by Sonny Inbaraj
(IPS) BANGKOK -- Nepal's political parties, at a closed door meeting in the Thai capital, have vowed an all-out fight against the monarchy after agreeing to the main demand of Maoist rebels to redraft the Himalayan nation's constitution.
"This will be our last fight with the king. There will be no compromise anymore. That's what we have decided. -- no more compromise," Sujata Koirala of the Nepali Congress party told IPS.
"We will keep going on the streets. In the beginning Nepalis were scared to come out. But now they are not," she added. "We have to fight this autocratic system."
Over the weekend, representatives of Nepali Congress, Nepali Congress (Democratic), Nepal Communist Party (United Marxists-Leninists) or UML, People's Front Nepal Party and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party agreed, in Bangkok, to come together jointly to call for the redrafting of the country's constitution through a constituent assembly.
They also agreed to join hands to force the ouster of King Gyanendra.
"We want the promulgation of a constituent assembly, and through the constituent assembly we will decide whether to have the king or not to have the king," said Ramesh Rizal, a central committee member of the centrist Nepali Congress (Democratic).
King Gyanendra, while seizing power on Feb. 1, cited the democratic government's inability to deal with the nine-year Maoist insurgency as a reason for suspending civil liberties and declaring a state of emergency.
The Maoists want to create a kingless communist republic and have demanded that Nepalis be allowed to decide on that through a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution. But the demand has been a bloody one, with over 11,000 Nepalis dead in fighting between government forces and the rebels.
The demonstrations in Nepal against King Gyanendra began on Monday and according to the Nepal Democracy Alliance at least 700 pro-democracy demonstrators have been arrested in the capital Kathmandu and 22 other cities.
The largest number of arrests occurred in Janakpur, an eastern city near the Nepal-India border, from where, UML estimates that about 500 of their cadres were rounded up and detained by security personnel.
"We appeal to the international community to withhold aid to Nepal until the king returns power back to the people," said Koirala, commenting on the arrests.
Since the Feb. 1 royal coup, King Gyanendra has come under increasing international criticism for the arrests of hundreds of politicians, civil society leaders and journalists. Leaders of all the main political parties still remain under house arrest, though former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was released over the weekend.
The international community is worried that an authoritarian regime is more likely to play into the hands of the Maoists than resolve Nepal's present crisis.
"Without the democratic space in the country, I don't think negotiations with the Maoists can happen," said UML's Rajan Bhattarai in an interview. "The Maoists have made it very clear they will not have any dialogue with the palace."
"The Maoists have been demanding for elections to the constituent assembly -- that has been their primary demand. And all the political parties, meeting in Bangkok, have agreed to that demand," added Bhattarai.
"Having elections to the constituent assembly can be the common point," said the former student leader. "How we can conduct those elections and what are the forces inside and outside, that we need to discuss during our negotiations with the Maoists."
According to Nava Raj Subedi, general secretary of the People's Front Nepal Party, the issue of the constituent assembly remains unresolved in the country.
"The issue has been pending for the past 54 years," he pointed out. "In 1951, King Tribhuvan -- Gyanendra's grandfather -- promized them but it never happened. In 1990 it was brought up again, but this time the constitution was drafted by the nominees of King Birendra, and they were not elected by the people to do so."
All the five political parties agreed to form a joint interim government after the ouster of King Gyanendra. This interim government, according to UML's Bhattarai, will then pave the way for the constituent assembly elections.
Once the constituent assembly is in place, it will draft the constitution and call for fresh national elections.
"Constituent assembly elections are important because the future socio-political structure of the country will be addressed," said Bhattarai.
"The spirit of that structure will be enshrined in the constitution in order to protect groups in the country who are now severely marginalized," he added.
Continuing economic and social backwardness coupled with injustice and poor governance have been fertile grounds for the recruitment of poor Nepalis into the Maoist ranks -- in a country where the average annual income is 240 U.S. dollars a year with 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
March 18, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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