Nepal: King seizes power, once again

Declaring a three-year state of emergency, Nepal’s King Gyanendra dismissed the nation’s cabinet on Feb. 2 and assumed absolute power for the second time in three years.

Many of the country’s political leaders were placed under house arrest, while others went into hiding. The king has banned any criticism of his actions and censored the press, going so far as to station soldiers in all newsrooms. Nongovernmental sources of information are scarce, as the king cut all phone and Internet services to the country.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said the king’s anti-democratic and anti-trade union actions would not resolve the country’s problems, including a long and bloody struggle with Maoist insurgents, which the king used as an excuse for his coup. The ICFTU says that Nepalese labor leaders are in hiding because their names are included in the list of hundreds of people targeted for government repression.

“We will do our utmost to support the working people of Nepal and their trade unions,” said Gus Ryder, ICFTU general secretary, in a statement. “The true potential of this country will never be realized while fundamental rights are repressed.”

Nepal is a central Asian country situated in the Himalayan mountain range running between India and China. Roughly the size of the state of Arkansas, its territory is home to a population of 27 million people, about 80 percent of which works in agriculture. At least 42 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The country’s capital is Kathmandu.

The Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) sharply condemned Gyanendra’s actions and expressed full solidarity with the Nepali people. “The CPI(M) and the democratic forces in India have always supported the movement for the restoration of democracy in Nepal in the past,” said a statement issued by the CPI(M). “Now too, the CPI(M) and the other democratic forces will extend all support to the democratic forces in Nepal who will not take this attack on democracy lying down.” A coalition of left and center Indian political parties, including the CPI and the CPI(M), have scheduled a national conference for the restoration of democracy in Nepal on Feb. 24 in New Delhi.

The king staged a political coup in 2002 as well, suspending the constitution and abolishing the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress Party-Democratic, claiming that it was not doing enough to combat a violent civil war being waged by Maoist rebels. After widespread protest, the king was forced to reinstate Deuba and his cabinet in 2004, and elections were to be held this year.

In recent years a broad coalition of political forces has struggled to uphold the country’s parliamentary system against the king’s repeated attacks on democracy and civil liberties. Among parties involved are the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), which, with the second largest number of seats in the most recently elected parliament, has played leading roles in the government and in the parliamentary opposition; the Nepali Congress; Workers and Peasants Party; People’s Front and others.

Gyanendra’s latest move has drawn sharp criticism around the world, including from the United Nations, Britain, India and the United States.