On February 23rd, 1981, the Spanish parliament was stormed by 200 armed troops of the Civil Guard, a paramilitary group within the army. The soldiers fired in the air and held about 350 MPs hostage for 18 hours. They wanted King Juan Carlos to assume absolute power.
Juan Carlos was designated King of Spain after the death of General Franco in 1975, leaving the extreme right wing and parts of the army disappointed and alarmed. Their suspicions were confirmed when the new king immediately implemented democratic reforms, and held elections within two years of ascending the throne. He further alienated those elements in the army by legalizing the Communist Party of Spain. It was this discontent within portions of the army that Antonio Tejero used to lead a rebel faction of the Civil Guard to storm the parliament.
However, the coup failed when the King gave a televised speech asking the people to support the parliament and the breakaway group to surrender. Having been snubbed by the man they had wanted to siege power, Tejero was left with no option but to surrender.
The Nepali Reenactment
Imagine a replay of this scenario in Nepal – a recently formed parliament, a legalized Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), and some disappointed men in the Army who still believe in absolute monarchy. To add to the melodrama, let us replace the humbled king Gyanendra by Paras. If a faction of the army storms the parliament and asks the king to assume power, will Paras give a televised speech refusing to take power?
As long as there is a monarch, there is a direct threat to democracy, especially in a country like Nepal where just a little more than half a century ago, an ossified oligarchy ruled the nation, whose descendents continue to hold a strong grasp of the army. In developing a new constitution we cannot incorporate chance, hoping that the better angels of the king’s nature will leave the power to the people.
As far as I understand, the elections for the constituent assembly will elect members who will then decide the fate of the monarch. However, I believe this is a flawed procedure. The fate of the king will rest on the parties, not on the people themselves. If Nepali Congress (both Koirala and Democratic) decide that their official stance will be ceremonial monarch, then despite what the people want, ceremonial monarchy it will be. When one votes for a representative rather than the issue itself, other factors come into play (like party politics, political correctness, a fear of change, personal loyalty).
A plebiscite is the only way we can hear the true voice of the people. The premise of the constitution (republic, constitutional monarchy, ceremonial monarchy or absolute monarchy) will have to be decided by the people themselves. It is upon this outline provided by the referendum that the assembly will have to draft the new constitution.
A Flawed Institution
Monarchy, in itself, is a flawed institution. Politically, no power should be granted to anyone merely by inheritance. Historically, the atrocities committed by the monarchs – from Prithvi Narayan Shan to Gyanendra – prove that the only interest they had in the people was to rule over them, which also required keeping them satisfied. And symbolically, a Hindu king divides the nation, not unite it.
If there is a referendum on the role of the king, which I doubt there will be, ceremonial monarchy may still win. I think it will be a tough contest between republicanism and ceremonial monarchy. I, for one, will vote for a republic.