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Nepal Ponders Monarchy's Fate Amid Security Concerns


A special session of Nepal's parliament begins Thursday. The session will consider demands by the Maoists to immediately declare the state a republic and create a proportional representation system for nationwide elections. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Kathmandu reports that the current political crisis enveloping Nepal is raising security concerns.

Even Nepal's Maoist leaders are not expecting to get their way in the special parliamentary session. The former rebels are pressing for an end to the monarchy and to change the electoral system to one they believe will give them a better chance at the polls.

The communists vow to bring down Nepal's shaky interim government if their demands are not met. Their leaders also say they would then begin "agitations" nationwide, but they stop short of vowing to again resort to widespread violence.

Lawmakers in the special session, dominated by the Nepali Congress Party, are unlikely to be cowed by the threats. At most, they are expected to agree to set a new date for nationwide elections - twice delayed this year and last held in 1959.

Voters, whenever they next get to the polls, are to elect a constituent assembly that would determine the fate of the nearly 240-year-old monarchy, which has been stripped of all but symbolic power.

The interim coalition government, which the Maoists quit last month, is also hobbled. It has little influence and virtually no presence in most of the countryside, which is considered lawless.

There is speculation the vacuum could undermine Nepal's quest for democracy - a goal of last year's peace accord that brought the Maoists out of the jungle and into the political process, ending a decade-long civil war between the communists and pro-monarchy forces.

Some here are alarmed by comments from a leading opposition political leader in India suggesting that India's army could invade to save Nepal's Hindus from the Maoists.

A Maoist leader, C.P. Gajurel, tells VOA that the official denial by India of any such military move is welcome, but does not ease the concerns.

"A very significant section of the army and the politicians [of India] are intervening in the internal situation of Nepal," he said. "So it is very much true that this type of interference is taking place in political as well as security aspects of Nepal."

There is also concern here that Nepal could once again see its army step in to preserve the Shah dynasty and its current, but unpopular monarch, Gyanendra.

One of the country's most influential civic voices, Himalmedia publisher Kanak Mani Dixit, doubts the army has the motivation to conduct a coup because its traditional leader, the king, has lost credibility among nearly all his subjects.

"So the army therefore would pull back from a coup even though individual generals in the army would feel that is a good idea," he said.

King Gyanendra seized power in early 2005, prompting a mass protest movement. The humiliated monarch was compelled to restore parliament the following year.

The prime minister's national advisor, Suresh Chalise, says national elections are the "only way to extricate Nepal from its political morass" but that is not going to occur this year as of yet another date for the elections will actually be kept.