An Everest Record, More People Power, The Politics of Fear, and The End of a Dynasty
Appa Sherpa’s 18th Everest Ascent
World-record holder Appa Sherpa has reached the top of Mount Everest for the 18th time. The Eco-Everest expedition he is climbing with is part of efforts to remove garbage left on Everest by expeditions over the years.
Appa, now in his mid-40s, has been climbing Everest since 1988 and has broken his own record for maximum ascents several times. He was decorated by King Birendra and has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. His last ascent in 2007 was as part of the “Super Sherpas” expedition.
Approximately 50 people have summited so far this season, but several hundred members of about 30 expeditions are still on the mountain. Access to the peak this year was restricted until May 10 by the Chinese and Nepali governments so that China could take the Olympic torch to the summit without concern about pro-Tibet demonstrations on the mountain. Climbers on the Nepal side complained that the delay meant that some expeditions might not reach the top and that it potentially jeopardized the safety of climbers.
People Power Pressures Maoists
Public outrage from all quarters over the killing of a Kathmandu businessman by the PLA produced a capital-wide shutdown on Wednesday, and organizers promise more protests. They want the Maoists to turn over those responsible for prosecution.
Businessman Ram Hari Shrestha, a long-time supporter of the Maoists, was accused by them of stealing a large sum of money and a gun from a Maoist office. Shrestha was taken to a Maoist army camp under UN control and badly beaten. He died in a hospital near the camp, and his body was thrown in a river along the road to Kathmandu. The money and gun were later returned, and one of the Maoists suspected in Shrestha’s killing has been implicated in the theft.
The PLA initially admitted the killing, though their version of events differed with the facts now known. Maoist chairman Prachanda later denied PLA involvement; then eventually admitted “moral responsibility” and offered Shrestha’s family a cash settlement. The family has rejected the offer.
The killing has overshadowed the Maoist attempts to form a government coalition after the April elections in which they won the largest number of seats. Prachanda said that the matter had been politicized with the intent “to spread hatred against the Maoists.” On Thursday he met with Shrestha’s family in an attempt to forestall further protests.
Fifty-One Percent or Two-Thirds?
All of the complaints, caveats, and conditions of the other parties for supporting a Maoist-let coalition government have boiled down to one: the demand to amend the interim constitution to allow a simple majority of the constituent assembly to vote a government into (or, more importantly, out of) power. Currently a two-thirds vote is required, a provision all parties agreed to when the Maoists joined the (then) seven-party coalition. At the time the requirement was seen as a stabilizing influence conducive to consensus governance.
With the Maoists on top, the old center-left UML and center-right NC parties, who were humbled in the election, fear that the two-thirds rule would prevent them from ever toppling a Maoist government. The rhetoric is hot, with NC leaders especially vehement: they claim that there would never be another election if the Maoists were in control, and they have compared the Maoists to Germany’s Nazis.
The Maoists in turn fear that conceding this point would leave their government vulnerable to frivolous no-confidence votes, preventing them from “fulfilling the people’s mandate.” They have said repeatedly that they will form a government alone if necessary, and it is likely that they already have enough support for a majority position. But without major defections from the UML or, less likely, the NC, they cannot muster a plurality of votes to unseat aging Prime Minister Koirala if he refuses to step down.
Will He Stay Or Will He Go?
King Gyanendra has laid off servants and is preparing to leave Narayanhiti Royal Palace according to a report in the government-run Gorkhapatra daily. The report says that the king and queen will go to a forest retreat “palace” for a few days and then to Gyanendra’s large home in the northern part of the city, near the American Embassy. According to the daily, the Queen Mother will take up residence at the home of her youngest son, Dhirendra, who was killed in the June 2001 palace massacre along with King Birendra and many members of the royal family
Skeptics point out that the government media have frequently run stories at the behest of the government or Information Minister, a position currently held by Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara. The palace has made no public statement of intentions, and royalists are encouraging the king to stay on. The Maoists have promised that hundreds of thousands of their cadres will surround the vast palace grounds to force the king’s departure if necessary.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.