Nepal's major political parties have agreed to abolish the world's last Hindu monarchy as part of a deal to bring former communist rebels back into the government, the one-time insurgents said Monday.
While no timetable has been set for the communists to rejoin the government, the deal, signed Sunday, set the stage for Nepal's transition to a full republic less than two years after the country's king was forced to cede his near dictatorial powers following weeks of unrest.
The communists, who are known as the Maoists, ended their decade-long rebellion last year and later joined the country's interim government. But they withdrew in September, demanding the monarchy be immediately abolished.
The move plunged Nepal into a political crisis and threatened its transition to democracy.
On Monday, the former rebels were buoyant over the deal bringing them back into the fold. The deal stipulates the monarchy will be eliminated once a special assembly charged with rewriting the constitution is elected. The vote had been delayed indefinitely by the Maoists' withdrawal from the government, and officials now say they want to hold it in the first half the year.
"Now there is nothing else there needs to be done," Prachanda, the Maoist leader, who uses only one name, told reporters. "There is no monarchy left in the country."
The current monarch, King Gyanendra, heads a dynasty that dates to 1769, when a regional ruler led an army down from the hills and conquered the ancient city of Katmandu. He established a line of kings that have been traditionally considered reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, to be venerated by their subjects, over whom they once held near absolute sway.
In the centuries since, that has often been the case in Nepal, a near-feudal wonderland for hash-smoking hippies and mountain climbers looking to scale Himalayan peaks, such as Mount Everest.
But Gyanendra, the 12th Shah dynasty monarch, has never enjoyed the popularity of his predecessors and Sunday's deal to eliminate the throne was received largely with indifference in Katmandu.
"Before kings were part of people's heart," said Mata Pasad Risal, 60, a retired government official. "Now people have turned against him. The king has lost his position and popularity it will be best for him to leave the palace."
Gyanendra came to the throne in 2001 after a palace massacre in which the crown prince is accused of gunning down Gyanendra's older brother, the late King Birendra, and much of the royal family and then killing himself. The murders helped pierce the mystique surrounding Nepal's royalty.
Four years later, Gyanendra dismissed Nepal's parliament and seized total power, saying he would bring order to a chaotic political scene and quell the Maoist insurgency.
But the insurgency worsened, the economy faltered and Gyanendra used heavy-handed tactics to silence opposition, jailing and banning criticism of himself, his government and the army.
The result was weeks of unrest in April 2006 that ended with Gyanendra restoring parliament. He has since been stripped of his powers, command over the army and his immunity from prosecution.
But that wasn't enough for Maoists, who until Sunday had consistently pushed the elimination of the monarchy, a move that country's other political parties said should only come after the election of the special assembly.
How soon the election can be organized now depends largely on how quickly the Maoists move to rejoin the government. One senior communist official, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, said Monday that they would decide at a party central committee meeting soon. But he gave no specific timeline.