Nepal's King Gyanendra called Wednesday's municipal elections to appease international objections to his seizing of power a year ago. The polls were, he said, the first of a series of steps to restore democracy. There was nothing democratic about the process of electing mayors and councillors, who will have little power and responsibility. Turnout was little more than 20 per cent for the fewer than half of the seats that were contested; members of newly formed political groups loyal to the king won most races because of a boycott by opposition parties; and fear pervaded the process amid the arrests of candidates by royalist troops and police and threats from Maoist insurgents. There was a major assault by the Maoists on polling day and a large group of protesters were later shot at by the Nepalese army. Conditions could not have been much worse. Only the king and his supporters are satisfied with the results; opponents, foreign governments and human rights groups continue to voice disapproval. The polls were a smokescreen and have done nothing to endorse the actions of an autocratic ruler who appears to have self-interest rather than the good of his people in mind. There have been more than 6,000 arrests of politicians, human rights workers, trade union members and journalists, among others, since he sacked the democratically elected government. There is now no truly free media in Nepal and to exercise his will, the king routinely imposes emergency rule or orders the severing of communication links internally and to the outside world. King Gyanendra's actions have been carried out in the name of ending a decade-long insurgency by Maoist rebels. But security for Nepalis has worsened, not improved since his supposed act of mercy, and the death toll has remained constant, not fallen. Of the 12,500 people killed since 1996, at least 1,500 have died in the past year. The brutality of the military in carrying out royal orders has been directed as much against civilians as the insurgents; allegations of torture and rape are widespread on both sides. Without democracy, peace and the rule of law, the fundamental rights of all the citizens of Nepal cannot be guaranteed. The regime led by the king denies basic rights and freedoms. These are guaranteed under the constitution and the international human rights and humanitarian treaties to which the nation is a party - and which he has chosen to ignore. Nepal is in crisis and the king should move immediately to restore the democracy he stole. Without doing so, his country will continue its descent into poverty and turmoil. Only with the restoration of the government, the release of jailed opponents and an end to the violations can a path towards negotiating with the Maoists be found.