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Is Nepal on the Road Toward Democracy? - 2003-01-21

Nepal's King Gyanendra appointed an interim administration 100 days ago after firing the country's elected government. But promises to restore democracy and quell a Maoist rebellion in the country remain unfulfilled. Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand is a staunch royalist who came to power in October vowing to restore law and order in the mountain kingdom and set a new date for national elections.

King Gyanendra had fired Nepal's former prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, after he proposed postponing elections, because a Maoist rebellion in the country had become more violent. It was the first time a ruling monarch had ousted an elected government since Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Three months after Mr. Chand assumed office, the Maoist insurgency rages on, and the plan to choose a new Parliament is still not clear.

A political analyst at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, Lok Raj Baral, said there is growing concern about the country's democratic future. "The government is not also very much concerned about holding elections. Instead of holding national-level elections, they are now talking of holding local elections. That means they are going to postpone general elections indefinitely," Mr. Baral said.

Political analysts say Mr. Chand's administration has not been able to win the people's support or confidence. Neither has it been able to make progress with the rebels, despite offering to hold peace talks. The Maoists say they are willing to have a dialogue, but it must include all political parties.

Mainstream political parties have been isolated from the new administration. They refused to join the government to protest the king's action in excluding them from power and are calling for fresh elections.

These political parties, which have been in conflict with each other for several years, are slowly uniting to oppose King Gyanendra.

Mr. Baral said some of the country's most senior politicians have vowed to fight the king's unconstitutional dismissal of the elected government. "All the political parties, including the Maoists, are opposed to the king's rise as an executive head. These parties do not like that kind of trend to come in this country. That is one positive side because all are together for rescinding the king, and the king is alone at the moment. How does he manage to mobilize people, because he has no organization?" he said.

Meanwhile, the country continues to be battered by violence at the hands of the Maoist rebels. There are daily reports of battles with security forces. Nepal's tourism-dependent economy remains crippled by the political instability and the insurgency.