When Nepalis discuss the political dramas of their turbulent country they often refer to the past. It's easy to see why - history here has a habit of repeating itself. Since 1950, democracy has twice replaced autocratic governments, and twice the palace has regained control. As opposition democratic parties held rallies across the country this past week against an unpopular royal regime, the memory they tried to evoke was of the 'people's spring' of 1990, when a similar government was toppled by mass protests. A speaker in the Kathmandu suburb of Kirtipur told a cheering audience of thousands: 'The people of this area made a large contribution in 1990. Let's do it again.' According to a report by the think-tank International Crisis Group: 'The palace has set the scene for a replay of the palace-people showdown [in 1990] by bringing back into power some of the key actors of that period.' Following the successes of the 1990 movement, a commission was established to discover who was responsible for shooting an estimated 60 to 100 demonstrators. The commission recommended action be taken against eight men who are now in senior positions in the current government, including the home minister, Kamal Thapa, and the chief of the armed police. No charges were ever brought. Going further back, parallels are often drawn between the coup that brought King Gyanendra to power last year, when he ousted a government of democratic politicians, and a power grab carried out by his father, King Mahendra, in 1950. Fifty-five years later, King Gyanendra even chose the same man as his father to be chief minister, Tulsi Giri. Political scientist Lok Raj Baral, of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, said the tactics used by both father and son, such as attempting to divide the opposition, were similar. 'The style is the same,' he says. 'Our palace has learnt only intrigues, historically speaking. They are not forward-looking ... there were always plots and counter plots, killing and perfidy in the palace. It never went beyond that.' As far back as the 19th century the official British resident in the royal court, Lawrence Oliphant, wrote that unless one is content to 'associate with assassins you must give up the pleasures of Nepal [high] society'. According to Dr Baral, despite alternating in recent decades between democracy and monarchy, the changes have been only skin-deep. The Hindu caste system and family ties still determine who enjoys most power. 'There has been no substantive change in our power structure,' he says. 'Even after 1990, not one untouchable [low-caste person] became a minister. Thirty per cent of people [those of high caste] have ruled the country, the rest are deprived.' Many of today's politicians, both in the democratic parties and those aligned to the palace, are direct descendants of 19th-century politicians. Clans such as the Ranas, Thapas and Basnets have survived repeated revolutions and dominate government to this day. A western diplomat said political decision making could be influenced by family connections or grudges going back generations. It was into this complicated political culture that the Maoists emerged in 1996. The movement began in the western hills, an area where feudalism remains strong and there are still powerful local kings. The king of Rukum, which is today a rebel stronghold, stood in the first elections and later became a government minister. Local people say the vote was rigged. His defeated opponent went on to become the Maoist commander known as Prabhakar. Today, the rebels exercise a measure of control of most rural areas and the traditional two-way tussle between the palace and the political parties has become a complicated three-sided struggle. The rebels' rise to national influence has been steady and seemingly unstoppable. The International Crisis Group believes they are 'the only political force with a coherent long-term strategy'. For now the palace is back in charge, but the strength of the forces ranged against the king is not the only thing that sets this episode apart from previous crises. One of the achievements of the democratic 1990s was a rise in education, and commentators agree that the king's subjects are more politically aware than before. 'Even if the leaders have not changed, the people have changed and they will throw them out,' says Dr Baral. 'Leaders are not forever.'