Royal consultations King’s uncompromising commitment to democracy

Durga Pokhrel

On May 3, suddenly, our Women’s Solidarity Group for Peace and Dialogue was granted an audience by the King. Our visit was to do with the most important issue facing Nepal — restoring peace. We had a constructive offer of mediation, and a tentative ‘road map’ which had been received positively by several parties.

Our road map suggests: The King should keep his door open for dialogue with the agitating party leaders until they can reach a consensus conclusion, and request an audience collectively; to resolve the current crisis, an interim ‘election’ government should form representing the parties, various sectors of society, and the Maoists, led by a woman from a major political party as Prime Minister. Its ultimate goal would be to establish preconditions for elections; A round-table meeting of political parties, Maoists, and other stakeholders should define the road map for elections-preconditions such as timetable and design of constituencies. The interim government would implement the road map; a committee to redraft the Constitution should include parties, Maoists, and civil society stakeholders on a regional and proportionately representative basis so that all groups in Nepali society have ownership, and the interim government should have a year to draft a new Constitution, and elections be held under the new Constitution.

After we introduced our group and road map, the King clarified, “I didn’t want rule under Article 127 for long. We need a government with clear objectives and capability to reach its goal [elections].” I saw that when the King invoked Article 127, there was no Parliament to present the Order to. Furthermore, the King had not dismissed parliament, but PM Deuba. Neither was it the first time that a prime minister had dissolved parliament since 1991. Furthermore, when the King ousted the Deuba government as incompetent to hold elections, that cabinet-formed originally by the majority Nepali Congress had split off to form a minority party, the NC (D). This means that those ruling were no longer members of the majority party in whose name they had been elected.

If the NC had not split, for whatever non-programmatic reasons, and had remained a responsible majority party, the King might have acted differently. Again, Deuba had himself postponed elections by a year, instead of requesting the King to announce the postponement after consulting other political parties. Until then, the government’s problem was to bring the Maoists into the mainstream. Now, our problems are far more complicated. In addition to the Maoist conflict, the King and political parties have a burning confrontation. To me, it’s all symptomatic of deeper issues within Nepali society to do with inequities and discrimination. We are actually a divided nation of people with ingrained feudal attitudes and behaviours of mutual mistrust, leg-pulling, and sabotage blocking progress.

The multiparty system disastrously failed to establish dedicated, inclusive, rights-based governance free of corruption. In retrospect, we have to consider honestly whether, had the King intervened or not, our marginalised groups would have launched, in any case, an even stronger agitation? One day, we may realise that the King’s action was a boon in disguise. The King repeatedly emphasised his commitment to constitutional monarchy and multiparty system. “I can’t do things to please anyone who comes. I abide by the will and wishes of the people,” he said. “In democratic culture, parliament represents the people, and they are the law-makers.” He firmly stated his conviction about elections for a new parliament. It’s up to party leaders to create a conducive environment for elections. Some parts of our agenda, he said, should come through parliament, “not through you or me.”

He reminded us of his own road map for solving the current crisis, and urged, “If anything is wrong with it, let the parties come and discuss with me. My door is always open. I have tremendous patience. I will wait for them. Without discussing, just blaming the situation as regressive will not solve anything.” The King suggested that the political party leaders should start building the foundations for a properly functioning democracy responsibly. “Whoever I have to appoint as prime minister, I have to use Article 127 because I have to preserve the Constitution. Have I taken out even a dot of an eye of the Constitution?” he challenged.

He was very appreciative and complimentary about our effort. He commented, “It seems women are two steps ahead of the janapratinidhi. Just as you have come, I would like them also to come with solutions.” On meeting the Maoist challenge, he stated clearly, “How can I come up with the solution? It is the political parties’ responsibility to bring them into the mainstream.” He also requested us, “Please take my thoughts to the parties.” The King’s final remark touched me. Referring to the political party leaders, he said, “Have some kindness at least.”

It was time to leave when I noticed that we were sitting in chairs higher than his. As we left, I reflected on the King’s remarks and style. I saw clearly the gulf separating him and the party leaders. The King seemed program and management-oriented, and anxious for positive results. He understands the language of development. We have to learn to make connections.

Dr Pokhrel is former chairperson, National Women’s Commission