King Gyanendra of Nepal's plan to legitimise last year's coup was in tatters late last week after a combination of Maoist threats and a boycott by pro-democracy parties resulted in an embarrassing dearth of candidates for posts in local government.
Only 3,255 individuals filed nomination papers for the 4,146 vacant positions for which elections are due to be held on February 8, leaving many posts with no candidates.
King Gyanendra dismissed an elected government on February 1 last year and replaced it with a handpicked one of his own, claiming that political parties had failed to hold elections and crack down on the Maoist insurgency.
"It is a political defeat for the king," said Rajendra Dahal, editor of Himal Khabarpatrika, Nepal's largest-selling news magazine. "The forthcoming election may be legal but it will have no political legitimacy."
The municipal election is part of what King Gyanendra says is his three-year "road map" for the restoration of democracy in Nepal.
The king plans on first holding local elections -- of which the municipal elections are a part -- and then parliamentary elections before handing over power to elected representatives within three years".
Political parties and the Maoists have forged a loose alliance to push for immediate nationwide elections to a constituent assembly that would devise a new constitution for Nepal - possibly excluding the king or limiting him to a ceremonial role.
The meagre number of nominations is likely to increase pressure on the king to abandon the election, widely seen as without any democratic value by western diplomats, and engage in talks with the parties.
Mood in the pro-democracy movement has hardened in recent days following the crackdown against political leaders and human rights activists, making it doubtful now that King Gyanendra could find willing interlocutors as easily as in the past.
Last Thursday the chief election commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari to state-run Nepal Television that a new election programme would be announced in some municipalitiesere there were no candidates. He did not elaborate.
Twenty-six out of the Kathmandu Valley's 110 wards lacked candidates for the position of ward chairman, signalling the strength of the boycott even in the only part of the country still controlled by the pro-monarch Royal Nepalese Army.
Seven allied opposition parties, which between them held over 90 per cent of parliamentary seats in the last elected parliament, are boycotting the election.
"Even where there are candidates, I think the winners have more or less been fixed, so there is no reason [to have elections]," added Pradip Nepal, spokesman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), one of the seven parties. Maoist threats also deterred would-be candidates. In Bardia municipality in mid-western Nepal, rebels abducted a possible mayoral candidate before he could file his nomination papers.