The Backlash in Nepal

The process of undoing King Gyanendra’s actions since dismissing Parliament is underway. There’s much more to come, and it could get nasty.

Amidst cheers from almost all corners of Nepal, Parliament is rapidly reversing the decrees of King Gyanendra’s period of direct rule. A commission headed by former judge Krishna Jung Rayamajhi is investigating “royal excesses” and the suppression of civil rights during the period, and the reconstituted lower house of Parliament has taken unprecedented actions.

Royal laws restricting freedom of assembly and the press have been overturned, and restrictions on aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have been scrapped. The controversial anti-terrorism law remains in place. A government official explained to the press that too many people had been charged under the law to make a hasty decision to release them all at once. Even so, the parliament has announced a cease-fire, released many senior rebels, asked Interpol to de-list Maoist leaders from terrorist rolls, and bowed to the Maoists’ main demand, a constitutional convention.

Within days a parliamentary ordinance is likely to override the current constitution and eliminate the king’s political powers, remove him as commander in chief of the army, slash he palace budget – raised five-fold by Gyanendra – and abolish the Privy Council.

Members of the security forces who issued orders to put down the popular demonstrations that led to parliament’s reinstatement are being hastily relieved of duty. Top commanders of the Nepal Police, the Armed (paramilitary) Police and the top investigative bureau were all suspended, as were the chiefs of police of all three metropolitan districts of the Kathmandu Valley. Six other security officials were detained. The Army Chief of Staff may be next, after his daughter’s wedding on Sunday at the official residence.

Government officials appointed during by the king’s government, including ambassadors and other high-level diplomats, have been sacked. Civil servants up to the Chief Secretary have been replaced, in several cases because their subordinates appealed to the government and media for the change. The recent round of local elections, in which few Nepalis participated, ended with many offices unfilled for lack of candidates or sufficient voters. That election has been nullified.

While many royalists have lost their jobs, other former officials face worse. Five former ministers have been arrested. Former Home Minister Kamal Thapa, widely blamed for the harsh crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in April, is in custody, along with former Information and Communications Minister Shrish Shamsher Rana, who administered the suppression of the media. The ministers of state and foreign affairs were also arrested. All ministers and senior bureaucrats appointed by the king have been ordered not to travel: Many of them are hiding in army barracks or moving quietly between homes of supporters. More arrests are expected as the Rayamajhi commission issues further recommendations.

This is fast action for the normally glacial political process in Nepal, but it’s not fast enough for some. Prisoners arrested under the anti-terrorism ordinance are on hunger strike, demanding their release. Daily demonstrations outside the parliament gates and press conferences from public interest and political pressure groups call for faster action. There is a hunger for change. A common theme heard from all social classes of Nepalis is that the people, not the politicians or the Maoists, overthrew the king, and the parties and the Maoists had better remember that and act accordingly or find themselves on the wrong end of the same movement.

Political figures have responded and issued calls for action against anyone who aided and supported royal rule. There will be many more arrests and dismissals. If it doesn’t happen quickly, there is real danger that groups and individuals who feel wronged might take vigilante action against the police and army, the Maoists who controlled some of their territory through violent intimidation, and even the parties themselves.

Many Nepalis hold the parties responsible for their poor performance during the 1990s and for the Maoist insurrection that grew out of crooked politics and the increasing disillusion of poor Nepalis. That period, as well as the brutalities inflicted by the state and the rebels during the conflict and the repression of the democracy movement should be opened up in a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission.

Such a commission probably won’t happen in Nepal. But it is imperative that the Rayamajhi commission be thorough and that its report be transparent and public. The report of the Malick Commission that investigated misdeeds leading up to the 1990 “People’s Revolution” that brought modern democracy to Nepal was suppressed for political reasons. Many of the same figures thought to have been implicated in that report were instrumental in the king’s government until recently.

A thorough investigation and report, yes. And soon, before the backlash gets brutal.

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