Nepal’s King Retains Substantial Support

Many Nepalis still favor monarchy, despite setbacks

It’s hard to find any public support for King Gyanendra in Nepal’s media, from public figures, or in the restaurants, teashops, and drawing rooms of Kathmandu. But a recent poll conducted by a major daily newspaper suggests that nationwide public opinion on the monarchy is evenly split.

The poll results must have been welcome at the palace after a tough week for the king. His visit to a major religious festival in Kathmandu was met by youths throwing stones and bricks at his car. A planned march of sahdus, mendicant holy men, during the festival to support of the king was initially expected to draw thousands of saffron-clad backers. The number was revised downward later, and the march was eventually cancelled when the leader of the main Hindu activist organization in Nepal called on the group to disassociate itself from earlier strong support for the king.

The day after the Annapurna Post poll showed roughly 40 percent of people strongly supportive of the monarchy and a similar number strongly opposed, the king responded to his detractors with a Democracy Day statement defending his actions in dismissing the parliament and ruling the country. When news outlets carried the statement as a royal address, even though all the king’s powers have been removed, a storm of protest and condemnation broke. Politicians called the statement unauthorized, unconstitutional, and inappropriate.

A prominent leftist activist, Dr. Devendra Raj Pandey, went further, saying that the statement was aimed at blocking the upcoming election to a constitutional assembly. Off the record, government and Maoist leaders allege that a whole range of troubles besetting the country, from ethnic unrest to a prolonged garbage strike in Kathmandu, are being provoked by monarchists to destabilize the government and wreck the elections.

Several prominent royalists have been detained, but most have been released by courts or by police apparently unable to make a case against them. The ethnic unrest is probably not provoked by the palace. It is mostly driven from the left and was originally stirred up by the Maoists. The seven parties may now be unwilling to hurry to a solution simply because the problem greatly embarrasses the Maoist leaders. The garbage strike is pure local politics: The now-legal Maoist party is blocking trash dumping until they get control of a share of development funds paid to the locality hosting the new landfill site.

Most of Nepal’s other problems are probably also the result of ordinary politics rather than royalist sedition, but there is no doubt that royal supporters have not given up yet. The newspaper poll suggests that they still have substantial, if silent, public support. Renewed calls this week from Maoists and left politicians to declare Nepal a republic immediately show just how worried they are about that.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.