Nepal's Government Again Promises Democracy, But People Looking for Action

Nepal's royalist administration has repeated its commitment to restoring democracy in the country. But the announcement has been met with skepticism in Kathmandu.

Nepalese Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey has told the United Nations General Assembly that King Gyanendra's commitment to multiparty democracy is "unflinching and total". Mr. Pandey reiterated the King's promise to hold municipal polls by April next year, and parliamentary elections within two years.

But the announcement brought little hope to Kathmandu, where political parties and civil activists have been stepping up pressure for the restoration of an elected government more quickly.

Yuvraj Ghimre, editor of Nepal's "Samay" magazine, says political parties say that holding elections for local bodies will be a meaningless exercise.

"Political parties are not willing to believe in that because you hold municipal elections, but there is no government that is accountable to parliament, so there will be a contradiction: Who will these municipal bodies be accountable to? Also, the political parties are wanting more than just holding municipal elections, so there is still kind of stalemate," he explained.

The King took over power seven months ago, promising to control a decade-long communist rebellion, which aims to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

The Nepalese foreign minister told the United Nations that the King believes lasting peace can only be achieved through dialogue. However, analysts point out that so far there has been no move by the King to open peace talks with the rebels, although they announced a unilateral three-month ceasefire earlier this month.

Meanwhile, angry political parties have been holding almost daily pro-democracy demonstrations during the last two weeks in the streets of Kathmandu. Scores of people have been arrested for taking part in the rallies, and many have been hurt in charges by the police.

The head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says the need of the hour in Nepal is for dialogue between the King, the political parties and the rebels - and organizing local elections will not address the country's crying need for reconciliation.

"It is not going to solve Nepal's crisis," he said. "It is not the question of holding municipal elections, it is solving the major crises of the country. If those crises are not addressed, there is no point in holding any type of elections."

Political analysts believe the foreign minister's assurances about the King's intentions were meant to placate the international community, which has also been calling for a return to democracy, and will do little to solve the political problems at home.