Nepal Gets Parliament Back in King's Concession

On the eve of what looked to be Nepal's largest pro-democracy demonstration so far, King Gyanendra reinstated the lower house of parliament. The lower house is far more important than the largely symbolic upper house under Nepal's constitution. The move appears to meet a key demand of the seven-party opposition.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The king of Nepal, facing a crisis that's been growing by the day, has restored his country's parliament. His announcement today, billed as a royal proclamation, came in a TV and radio address to the nation. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Katmandu.

(Soundbite of Nepalese music)

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Before the speech came a nationalistic song, but when King Gyanendra's address to his nation began, the patrons of the bar of Katmandu's Shangri-La Hotel lowered their beers and fell silent.

King GYANENDRA (Nepal): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: These were words these Nepalese wanted to hear. In a brief, somber and wooden late-night address, the monarch declared he would restore parliament. The parliament dissolved in 2002.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

REEVES: This desperately poor country is on the brink of chaos. Much of the countryside is held by Maoist insurgents. For more than two weeks the nation has been disrupted by strikes and mass protests calling for the restoration of democracy. Now, finally, these Nepalese were, for the first time in months, experiencing a feeling of hope.

Mr. SUDARSHIN BUDA TOKI(ph) (Resident, Nepal): My name is Sudarshin Buda Toki. I come from east Nepal, from a district called Jhapa.

REEVES: Toki feels the king's move is a breakthrough.

Mr. TOKI: Ten years, 12 years back, we got democracy, and the parliament is a very important aspect. And this last six, seven years, the parliament wasn't in function. So when parliament has been activated, now at least we have got a place where we can, you know, the voice of the people are there. We can pick up the pieces from there, you know, where we left behind, you see.

REEVES: Toki is a staunch supporter of the Nepali Congress Party, a prominent player in the seven-party alliance leading Nepal's pro-democracy campaign. Last week, the king invited the alliance to appoint a prime minister, but the parties rejected this as inadequate. This time, worried that the political chaos developing in Nepal will create a vacuum that the Maoist insurgents can exploit, the alliance will likely accept the king's latest offer. They're not the only ones hoping that Nepal's current political crisis may now be averted. Prasidha Panday, president of the Nepali-USA Chamber of Commerce, also welcomes the king's words as an end to a difficult few years.

Mr. PRASIDHA BAHADUR PANDAY (President, Nepal-USA Chamber of Commerce): Basically the bottom line is that we are all looking for a long-term solution. And that's very vital for the (unintelligible).

REEVES: Parliament's expected to open negotiations with Nepal's Maoist insurgents, a move many here want to see. Getting the legislature reinstated was, says Dr. Sushant Kurao(ph) of the Nepali Congress Party, critically important.

Dr. SUSHANT KURAO (Nepali Congress Party): The reason why the parliament has to be reinstated is because it is the people's voice. So far we have not had any representative of the people.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

REEVES: But what of these people, the tens of thousands who've been protesting on the streets of Katmandu, young people whose calls for democracy have now fused, in many cases, with demands to throw the king out altogether and create a republic? Toki says they'll have to accept the king's latest move as the best they're likely to get.

Mr. TOKI: Expectations are always very high, but one thing the young people that they have come in the streets also, but somewhere we always have to draw a line for expectations also, you see. You can't always get what you want. I think this is quite enough to get us started.

REEVES: The seven parties were planning a huge pro-democracy rally Tuesday, the biggest yet in Katmandu. That may now be put off. Yet the test of the king's latest move will be its reception on the streets of his battered country.

PHILIP REEVES, NPR News, Katmandu.

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