Nepal Votes to Abolish Its Monarchy

By Matthew Rosenberg
Associated Press
Thursday, May 29, 2008

KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 28 -- The world's last Hindu kingdom became its newest secular republic Wednesday as Nepal's lawmakers, led by former communist insurgents, abolished the monarchy that had reigned over this Himalayan land for 239 years.

Throughout the day, thousands of people marched, danced and sang in the streets of Kathmandu in anticipation of the vote, waving red hammer-and-sickle flags as King Gyanendra awaited his fate in the pink concrete palace that dominates the city's center.

Late in the day, as expected, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared the country a republic and abolished the monarchy by a vote of 560 to 4. The assembly's 37 other members were not present.

"We have entered a new era today," said Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, calling Nepal's rebirth as a republic "the dream of the whole nation."

There was no immediate reaction from the 60-year-old king, who has remained silent recently as it became apparent that his days on the throne were numbered.

He now has 15 days to quit the 1970s-era palace and move to his large private residence in the city -- or face the possibility of being removed by force.

As word of the republic's declaration spread through Kathmandu, groups of young men yelled in the streets and set off firecrackers.

"The people in Nepal have defeated the autocrat Gyanendra," said Gopal Thapa, a 23-year-old supporter of the Maoists, the former rebels. "Nepal is now the people's republic."

Not since the shah of Iran was deposed in the bloody 1979 Islamic revolution has one of the world's monarchs been forced from his throne.

While the end of Nepal's royal dynasty may have come in a peaceful vote, the stage for the monarchy's demise was set by a communist insurgency that bled Nepal for a decade, and by a 2001 palace massacre in which a gunman, allegedly the crown prince, assassinated King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself.

The killings helped pierce the mystique surrounding a line of kings who had once been revered as reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Gyanendra was dogged by rumors that he was somehow involved in the palace massacre.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company