NEPAL: Elections 'deepen crisis for king'

Issue 

Eva Cheng

Due to a united boycott by Nepal's opposition parties, participation in the country's February 8 local government elections was reportedly only about 20%, compared with a 60% turnout in the last municipal elections. Despite this, King Gyanendra declared the election outcome a "victory" for his autocratic regime.

Gyanendra seized power in a military-backed coup in February 2005, carrying out widespread arrests of opposition MPs, journalists and student movement and union leaders.

The election result has "further deepened the crisis for the king", Tribhuvan University political lecturer Lok Raj Baral told Reuters on February 9. "He has reached the point of no return. It helped further polarise political forces into monarchist and anti-monarchist."

The killing by soldiers of a pro-boycott activist during the vote sparked protests in Kathmandu on February 9. Up to 3000 protesters marched through residential streets demanding the release of the activist's body which had been taken by police from a Kathmandu hospital after a post mortem.

The king's "electoral victory" has changed little of the relationship of forces on the ground, About 80% of Nepal (i.e., beyond the capital Kathmandu and key urban areas) is under the de facto rule of anti-monarchist guerrilla forces led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

Gyanendra justified his coup by claiming that the previous government and the elected parliament were ineffective in suppressing the CPN(M)-led rural insurgency.

However the king's coup led to a stepping up of the insurgency and the forging of an alliance between the CPN(M) and the parliamentary opposition parties. The alliance called a week-long general strike starting February 5 in order to frustrate the February 8 election. Though the strike was called off after four days, it seemed to have paralysed public activities throughout Nepal.

India's external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in a statement issued on February 9: "Any credible electoral exercise should have the active involvement and participation of all the mainstream parties ...

"Only then would such elections be able to contribute to the restoration of democracy and political stability ...

"The fact is that the elections have been held against the backdrop of a boycott by the major recognised political parties and sharp curtailment of their legitimate activities and continued arrest and detention in various forms of many of their leaders."

From Green Left Weekly, February 15, 2006.
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