//Nepal to jettison king as head of state

Nepal to jettison king as head of state

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Kathmandu – Four months after he was unseated as head of the government, Nepal’s King Gyanendra is now to be discarded as head of state as well with the upcoming constitution giving the position to the prime minister.

After negotiations for over two months, Nepal’s new constitution drafting committee Friday finally handed over the draft of the statute to the seven-party government as well as the Maoists, who will put the final touches to it after talks between top leaders from the two sides.

Once put into effect, the new constitution will make sweeping changes in the government, which has already undergone a sea change since April, when a mass uprising forced Gyanendra to step down as head of the government.

The 76-page draft not only transfers the king’s traditional position as head of state to the prime minister but also scraps the king’s honorific title, Shri Panch, which means ‘His Majesty’ and was earlier used to denote the government as ‘His Majesty’s government.

It also leaves no titles or powers for other members of the royal family, including the queen and crown prince.

The draft has detailed the procedure for holding the key constituent assembly election – when the nation would decide if the king should remain or make way for a republican form of government. Its proposal to fix the voting age at 18 or 16 would severely affect the chances of Gyanendra getting a verdict in his favour as the young generations of Nepal have been most vocal against the monarch’s direct rule.

However, the new constitution will not come into effect immediately as the political parties and Maoist guerrillas have locked horns on several issues.

The most serious disagreements are on the subject of disarming the rebels’ army and the position of the king. The Maoists say though they leave it to the people to decide if monarchy stays or goes through the election process next year; in the interim period however they want the crown to be scrapped temporarily with the new constitution declaring Nepal a secular republic.

The parties, on the other hand, want the Maoists to disarm before the election, a proposal that is being steadfastly rejected by the guerrillas.

Failing to get the two sides to agree on the contentious points, the constitution framers handed over a draft to them Friday, leaving the option for retaining or jettisoning monarchy.

Now the disputing sides have to come to a decision. But it’s anybody’s guess how long they would take.

The Maoists have been blaming the government for the delay.

‘We are ready to begin talks for giving the draft the final shape and we are pushing for a republic, even during the interim period,’ Dinanath Sharma, member of the Maoist team of negotiators, told IANS.

‘However, the government is intentionally delaying the process due to royalist forces who want to scuttle the peace process and people’s mandate to abolish monarchy.’

Nepal’s 238-year-old kingship received a jolt due to Gyanendra’s seizing power through a bloodless coup and ruling the country with an iron hand for 15 months.