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Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 13:07 UK

What next for Nepal?

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Nepali anti-riot police try to detain a man sitting on top of the statue of former king Mahindra outside the royal palace in Kathmandu, 29 May, 2008
The streets of Kathmandu have been awash with revellers since the decision

With the ending of the monarchy in Nepal, what is ex-king Gyanendra planning to do now - and what will take the place of the crown?

There are reports that Gyanendra and his ex-queen, Komal, are already packing to leave the royal palace, Narayanhiti.

The lowering of the royal flag and the removal of the royal insignia from the gates by palace staff suggest as much.

Moving might not be too painful - the 1960s palace was the scene of the 2001 royal massacre and it was some time after his brother was killed before the new king moved in there.

Two royal hunting lodges near the city would be tempting alternatives but both are on government land.

He may therefore move into the private residence of Jeevan Kunj, next door to his son.

Gyanendra's ageing stepmother, Ratna, has lived in a lodge at Narayanhiti since she married, so the shift will be harder for her.

Supreme commander

Although they have had months to think about it, Nepal's politicians are still arguing about the new, temporary constitutional arrangements.

Nepali people gather to celebrate outside the royal palace in Kathmandu on 29 May, 2008

Clearly the republic will need a president during these two years while a completely new constitution is being written.

It is now agreed that he or she will have a largely ceremonial post but will be the supreme commander of the army, with emergency powers exercised on cabinet advice.

Maoist leader Prachanda, whose party is the biggest in the assembly, had repeatedly said he wanted the post - but that is because the Maoists still want a more powerful, executive presidency in the long run.

For now he accepts it will be someone else.

"There would have been resistance against his being supreme army commander," says Damakant Jayshi of the Kathmandu Post.

Prime contenders?

So who will it be? Nepal-watchers differ.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Wednesday was the actual convening of the Constituent Assembly elected last month

There is a common assumption that it will be the current prime minister, the wily 84-year-old Girija Prasad Koirala, whose dynastic family is Nepal's answer to the Gandhis or the Bhuttos.

"For all his faults, he's as uncontroversial a person as you could find to perform the function," says Rhoderick Chalmers of the International Crisis Group.

Damakant Jayshi says: "Koirala is inclined to become president - if this is the case, Koirala gets it!"

But Yubaraj Ghimire of Samay weekly newspaper says many in the Nepali Congress party and outside it are fed up with Mr Koirala, whom he describes as "overrated by the international community" and still driven by ambition despite his age.

He predicts powerful voices in favour of Bishwanath Upadhyay, a former chief justice, or Ram Raja Prasad Singh, a veteran and militant pro-republican.

Whoever it is will have to be elected by the 601 assembly members, by a simple majority.

Until that happens, Nepal will technically have no head of state at all.

Maoist coalition

There will also be a prime minister. Prachanda is firm favourite here, and Mr Koirala has already asked him to explore the possibility of forming a government.

A policeman kicks a man as police disperse demonstrators in Kathmandu, 29 May, 2008
Police have been deployed to try to disperse Republican demonstrators

Then there is the question of which parties join the government.

As the surprise winners in the April election, the Maoists - who ended their insurgency only two years ago - will lead it and, lacking a majority, want to keep a broad coalition.

It seems likely that they and three other parties - the Nepali Congress (NC), the Unified Marxist-Leninist party (UML) and the newly formed regional group, the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MJF) - will share out the top posts.

Cohabitation may not be easy. Over the past 18 months the Maoists and the MJF have frequently been at each other's throats in the strife-torn south-east of Nepal.

Fourteen months ago over 20 Maoists were killed in clashes with their MJF rivals in one town. The NC and the UML are still licking their wounds after their heavy electoral losses to the Maoists.

Those are not the only centres of power in Nepal.

Enshrining rights

For all the publicity given to the republic decision, perhaps the most remarkable feature of Wednesday was the actual convening of the Constituent Assembly elected last month.

The body has 601 members and is far more representative of Nepal's diversity than any previous legislative body.

I hope the Maoists see sense and realise there's no logic in parallel structures
Rhoderick Chalmers
International Crisis Group

Most notably, one-third of its members are women, which according to the United Nations puts Nepal in 14th place in the league table of women's representation in national elected bodies.

As they work out a new constitution over two years, these newly represented groups will be hoping to enshrine their own rights as never before.

Then there are the Maoists' own power structures, some dating from their insurgency years, some nurtured since then - especially the Young Communist League (YCL) which is notorious for thuggish behaviour but professes to be devoted to social service.

"I hope the Maoists see sense and realise there's no logic in parallel structures," says Rhoderick Chalmers.

"But it's tricky, and they will need new things for the YCL to do."

The same questions apply to the Maoists' army, still largely confined in 28 camps.

While the Maoists want them merged with the national Nepal Army, the latter's chief is vocally unwilling to accept them.

With the Maoists now in the ascendancy in the government, yet still encumbered with the baggage of a guerrilla group, many questions remain about power structures in the new Nepalese republic.



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