Murari Sharma: Dangerous World

Past few weeks have been exceptionally dangerous for the world. Political, economic and environmental factors have raised existential questions for humanity. Honest and prudent leadership is essential to prevent annihilation.

Stephen Hawking, the famous British scientist, says artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. A great war, climate change, pandemics, an asteroid hitting the earth, etc. could end the world as well.

Among them all, global politics might destroy the world more easily. Great wars may start due to fairly inconsequential reasons. For example, the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria started World War I.  The German invasion of Poland began World War II.

Perhaps those situations were not as combustible as the US-North Korea spat is today. Both countries have nuclear weapons and whimsical and unpredictable leaders at the helm. The fuel of resentment is already there. All you need is a trigger to ignite the fuel into a flame capable of engulfing the world.

The development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by Pyongyang and the quest of nuclear weapon nations, particularly the United States, to outlaw nuclear proliferation without denuclearizing themselves have built up the fuel of resentment.

US President Donald Trump unleashed his fire and fury warning to North Korea, and North Korea warned to hit Guam, where an American base is located. Any of them could prove the trigger.

Although both sides have now tempered their rhetoric somewhat, the fear that Trump and Kim Jung-Un, both deemed as bullies and unstable, could push the button in their rage is very much there.

As I had written a couple of weeks back, if such a foolish thing were to happen, the war could such China, Russia, and American allies in the region into it, elevating it to World War III.

Although the bull run of stock markets continues without prolonged setbacks, the economic fundamental have begun to look vulnerable.

US President Trump’s anti-trade policies may unleash a trade war and make everyone worse off.  Trump has threatened China and Germany with tariffs and trade restrictions to reduce the trade deficit.

He has also threatened to pull out of the trade agreements with South Korea, with Canada and Mexico, and with many other countries and impose a huge tariff of the products from those countries for the same reason.

If he translates his rhetoric into policy, other countries would retaliate. Thus, Trump could trigger a global trade war, which will make everyone, including the United States, worse off and collapse the post-World War II global order.

Brexit is another black patch on the global economic horizon. Though the British people voted last year to leave the European Union and their decision should be respected, many of them voted for the exit because politicians campaigned on lies and false promises.

For instance, the Brexiteers promised £350 million a week for the National Health Service after Britain left the EU. But NHS is now facing more budget cuts, and senior doctors have warned that several hospitals might have to be closed due to the funding shortage.

Besides, European doctors and nurses are already quitting the NHS due to the fear about their future once Britain leaves the EU, leaving a huge gap in staffing, thanks to the British waffle in the post-Brexit immigration policy.

The Brexiteers promised that Britain would have access to the EU single market after Brexit and sign several trade agreements with other countries around the world before Brexit.

Both claims were false, as it turns out now. Based on the initial EU-Britain negotiations, Britain will not have free access to the single market.

There will be a hard border between the EU and Britain, especially between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could unravel the peace attained under the Good Friday Agreement. Even the EU-Canada trade agreement model could be beyond Britain’s reach.

The EU has refused to start trade negotiations until it is confident that Britain would pay the divorce bill to meet its prior commitments, would protect the rights of EU citizens, would accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in matters related to the EU.

Other countries have politely refused to start trade negotiations until Britain came out of the EU. Evidently, they do not want to infuriate the 27 countries in the EU to please Britain.

Even the US President Donald Trump, who had promised to put Britain in the front of the queue in its trade negotiations, is loud in the silence.

As a result, there is uncertainty not only about Britain’s economic future in the near and medium term but also the future of global trade and finance.

Last but not least, natural and man-made disasters combined might destroy the world.

Not long after President Trump, who is a climate change denier, withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Hurricane Harvey has devastated much of Texas. Hurricane Irma is about to destroy much of Florida. Hurricane Jose is on its way to the southeastern United States.

Elsewhere, floods devastated South Asia, and a massive earthquake razed part of Mexico to the ground.

People like  Pastor Kevin Swanson, a staunch Trump supporter, believe that the hurricanes would change their course if abortion and same-sex marriage were declared illegal in the United States. Well, they have devastated some of the conservative heartlands as well.

I am sure, while human activities might or might not have contributed to natural disasters, they have certainly contributed to their severity.

For example, the huge consumption of energy has contributed to global warming, to the decline in snow cover, and to the increase in the severity of hurricanes and typhoons. It the global warming and climate change continues at the current rate, it will wipe out humanity in the next few centuries, if not decades.

Similarly, the overexploitation of sea, rivers, and land is contributing to their desertification in their own way.

Several species of sea, river and land animals and plants have already become extinct and more are on their way to extinction. Deserts that cannot support life are growing rapidly. Pollution has been taking its toll on land and sea life as well.

Against this background, it is time for sober thinking, wise leadership, and prudent decisions and actions, which are in short supply now. We need honest and truthful leaders to turn the world around.

Otherwise, anything can happen.

 

 

 

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Murari Sharma: Deuba’s India Visit that should not have happened

Your real friends are those who tell you the truth, good or bad. In Nepal’s political culture, you take those as friends who flatter you. But they are fake. I will talk about Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s just concluded 5-day India visit as his real friend, not fake.

His fake friends have lauded Deuba’s India visit as a grand success and, wrongly, of the same level of as Girija Prasad Koirala, whom his Indian counterpart Man Mohan Singh had welcomed and sent off. I understand their motivation and sympathize with them.

But my view, as a real friend of Deuba and as a non-partisan individual, Deuba would have been way better off if he had not made this visit. Why?

Deuba’s achievements from this visit were puny. But his mistakes were monumental.

The eight memoranda of understanding, which were signed to allocate the $100 million housing grant that India had committed after the 2015 earthquakes, were insignificant. The bureaucratic or ministerial level could have allocated those funds through mutual understanding.

For starters, four were related to the construction of buildings in the education, health, culture, and housing sectors. The fifth related to the construction of the Mechi Bridge, sharing the cost with the Asian Development Bank.

Other three understandings covered demand reduction and supply prevention of narcotics and precursor chemicals, uniform standardization of products and services, and cooperation between the Institutes of Chartered Accountants.

In other words, Prime Minister Deuba’s routine India visit produced commonplace positive results. At the same time, it resulted in monumental mistakes for Nepal.

Among several of such mistakes, let me cite the main two: The understanding on the Saptakoshi High Dam and the commitment to amend the Constitution.

First the High Dam. US President Donald Trump would have called the understanding a disaster. If the dam is built, districts from Sindhupalchok to Morang will sustain unspeakable damage in two ways.

First, the dam will raise the level of water in the seven Koshi Rivers and their tributaries, submerge millions of hectares of agricultural and forest land, and displace millions of people along the river basins all the way to Sunsari and Morang.

Second, landslides will be more widespread and common, as the water level in the Koshi Rivers and their tributaries will rise and make the already fragile hills even more vulnerable.

India had sought this project for the last 40 years. But all previous government had refused to compromise on this disastrous project until Deuba signed on it. If the old Koshi and Gandaki agreements were sellouts, as many believe they are, then the understanding on the Saptakoshi High Damthey will dwarf them in comparison.

Regarding the Constitution of Nepal, I found one major shortcoming and one major mistake. The shortcoming: Deuba could not win India’s support for the Constitution of Nepal despite doing everything to amend the statute and selling out his soul on the Saptakoshi High Dam.

The major mistake: Deuba allowed India to reflect its reservation on Nepal’s Constitution in the joint statement.

I heard or read some of my wise friends say that nowadays countries do take interest in each other’s affairs and that the November 2005 agreement, brokered by India, has given New Delhi the privilege to interfere in Nepal’s internal matters.

On the first point, Nepal has never raised the issues of Kashmir or Darjeeling and sought to include them in any joint statement. For that matter, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Why should it be OK for Nepal to accept the mention of a purely internal matter to be reflected in a bilateral statement?

On the second, by sending its troops, Nepal had helped India quell the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the riots after India’s partition. Can, therefore, Nepal claim that it has the privilege to speak on Kashmir or Darjeeling?

Deuba seems to have forgotten that he was visiting India as head of government and leader of the legislature. It was his duty and obligation to defend the government and the legislature. But he spoke and acted on the issue of the Constitution as the leader of his party, the Nepali Congress.

Both the UML leader KP Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal rightly criticized Deuba for raising an internal issue of Nepal in a foreign country and letting the neighbor call the shots so soon after the legislature had rejected the amendment.

I do not even need to talk about Deuba’s failure to sort out the differences between the two countries on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project.

Besides, the time of the visit was inappropriate both internally and externally. Internally, Prime Minister Deuba visited India without even appointing the full line of ministers and without adequate preparations. If the new state and assistant ministers had anything to contribute to enriching Nepal-India relations, they had no time to do it.

Externally, Deuba visited India at a time when the Dokhlam Dispute has been burning between India and China. He could have used the India visit to establish Nepal’s neutrality, but he ended up siding with India. It might have long-term negative consequences to Nepal.

In other words, Nepal would have been better off without Prime Minister Deuba’s recent visit to India. The visit produced insignificant benefits and monumental mistakes.

Murari Sharma: Could US-North Korea Escalation lead to World War III?

Two child bullies, one leading the most powerful nation on earth and the other the most isolated country, are pushing their countries towards a war that could mark the beginning of World War III.   

You guessed it. I am talking about the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean President Kim Jong-Un.

Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in the New York Times that Trump, who is 70, acts more irresponsibly than a four-year child. Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post that Trump behaves like a toddler.

Kim, whose date of birth is a state secret, is 32-33 year old. Whimsical, Kim is a lot like Trump, according to some people like Marwan Bishara, the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

To be sure, it could be a good thing if the grownups occasionally behave childishly if they do not have their fingers on the nuclear button. But Trump and Kim do, and this puts the world on edge.

According to the Arms Control Association, the United States sits on 6,800 powerful nuclear weapons. North Korea has 10 of them. Some other estimates suggest that Pyongyang could have as many as 30 nuclear weapons.

The war of words between Washington and Pyongyang is nothing new, for a reason.

Though they had signed an armistice in 1953, at the end of the Korean War, there is no peace treaty between them yet. The United States has maintained nearly 30,000 forces in South Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

In 1994, the two countries signed an Agreed Framework under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze the nuclear program and allow IAEA inspections in return for help to replace the existing nuclear plants with light water power plants and for normalization of political and economic relations.

Both sides did not live up to the agreement, blaming each other. North Korea tested nuclear weapons, and the international community imposed sanctions against it in 2006, shortly after the tests. Last month, it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can hit targets in the United States.  

In response, at the behest of the United States and under the aegis of the United Nations, the international community imposed additional sanctions. This prompted Pyongyang to fire its first verbal salvo at Washington, and President Trump took the bait.

Trump said he would unleash ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea did not stop producing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. On 10 August, he doubled down again suggesting that his fire and fury statement was not strong enough.

This is something new. No other responsible Western leader had ever issued such a dire threat to North Korea.  

Pyongyang responded by calling Trump ‘bereft of reason’ and his remark as a ‘load of nonsense’ and outlining a plan to attack Guam, where the United States has a large military base. The to and fro has sent the chill down the spine of the world, particularly Asia.

First, Asia. If America attacks, North Korea will attack South Korea, and both Koreas will be ruined. The South Korean capital, Seoul,  which has 11 million people and which is hardly 35 miles from the border, will bear the brunt of the destruction. 

Besides, North Koreans have threatened to attack Guam. The imprecise North Korean missiles could hit any country on the way to Guam. If push comes to shove, Pyongyang could fire a few missiles to Japan, a close American ally. 

If it breaks out, the war will suck in other countries as well. For instance, China. North Korea relies on trade and aid on China. The Chinese official media has said Beijing would protect North Korea if the attack were started by the US. If war starts, millions of North Korean refugees will flood China, and it will force Beijing to take a robust action.

If China gets involved, Russia is likely to keep the agreement between the Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi. Japan and NATO countries will have to support the US under treaty obligations. So World War III could unfold.

If a war breaks out between the US and North Korea, the American people will not be safe either. The North Korean missiles can hit Hawaii, Alaska, and even Chicago, which means most of the United States, barring the east coast.

Besides the direct impact of missiles, there will be economic impacts. The war will destroy the South Korean and North Korean economies. Japan and China will suffer the secondary impact. The impact will ripple to the Pacific rim as a whole and the rest of the world.

The impact is not a figment of the imagination. World stock markets have already recorded a fall because of the escalating rhetoric between the United States and North Korea. 

Is World War III about to start? I do not know that. But what I know is this: Arrogance and resentment are often at the root of war. 

The powerful countries often militarily intervene in the powerless due to arrogance. For example, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait under Saddam Hussein, the US invasion of Iraq (second time) and of Grenada, the British-French invasion of Libya, China’s attack on Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Hungry, etc. fall in this category.

The countries defeated and humiliated in war often engage in wars of resentment. The best example is World War II. To prepare his people for war, Adolf Hitler fanned the German resentment caused by the loss in World War I and the harsh conditions imposed on it by the victors.

When you combine arrogance and resentment, you create an explosive cocktail, which is the United States under Donald Trump. 

Withdrawing from the climate change agreement and asking Mexico to pay for the wall to be built by the US are screaming examples of Trump’s arrogance.

Projecting America as the aggrieved party in trade agreements and NATO funding are the examples of resentment being fuelled by Trump. 

Of course, sometimes normal leaders, too, make incendiary remarks or issue dire threats. But they weigh the cost and benefits and listen to their advisers before they push the button.  

For instance, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, both former US Presidents, have done it. Regan undiplomatically called the then-Soviet Union an evil empire. The US President Barack Obama drew a red line in the Syrian civil war for intervention. But they did not act impulsively. 

But Trump is not a normal leader the way Reagan and Obama were. Only Trump tweets self-destructive messages in the middle of the night, disregarding his advisers’ advice. Only Trump has told lies all his life. Only Trump takes pride in grabbing ‘women by their pussies.’  

Trump can do anything if his ego is challenged. Kim has only to gain by drawing Trump into this spat. So American leaders who can influence Trump should lean on him, and China should lean on Kim to save the world. 

 

Murari Sharma: Nepal should not just wait for peaceful settlement to Doklam Dispute, urge for it

India and China, both nuclear powers, are at loggerheads at Doklam located at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction. It has sent shock waves across the region and beyond. The neighboring countries and the powerful countries across the world have remained loudly silent on the issue, which could prove devastating for the region and the world. 

Reportedly, the dispute escalated when the Chinese came with bulldozers and excavators to repair the road in the area claimed by both China and Bhutan. India, responsible for Bhutan’s defense under the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, sent its troops and built bunkers there. As India did not heed its request to dismantle the bunkers, China bulldozed some of them on the Sikkim side and denied Indian pilgrims the permission to visit Mansarovar through the route, opened in 2015. 

Border disputes and skirmishes between India and China are not new. Both countries have conflicting claims at several places of their common border, including in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Skirmishes had occurred between the two countries near Doklam, the current flash point, in 2008 as well. 

Obviously, territorial disputes occur when two or more countries claim the same land based on legal and historical evidence. Until the rival claimants go for arbitration, there is no way to know whose claim is stronger. So such disputes prove a minefield for friends and allies, more so if they occur between big powers. If the friends and allies step at the wrong place, they will wound themselves politically and economically. 

Perhaps that is why the international community has remained largely quiet about Doklam. But that is a wrong option for China and India’s neighbors, which will be directly and seriously affect if a full-scale war breaks out between these countries. 

The neighbors have three options. First, they can leave the two countries to sort out the problem whatever way they like, including war. Second, they can undertake shuttle diplomacy to bring the two sides to an amicable resolution and failing that, to maintain the status quo ante. Third, they can ask both countries to take the case to the International Court of Justice or some other mutually agreed framework and accept the judgment.

The famous painter Pablo Picasso has said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” So Nepal should shed its inferiority complex, get out, and try to do something. 

Because its options are limited, Nepal should take up the issue carefully and in a balanced and matured matter. Let me start with the second option. Usually, shuttle diplomacy succeeds when the mediator is a powerful and rich country that has the capacity to reward or punish the parties to dispute or when it is a neutral small country without any vested interest. Nepal does not in a position to reward or punish the disputing parties. Nor is a completely neutral party because of the 1950 Treaty with India. 

To make our case worse, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is visiting India at this inopportune time. If he can use this visit to voice Nepal’s view on the Doklam Dispute, he should certainly visit New Delhi. Otherwise, he should postpone the visit for now and wait until normal times.

Though the third option has worked in several places between small countries to resolve their border disputes, it rarely works for the big and powerful nations. The disputing party whose claim is weaker will not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ and the arbitration by the ICJ or any other mechanism. So, the third option could be stillborn.

That leaves only the first option, in a strictly limited context, for countries like Nepal: Call both sides to find a peaceful solution. Will India and China listen to Nepal? Perhaps not. But that does not mean Nepal should not try its best or be seen trying to do it. Friends should help each other and not let friends fight and shed blood. 

That indeed is the only option that is available for Nepal to pursue in the Doklam Dispute. But sitting quietly is not an option. If we do, our friends will not come to help us when we need them. We need measured but proactive diplomacy that takes into account our limited capacity to influence our neighbors but understands the imperative to try to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible.

If the dispute is allowed to fester, it will have a direct impact on the lives of Indians, Chineses and other people around them. There will be epidemics, economic hardships, social dislocation, political instability, refugees. The problems faced by the region when India and Pakistan fought over East Pakistan before the birth of Bangladesh is still fresh in our mind.

The thing is a China-India was will be several times more devastating because of their killing capacities. 

Lao Tzu has said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” So, Nepal should not be swimming in the pond of inferiority complex. It should get out and try to do something to diffuse the dispute in Doklam just for the sake of good will if nothing else. 

Murari Sharma: Main lessons of local elections

Recently, Nepal has completed two phases of local elections in six provinces, covering 617 local bodies, town and village municipalities, in 67 districts. It leaves Province 2 with 127 municipalities in 8 districts for the third phase. The election result in the first two phases has imparted important, some expected and some unexpected, lessons for Nepali politics.

First, people were eager to participate in the elections. The average participation level reached 71 percent. It was only expected in view of the fact that local elections were conducted after a hiatus of two decades, during which time the local bodies were run by bureaucrats.

Second, Madheshi leaders, now organized around the Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal, were disconnected from Madheshi voters. RJP leaders had called on the Madheshi voters to boycott the election. But the voters enthusiastically participated in the 14 Terai districts where the elections have been held in the first two phases. Voter participation in these districts was much higher than several hill districts, including Ramechhap, Dolakha, and Bhojpur. The RJP leaders had not expected it.

Third, broad-based politics triumphed sectarian identity politics, at least this time. The CPN (UML) and the Nepali Congress, which believe in broad-based politics, emerged as the largest and second largest parties from the elections winning in 276 and 226 local bodies. Among the pro-identity parties, the Maoists came a distant third with 84. The Federal Socialist Forum and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) bagged only 8 and 7 mayors. Other pro-identify parties did not win any mayorship at all.

Fourth, boycotting elections is a poor strategy if the majority is willing to participate in them. Sure, when King Gyanendra organized local elections before he was suspended, the mainstream political parties did not participate and those who were elected could not assume their office, proving the whole exercise a fiasco. But this time, RJP lost the opportunity to participate in the polls in the 14 Terai districts due to the boycott and some of its senior leaders and many supporters defected to other parties to take part in the ballot.

It would be apt to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt here. He has said, “In our personal ambitions we are individualists.”  All leaders pursue their personal goals and forget about the common good until the next election is due. But RJP leaders failed to read the mind of the Madheshi voters, who want better schools, hospitals, sanitation facilities and roads. So the Madheshi voters participated in the local elections and supported those political parties that could potentially deliver.

That is not to suggest that identity politics has no role to play. Such politics has relevance to energize the oppressed people to fight for their rights. But it often ends in disaster if it is not contained in time. The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, identity politics “has troubling implications for models of the self, political inclusiveness, and our possibilities for solidarity and resistance.” It appears that Nepali voters have understood the negative implications of identity politics before their leaders and voted against them.

The CPN (UML)’s performance in the election has surprised the leaders of other political parties, particularly of the RJP. The RJP leaders had publicly vilified the UML leader KP Oli as insane needing treatment in a mental facility and dubbed his party as anti-Madhesh and anti-Madheshi. But the UML secured an unexpectedly good result in the Terai districts. According to some assessments, it is likely to repeat its impressive performance in the remaining 8 Terai districts, the heartland of Madheshi uprising since 2006, on 18 September 2017 in the elections for 127 local bodies, if the RJP demand is not met by that time.

The RJP leaders have demanded that the Constitution must be amended before the third phase of elections, something India has openly backed. But there is a serious constitutional problem to meet the demand.

A democratic constitution must protect the due process and provide equal protection all citizens. If we claim the Constitution of Nepal 2015 as democratic, then we cannot hold the first two phases of elections under the un-amended Constitution and the third phase under an amended constitution without breaching the due process and without treating the voters in the first two phases and in the third phase unequally.

So the mainstream parties and the RJP must not do anything that shreds the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Both sides sit down and move to the middle in order to preserve the sanctity of the due process and equal protection of the Constitution while keeping the door open for amending it as necessary for the greater good of the country. Though politics is a game of possibilities, the political parties should not go too far to undermine the law of the land every time they have problem or disagreement.

The local elections and their result had made this clear. But it is yet to be seen whether our leaders have understood their voters’ desire and sentiment.

Murari Sharma: Politics of Personal Destruction

Horrible examples spread faster than decent lessons. Politics of personal destruction in democratic countries is a terrible development that is gaining currency now. Politicians, especially those who have no vision, will keep this nihilist politics alive and thriving.

In 1992, then US President Bill Clinton had said, “The American people are tired of politics of personal destruction.” Apparently, it was a wishful thinking of an embattled president, not a statement of fact. Contrary to Clinton’s assertion, such politics has continued to grow in the United States.

The politics of personal destruction — destroying your opponent physically and morally — has been the favored strategy of dictators throughout history to gain and retain power. In democracies, such politics, though existent, had been rarely used in the old days. In the United States, the Federalists, particularly John Quincy Adams, who later became the US president, were blamed for engaging in such politics in 1808.  Ever since, In the US, Republicans, more than Democrats, have used the weapon of personal destruction successfully to destroy their opponents.

The term was first used in 1808 in the United States. The Federalists, particularly John Quincy Adams, who later became the US president, were blamed for engaging in such politics. But it was not widely used until the rise of Newt Gingrich in the United States.

 

Gingrich, the Republican US Speaker from 1995-99, had then said, “We the Republicans are not going to be able to take over unless we demonize the Democrats.” He used this strategy to win a majority for the Republicans in the House of Representatives, minimize President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and stifle his policies.

Ever since the strategy has become the principal vehicle for the Republicans to win political offices. It reached an unprecedented height in the 2016 presidential and Congressional election. In the presidential elections, Donald Trump, a Republican, defeated his opponent Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, with this nihilist strategy. He constantly called her “Corrupt Hillary,” chanted “Lock her up,” and promised to throw her into jail if he got elected.

He had no vision, policy or plan to Make America Great Again, his election slogan. On security matters, he said he had a plan to defeat the Islamic State but did not want to show his hand to the enemy. He said he had an economic plan but never presented it to the American people. He said he would repeal and replace the Obamacare with his best and beautiful plan without ever outlining what the plan was.

As it became clear after his election, he had none of those. No strategy to defeat the Islamic State. No economic policy other than cutting taxes for the wealthy. No alternative to the Obamacare. The Trump administration and Congress are now muddling through those areas.

Most Republican senators and virtually all Republican candidates for the House of Representatives applied this strategy. They endlessly vilified President Obama and his signature Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) without offering an alternative. They minimized the robust job growth under Obama and promised to cut taxes for the wealthy to boost growth, which has failed repeatedly to deliver growth. They castigated Obama for his foreign policy without offering anything credible.

Only last week, Karen Handel, the Republican candidate for the House seat in Georgia,  used the politics of personal destruction to defeat her opponent,  Johan Ossoff, a Democrat. Ossoff’s high-road politics did not win.

The Democrats, who often prefer to run on policy, too have used the politics of personal destruction, though to a lesser extent.  Outside the United States, the Conservatives in the United Kingdom used it successfully in the last two elections.

In 2015, in my view, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron secured a majority in the parliament by demonizing his Labor rival Ed Miliband, rather than convincing the voters on his policies and programs. The conservative media went to the extent of ridiculing Miliband even for eating a bacon sandwich.

In June 2017, Cameron’s successor, Teresa May, a Conservative, demonized her Labor rival Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders as the coalition of chaos in trying to prove that she was stronger and steadier. Though her party lost the majority by a small margin, she did manage to make her party the largest in the house and retain her premiership.

I do not agree with all the policies and programs presented by Labor leaders Miliband and Corbyn. But I appreciate that they tried to conduct their campaigns on policy and avoided the politics of personal destruction.

Why have the Conservative political parties, more than their liberal rivals, resorted to the politics of personal destruction so heavily and frequently? I have a quick and dirty answer to the question. It works for them at a time their other electoral planks have lost effectiveness. The main elections planks of Conservatives used to be God, religion, nationalism, small government, and tax cuts. But these electoral planks have lost their effectiveness or credibility over time.

The Conservatives’ main electoral planks used to be God, religion, nationalism, small government, and tax cuts. But they have lost their effectiveness or credibility over time. God and religion have lost much of their hold on voters. Conservatives themselves have flouted their commitment to small government whenever they came to power. Tax cuts have made rich richer but failed to boost growth. Remember the Kansas supply-side experiment?

That leaves only nationalism, which by itself is not enough to have an upper hand in the globalized world. So they have combined nationalism with the politics of personal destruction, which works for the Conservatives.

It is not all gloom and doom, though. For instance, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who took a page from Donald Trump and David Cameron, did not win the French presidency. Emmanuel Macron — a pro-Europe, centrist political neophyte — did, renewing the faith of those like me who believe in democratic politics based on competing visions and policies.

But as the bad money drives out the good money, bad politics drives out good politics. I am afraid the politics of personal destruction might spread quickly in the rest of the world and make the entire planet worse off. I hope the politicians resorting to the nihilist strategy abandon it before the policy-based democratic politics dies a slow death.

 

 

Murari Sharma: A momentous week with serious implications

The last week was one of the most momentous ones with terrible consequences for the world.

US President Donald Trump withdrew America from the landmark Paris climate change accord, undermining the global efforts to protect the environment. With this, America has become the third country in the world, together with Syria and Nicaragua,  to stay out of the agreement.

The former US Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey pushed the US President Trump a few steps closer to impeachment. Comey told a Senate hearing how the president sought to stop the FBI investigation into Russia’s role in influencing the American presidential elections in 2016. Though Trump might not be impeached by the Congress controlled by his party, for now, what will happen after the midterm elections in 2018?

British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority in the parliament in the snap election. She ran on despair and lost her slim majority in the dissolved parliament. Though her party is still the largest, she will be considerably weakened both at home and at the Brexit negotiations.

China seems to have decided to set up its military base in Pakistan, cementing its economic and strategic surge. It is an integral part of the Chinese ambition to become a strategic force in West Asia and Africa.

Several Arab countries spearheaded by Saudi Arabia imposed an embargo on Qatar, which was blamed for supporting Sunni Islamist terrorists in the Arab world.

Terrorists killed 12 people in Iran and 7 in the United Kingdom, the one in the UK was second such attack in as many weeks.

Back in Nepal, several important developments took place. Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister under an understanding between the two leaders. The ruling coalition withdrew the impeachment motion it had filed against now the former Chief Justice Sushila Karki. And the second round of local elections was postponed to 28 June 2017 to accommodate the Madheshi parties.

These are only a few representative examples. But the message is the world is in turmoil. What does it all mean for the world and Nepal?

Let us start with the world. The US withdrawal from the Paris accord has set back the potential progress in taming climate change and environmental degradation by decades. It means some island countries will move a few steps closer to extinction and many coastal countries will see their coastal areas under water.

The political turmoil under a bully authoritarian president will weaken democratic institutions in the United States and other countries. It will also weaken the US economy and the global economy.

China’s plan to establish its military base in Pakistan will further destabilize the already unstable South Asia. Besides, it will embolden Beijing to assert itself more vigorously in the South China Sea, where it has claimed a large ocean territory, and lead to a major conflict there.

Ganging up by several neighbors on Qatar has destabilized West Asia further,  already the most volatile region in the world. While Qatar’s support for terrorists must not be denounced, this norm must also apply to other backers of terrorism, including those that have pulled out the dagger against Qatar. There are no good or bad terrorists.

Once again, terrorism is raising its head. After the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soared the tempers to the stratosphere had somewhat subsided, global terrorism also had somewhat receded. But the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have pushed it to a new height.

That brings me to Nepal which has been, and will be, bearing the impact all these global developments as well as its own internal turn of events.

For instance, the impact of climate change is real for Nepal. The Himalayas have lost their snow cover. Glacial lakes have been filling up fast, threatening to burst, which will wipe out millions of people and animal and inundate the downstream fertile land. Several species of flora and fauna have become extinct or near extinct.

Any increase in tension in South Asia will directly affect Nepal. Sandwiched between China and India, the country is already suffering from its neighbor’s conflicting ambitions. Instability in the US will embolden either one or both of our neighbors to do foment the tension which they would otherwise avoid.

The turmoil in West Asia will affect Nepal seriously. It has frightened more than 2 million Nepali people working in the region, particularly the Gulf countries. It might also adversely affect the supply of petroleum products in Nepal, making life hard and holding development activities back.

Terrorism remains a scourge for Nepal. Some Maoist groups have continuously resorted to terrorism as their favored weapon to frighten people and to bend the government to their wishes. Similarly, some Madheshi groups have also taken to terrorism to have their way, as the Maoist had in the wake of their armed insurgency, 1996-2006.

True, the change of the prime minister might not mean much if the policy stays the course, but one must wonder about the new prime minister and the timing. Every time Sher Bahadur Deuba has taken the helm, the country has suffered a major political disaster.

The first time, the Maoist started their armed insurgency, in 1996. The second time, Deuba irrigated the culture of corruption in the political class by buying and selling members of parliament, offering expensive vehicles and other facilities. More seriously, he handed democracy to King Gyanendra’s palace on a gold plate to remain in power just for a few months, in 2001-02.

The third time, Deuba proved unable to prevent King Gyanendra from dismissing him and assuming direct power, in 2005.

Besides, the timing of the change is not propitious either. Half of the country has had local elections under the previous prime minister while the remaining local elections, as well provincial and federal elections, need to take place under Deuba in next seven months. Given Deuba’s tainted past, one cannot be sure whether he will take the country over a political precipice, as several commentators have feared.

The most troubling for Nepal was the impeachment motion moved by the ruling parties against the just-retired Chief Justice Sushila Karki for the Supreme Court’s decision against the government. The motion has frightened judges to dispense justice without fear or favor, which is a recipe for destroying democracy. The Madheshi parties’ fear to join the local elections could have long-term consequences for the country’s integrity.

Vladimir Lenin says, “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience.” You do not have to agree with his ideology to appreciate the truth contained in Lenin’s quote. Let us hope that our politicians do not give us in the future such terrible weeks as the last one.