchy if he restored the parliament and agreed on the CA elections. Whatever the truth, the decision should now be left to the people’s vote. The other parties in the alliance also owe it to the people to come up with their reactions to Koirala’s statements. The public definitely has a right to know exactly on which side of the fence each political party stands.