Another Himalayan kingdom tumbles, but will Nepal miss its monarchy?
Another Himalayan kingdom is falling, a chapter closing on an ancient historical tradition. But will the modern system of democracy do a better job?
Sikkim’s monarchs, the Chogyals, retreated into history when India annexed their territory in 1975. Tibet’s “priest-king”, the Dalai Lama, was forced in exile when China invaded his land in the 1950s.
In the Himalayas, only in Bhutan does a monarchy still play a significant role, and even there it voluntarily surrendered power this year to a new democratically elected parliament.
Many of these kings were once revered as incarnations of Buddha or Vishnu, some still are.
But the Himalayan monarchies have come under pressure from he north and south, from their giant neighbours China and India. Pressure has come from below as well, from subjects demanding democracy on the roof the world. One by one, they are succumbing to that pressure.
The Buddhist majority in Bhutan seemed sad to see their king stand aside and democracy enter their largely peaceful land, fearing that conflict and corruption would surely follow.
Some people wonder if will Nepal one day regret the passing of its monarchy. Or are its people right to celebrate the advent of secular democracy and an end to feudalism?
In 1990, street protests forced King Birendra to relinquish power and introduce democracy. The palace was openly reviled at the time, but over the ensuing decade it gradually rebuilt its reputation. While politicians squabbled and stole, the king stayed firmly above the fray.
The palace massacre, and Gyanendra’s seizure of power, changed all that, and left the monarchy fatally wounded.
It now looks likely as though Maoist chief Prachanda will be prime minister, leaving the post of president a largely symbolic one.
But who will Nepal find to be its new, unifying figurehead? Does anyone mourn the death of an ancient tradition? And will its politicians finally live up to the promises they have made?