Thousands of Nepalese took to the streets Thursday, celebrating a new era as the world’s youngest republic after a constitutional assembly voted in favour of abolishing the nation’s monarchy.
Shortly after news of the historic vote broke late Wednesday, people sang, danced and waved various party flags as they welcomed the end of the 240-year-old Shah dynasty.
On Wednesday night, the constitutional assembly voted to oust the deeply unpopular King Gyanendra by a 560-to-four vote. The abolition of the monarchy was a victory for the nation’s fiercely republican Maoists, who have tried to oust the Shah dynasty for the last decade – a decade that saw at least 13,000 casualties during a bloody insurgency.
Parliamentary politicians have ordered King Gyanendra to step down within 15 days, and are calling for his palace to be converted to a museum.
According to a statement presented at the assembly, “May 29 will henceforth be celebrated as ‘Republic Day,’” adding, "Nepal has turned into a democratic republic, all the existing laws and administrative functions that contradicts this idea will be invalidated from today.”
The assembly’s vote is part of the aftermath of April’s parliamentary election, in which the Maoists won a surprisingly large victory, running partly on an anti-monarchy ticket.
The unpopular King Gyanendra came to power after a palace massacre in 2001 - in which the former king and much of the rest of Nepal's core royals were gunned down by the former crown prince in a drunken rage.
International calls to ‘continue working’
In a press statement issued shortly after the vote, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the people of Nepal on the “historic first meeting of the Constituent Assembly.” He urged all Nepalese parties “to continue working in a cooperative manner and form a new government as soon as possible.”
But the reaction in Washington was more cautious. The United States withheld comment on the country’s political transition, but urged "forward political developments."
"There's been a political transition. There have been elections. The new government is in place and moving forward," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey Wednesday.
The reaction underlined US unease over the Maoists’ violent past. Washington continues to list the former rebel group as a “terrorist organization.”
Economic, social and political challenges ahead
The April parliamentary election was a key plank in the 2006 peace deal under which the rebels agreed to end their “people’s war” to overthrow the monarchy.
During the insurgency, the rebels followed the traditional Maoist ideology and wanted to install a communist republic. But after signing the peace agreement, they expressed openness to a coalition government.
Working with moderate political parties to deliver the change they have promised will however be the biggest challenge for the former rebels.
“If they push their own agenda, the government will fail,” said Sanjeev Sherchan from the New York-based Asia Society, in a telephone interview with FRANCE 24 before Wednesday’s vote.
The Maoists’ stance against feudalism remains firm but they’ve toned down their anti-capitalist views to improve economic conditions in the impoverished Himalayan nation.
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, has promised to focus on education, healthcare, development and social justice.
Prachanda has also promised to abolish feudalism, implement revolutionary land reforms and lower the country's reliance on foreign aid and remittances from overseas workers.
“They could consider promoting foreign investments because they know it’s important for the country’s economic development”, says Sherchan.
Politically, the challenges are daunting. The assembly has two years to come up with permanent arrangements for a new constitution. To achieve this, the Maoists require the support of the other major political parties.
Neighbouring nations monitor situation
The new political system is also being closely watched by Nepal’s powerful neighbors, India and China.
For his part, Prachanda has promised to maintain close ties with all countries including China and India.
The April election results came as a shock for India, Nepal’s main donor, trading partner and a source of employment for the majority of the Nepalese youth.
Despite fears that election results could encourage its own Maoist insurgency, New Delhi maintains it will work with whoever is in power.
“There will be no radical change in ties with India”, according to Sherchan. “The Maoists understand India’s political and economic importance.”