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Plan to declare Nepal a republic before polls draws criticisms

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Plans by the dominant Seven-Party Alliance to declare Nepal a republic before the constituent assembly polls has drawn flak: the parties’ decision has been accused of being “autocratic” and “contradictory” to the true spirit of people’s power who wants to see the end of a monarchy older than two centuries.
(Bangkok) Nepal’s House of Representatives voted with an overwhelming majority in favour of the amendment to the Interim Constitution on 28 December 2007. The amendment declares Nepal a "federal, democratic, republican state", ending the nearly 240-year-old monarchy. 

The amendment, which also saw the increase of Constituent Assembly seats from 497 to 601, was endorsed by 270 out of 329 members of the House of Representatives. This is the Interim Constitution’s third amendment in less than a year. Promulgated on 16 January last year, the Constitution was amended for the first time in March, following a month-long "Madhesi" movement, and for a second time on 13 June after the government's failure to hold the Constituent Assembly polls by mid-June. 

However, according to Article 159 of the amended Constitution, Nepal will become a republic only after the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, which is due to be elected on 10 April this year. But the amendment also provides for parliament, through a two-third majority, to abolish the monarchy before the Assembly poll if the government is convinced that the king is conspiring against the poll. A simple majority of the Assembly will implement the federal democratic republican order.

The amendment, endorsed by the Seven-Parties Alliance (SPA), has drawn mixed reactions. A rightist liberal party said the amendment was “autocratic” and “contradictory” to the sovereign power vested in Nepalis as nominated representatives were now dictating the course for elected assembly. This was because the decision for republic order has come from SPA top leaders and nominated members of the House of Representatives, instead of a free and independent election where votes are cast.

SPA opponents have also warned of “severe consequences” and condemned the SPA’s “authoritarian attitude”, stressing that it was solely the responsibility of sovereign people to decide whether to declare Nepal a republic state or not. 

Moreover, the republican order, which was meant to placate the Maoist opposition, was said to be baseless unless an election or referendum was held. Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Rastriya Janashakti Party and others called for a popular mandate before such a massive decision was made. The Nepali Congress had earlier taken a similar stand but it wilted under continued pressure from Maoists and other communist parties.

The international community who greatly influences national politics, particularly in this transitional phase, has remained silent on SPA’s decision to declare Nepal a republic before polls. India and China in their statements only appreciated the decision of the parties to hold election by mid-April. Even the representative of United Nations Secretary General to Nepal Ian Martin has refused to comment further on the issue although he has amply appreciated the parties’ decision and commitments for early polls. 

Meanwhile, the amendment has also been criticised by both government and Opposition members for its failure to address the issues raised by Nepali ethnic minorities such as the Madhesi, Janajatis and other groups. The amendment was said to have ignored genuine demands by the Madhesi people.

For example, the Sadbhavana Party warned that parliament would lose its Madhesi members if there was no change in the attitude of the ruling parties. Likewise, leaders of CPN-United, National People's Front, Nepal Workers Peasants Party and People's Front Nepal urged the government to address the issues raised by Madhesi, Dalit, ethnic and backward communities in the coming Constituent Assembly polls.