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.

Murari Sharma: Crime and Reward

The United States is a democratic country both in form and in substance, for no one, including its president, is above law. Its checks, balances, and institutions work effectively to keep the executive, legislative, and judicial branches within their limits and to protect citizens’ rights.

In contrast, Nepal looks democratic in form — some may call it an illiberal democracy — but not in substance.  Checks, balances, and institutions exist, but they do not work on political leaders, especially at the top. To sustain democracy, we must make them work on all.

Here is what I mean. In the US, courts have rejected Trump’s several executive orders, including the travel ban on the citizens of six Muslim countries, as unconstitutional. Trump was furious, but nobody has moved an impeachment motion against the justices. The president cannot initiate it, and the bar for Congress to it is much higher than in Nepal. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion that might have tipped the presidential election in his favor. Furious, Trump asked its Director James Comey to terminate the investigation and fired him when he refused. It has only motivated the FBI to widen and deepen the investigation and the Congressional committees looking into the matter to do the same. 

Certainly, Trump will face impeachment if he himself or his campaign had colluded with Russia to benefit him, accepted money from Russia or promised undue favors if elected. Likewise, he will likely be impeached for the obstruction of justice for asking the FBI and the intelligence agencies (like CIA and NSA) to terminate the Russia investigation. 

Bear in mind that Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment for the obstruction of justice.  Nixon resigned and Clinton survived it.

Contrast this to the situation in Nepal. Our top leaders are not investigated and punished for committing any crime, including murder, or for obstructing the course of justice. They get rewards for their crime.

Dostoyevsky had given the title of Crime and Punishment to his most famous novel. But in Nepal, there are only crimes and rewards for influential political leaders.

Here are some examples of crimes and rewards.

Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had given a written commitment to a foreign country to protect its interests in exchange for its support to them to harm Nepal through their armed insurgency. They became prime ministers. No investigation, no punishment for this treasonable crime.

A few Maoist murderers have become ministers and other high officials. Balkrishna Dhungel, the Maoist murder of Ujjan Shrestha, is ‘absconding’ under the nose of the police, thanks to the protection of senior leaders.  

If they or their close supporters commit such heinous crimes as terrorism, murder, and rape, our top leaders treat such cases as political, so they are not filed with courts or withdrawn if they are already filed.

The latest example is the government’s decision to withdraw the cases against those who had killed several policemen and a child in cold blood in Tikapur. The perpetrators of such serious crimes will be further rewarded.

The leaders who had allegedly compromised Nepal’s interests in the Tanakpur Bund and the Mahakali Treaty retained their high posts; they were rewarded with repeated appointments to those posts. 

The leaders who have allegedly accepted from foreign governments money, scholarships, free medical treatment, and other expensive gifts for them and their relatives in return for advancing policies favorable to such countries have become prime ministers and ministers. Crime and reward. 

The leaders who have been shown in the media visiting foreign countries and asking publicly for their support to bread Nepal or change the constitution and law remain respected. Crime and reward. 

Our leaders are some of the most corrupt in the world, but they continue thriving by obstructing justice without facing justice.  Most of the current leaders who entered politics in poverty have become millionaires and billionaires within a decade without ever having a steady job or doing business.  Transparency International finds the political sector more corrupt in Nepal than any other sector. But our politicians continue to rake in corrupt money and to thrive. Crime and reward.  

Sure, some second-tier leaders have been jailed for corruption. It happened only because they had lost the blessings of their top leaders due to personal conflict. Sure, several leaders have corruption cases pending in courts, but they have used their supporters in the bar and in courts to defer their cases indefinitely, using all kinds of procedural obstructions.

When Chief Justice Sushila Karki began to demolish such artificial barriers and expedite such pending cases, our leaders struck back with an impeachment motion against her. This is a form of the obstruction of justice. I will come to it a little later.

Here is how our leaders thrive by obstructing justice. First, they appoint their loyalist to independent investigative bodies and courts, who would not poke their nose into their benefactor’s dirty closet. Such have been the recent appointments of Supreme Court justices, and heads and members of other constitutional bodies.

Second, they often appoint to such bodies people with a corrupt background who would have no moral standing to go after the top leaders’ corruption. For instance, Deep Basnyat, the recently appointed chief of Commission to Investigate Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has a corruption case in the Supreme Court. It does not mean Basnyat is guilty until proven, but it means he should not have been appointed at all until he was cleared.

Third, if some officials of such bodies begin to demonstrate their independence, as they should, our top leaders take no time to move the impeachment motion against them and get them suspended immediately.

I have already given the example of Chief Justice Sushila Karki. Our leaders had also moved an impeachment motion against the then chief of CIAA Lokman Karki when he began to look into the complaints and evidence about our top leaders’ corruption.

Our leaders have hung the Damocles sword of impeachment over the officials of independent constitutional bodies to protect themselves, so they can continue committing crimes with impunity. For instance, the constitution drafted by them says one-fourth members of parliament can move an impeachment motion against such officials, and as soon as a note to this effect is submitted to the Speaker of the House, the official in question is suspended.

Unlike in the US, the bar for it is very low in Nepal. The constitution has not laid down any provision for the preliminary examination of the charges against constitutional officials by an independent mechanism before triggering the impeachment motion. 

Do you think our leaders will ever face the kind of criminal investigation US President Trump and his team members are facing now? Probably, not in my lifetime.  

Prime ministers will come and go. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has resigned on 24 May 2017 to pave the way for another, under a secret agreement. But their secret and unwritten agreements to break or evade the law and protect each other from justice will stay with us. The crime and reward will continue. So Nepal will remain a democracy only in form if at all, not in substance. That is a pity. 

 

Murari Sharma: The wrong side must lose this cold war

By moving an impeachment motion against the chief justice before DIG Navaraj Silwal’s second petition was even heard, the government started a cold war with the Supreme Court. The court fired back by staying the motion.  

As a student of law, I view the constitution and due process of law as sacrosanct. Therefore, I have no doubt that the government is on the wrong side. If the wrong side wins this war, you and I will lose our rights and freedoms.  

It is important that we are not misled by the tons of government propaganda out there justifying the motion. If you look at the sequence of events and the constitutional provisions, you would know the truth.     

First, the sequence. The government promoted DIG Jaya Bahadur Chand to the inspector general of police (IGP), and his competitor, Navaraj Silwal, appealed to the Supreme Court. The court gave its verdict in Silwal’s favor, but the government hastily appointed another DIG, Prakash Aryal, to the post.  

Silwal knocked the court’s door with a second petition, and the court accepted it to examine. Angered by this, the ruling coalition filed an impeachment motion in the parliament against Chief Justice Sushila Karki, before the court had heard the case. The motion resulted in Karki’s suspension. 

Essentially, the coalition argued that Karki encroached upon the executive branch’s turf by accepting Silwal’s second petition.

All dictatorships start by trampling the constitution and rule of law and silencing courts and by arrogating unlimited power to themselves. The impeachment of Chief Justice Sushila Karki looks like the first step in that direction.  

Ruling on a case filed by two lawyers, Justice Cholendra Rana stayed the motion and ordered Karki’s reinstatement, citing that the motion based on a sub judice case violated the constitution. Karki returned to work. In response, the government has hinted that it would punish Rana for the breach of the parliament’s privilege to impeach justices. 

Here is what the constitution of Nepal 2015 says:

Article 126: Everyone should abide by the Supreme Court’s decision in any legal case.

Article 128 (2): The Supreme Court will be the final interpreter of Nepal’s constitution and law.

Article 133: The Supreme Court has the exceptional authority to provide legal remedies, only limited by the impeachment motion moved against the justices in the legislative bodies. 

Section (3): The Supreme Court can review its own decision.

Article 101 (2): 1/4 members of parliament can move the motion of impeachment against the chief justice or justice of the Supreme Court if they fail to fulfill his duties because of serious violation of this Constitution and law, incompetence or misconduct or failure and honestly or serious violation of the code of conduct.

Section (6): Once the motion is moved, the chief justice or justice of the Supreme Court would not be able to discharge his duties. 

Article 103 (7) and (8): The legislature has the authority to punish anyone who undermines its privileges. 

Article 105: The legislature cannot discuss anything sub judice case or anything said or done in the course of giving justice unless it is considering an impeachment motion against a judge.

In summary, the court is the final interpreter of law, and it has the obligation to protect citizens’ rights. It is the duty of everyone to abide by the court’s verdict. If someone disagrees with the verdict, they should ask the court for a review. 

The parliament must not discuss any sub judice case or the conduct of a justice therein unless it is discussing the impeachment motion against the justice.  

Evidently, the ruling parties have breached the due process at several levels.

First, they introduced a sub judice case for discussion in the house, which is prohibited by the constitution.

Second, they moved the impeachment motion on speculation that the court would decide against the government, and without exhausting the review remedy. 

It is against natural justice, principles of jurisprudence, practice in other democratic countries, and Nepal’s own constitution to charge anyone of crime before one has been committed.   

Besides, though Karki has not been above reproach — for instance, in the recent appointment of several judges — her faults were not serious enough to meet the threshold set for impeachment under Article 101 (2).

If the same standards were applied to them as to Karki, most of the politicians who moved the impeachment motion would be in jail. They have committed infinitely more horrendous crimes of corruption, incompetence, dishonesty, handing democracy to the palace, and compromising national interest with foreign powers for personal gains than Karki.  

Natural justice and principles of jurisprudence call for proportionate punishment for all crimes. However, the ruling coalition has vengefully applied a disproportionate measure to silence Karki and the judiciary. You do not fire a nuclear bomb to kill an irritating nanny. 

Justice Rana’s stay order prevented the injustice of punishing Karki before she has committed a crime and put the process in its right order. Therefore, it is preposterous for the ruling parties to suggest, as they have done, that Rana should be punished for breaching the parliament’s privilege.

Faced with the strong opposition from the opposition parties, civil society, and the United Nations, the government has put the motion on hold, and the Parliament has postponed its meetings until after the local elections due on 14 May 2017. This is a temporary ceasefire. 

The question arises, why have the leaders become vengeful towards Sushila Karki and the Supreme Court? 

The answer is a no-brainer. Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist leader and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal have been shielding themselves and their close supporters from the music of justice for their crimes. They are angry with Karki because:

          –She instructed the government to arrest within 7 days Balkrishna Dhungel, a Maoist leader sentenced to jail for the murder of Ujjain Shrestha, who is hiding in plain sight under the protection of his party’s senior leaders.  The court can slap the government with the contempt of court for not arresting Dhungel.

          –She handed the court’s verdict on the Sudan procurement scandal and sentenced three former police chiefs to jail.

          –She expedited the corruption cases against the political leaders that were pending for ages in the court.

Deuba should be held to higher standards than Dahal for starting the cold war. Deuba has fought for democracy and been to jail, and the Supreme Court had him released from prison not long ago. But power seems to have blinded him now.

For Dahal, it is only one more opportunity to destroy democracy and its institutions. Just to achieve that goal, he had conducted the Maoist insurgency for 10 years and spilled the blood of 17,000 people.       

Remember, an activist court is much less dangerous than a reckless government with bureaucracy and treasury at its disposal. If we love our democracy and our rights, we must not support the wrong side — government — in this cold war.      

Murari Sharma: Messengers of death on bikes

Messengers of death ride motorbikes in Kathmandu, a Nepali capital-based friend told me recently.  This is the reflection of a lawless country where breaking the rules is the norm.

A motorbike driven by a young man hit Padma Raj Subedi, 79, one of the finest men of Nepal and a former secretary to government, and killed him in Kathmandu. Subedi joined the statistics of victims of such accidents, which run in to thousands every year in the valley.

He was an exemplary father, a great mentor and a noted philanthropist. As a father, he trained and guided his children to the road of success. My close relative, he mentored me and thousands like me. His friends came to for support and advice. By supporting many charitable causes, he reached out to the wider community.

In addition, he was also a highly regarded former secretary to the Nepal government. He worked in various districts for many years, winning the hearts and minds of the local people, and rose to become a secretary. A mild, careful, and amiable person, Subedi was a clean and successful administrator, second to none.

At work or in society, he never did injustice to anyone. Yet, he suffered reckless injustice at the end of his career and his life.

The Girija Prasad Koirala government did Subedi gross injustice by firing him in 1991 when he was Secretary, together with other civil servants. Though he had dealt softly with the pro-democracy activists during the Panchayat days, some of Koirala’s cronies had linked him to the recently toppled system. The decision to fire him and many others was blatantly unjust, and the court reinstated most of them.

But Subedi’s appeal dragged on endlessly until his age for retirement arrived. Though Koirala apologized, publicly, for his ill-advised decision, the irreparable damage was already done.

Another injustice, from a young biker, took his life. Reportedly, a reckless young biker sped up and hit Subedi from the front when he was crossing the road through the zebra crossing near his home, sending the victim flying down to the black-topped road. He was rushed to Annapurna Hospital where he breathed last shortly.

Although pedestrians are supposed to have the right of the way at zebra crossings, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers in Kathmandu invariably claim this right over the people on foot.

In the capital city of Nepal, the bikers are the main culprits in traffic accidents and related deaths. They create traffic jams by filling every inch of road and preventing other vehicles from moving. They do not observe the one-way rule or the lane rule where they apply.

Worse, by usurping the footpaths to drive and park their bikes and by driving through one-way streets and the pedestrian-only bridges, they routinely endanger the life of road user. And they speed up when they see people using the zebra-crossing to traverse the road.

The bikers cause the majority of accidents, including those that kill. The number of traffic accidents, according to the Traffic Police, has increased by 280 percent over the last 10 years (from 1989 to 5568 accidents). Forty percent of the victims are pedestrians.

Why are the bikers and drivers so reckless in Nepal? This is what happens in a lawless country run by criminals.

Understandably, bikes are inexpensive to buy and operate and quicker to get from point A to B. Therefore, the rise in their number in Kathmandu over the last couple of years has been phenomenal. According to one figure, 70,000 bikes were added to Kathmandu, which has a population of slightly above one million, in the last six months or so alone. The sheer increase in the volume of traffic is bound to shoot up accidents.

But that does not give the bikers the license to be reckless. Neither has the government, on its part, done much to make the roads of Kathmandu safe.

It has not put traffic lights, not built footpaths in many places, and not maintained the roads well. Over the last three years, it has demolished the houses and walls to widen the city roads where they are narrow, but not an inch of them has been rebuilt. To make the worse, it has allowed water and sewage, and telecommunication companies to dig the road and leave it unbuilt.

So, Kathmandu has turned into the hell of mud in the wet season and the bowl of dust in the dry season, seriously affecting the health of millions its denizens.

What is more, traffic police let the rule breakers literally get away with murder while making a fast buck whenever possible. Appallingly, all deaths on the road are treated as accidents, letting the deliberate perpetrators of the crime also off the hook. No wonder, if a biker or driver hits and wounds a pedestrian, he would come back and kill the victim, so he can get away with the minuscule mandatory fine and avoid the expenses of the victim’s treatment.

Therefore, a sizeable number of traffic accidents are not accidents but revenge killings.

Unfortunately, Subedi has become one of the 41 percent pedestrians that lose their lives in traffic accidents. He was the innocent victim of the reckless driving and lax enforcement of weak government rules in Kathmandu. If his death injects a sense of responsibility in the bikers and drivers as well as the government, his murder, though unjust and callous as it was, would do some service to the people of Kathmandu.

But I doubt that it would happen. If Nepalis learned from experience, we would not have been where we are today.  So the bikers will remain the messengers of death on the streets of Kathmandu for many years to come, and the Nepal government will continue muddling through, while politicians and bureaucrats line their pockets from the miseries of common people.

So messengers of death will continue riding motorbikes in Kathmandu and the lawless country will continue sinking into deeper chaos. In other words, the sad death of Padma Raj Subedi, a great loss for his family and Nepal, may not change anything other than padding up the traffic death statistics.

 

Murari Sharma: Whiter Syria

US President Donald Trump ordered the US military to lob 59 Tomahawk missiles into the President Assad-controlled Syria after it was alleged that the Assad regime used chemical weapons to kill nearly 80 of his enemies and innocent Syrians. It has put Washington and Moscow on the collusion course once again and made Syria’s future a lot more uncertain and more precarious than ever before.

If you thought the Cold War is over, think again. It has resurfaced in several countries, including in Ukraine and Syria. In Syria, President Baser al-Assad is trying to hold onto power with the support of Russia and Iran, while the West is trying to remove him with the help of Syria’s Sunni neighbors. In an effort to scare off the rebels, the Assad regime allegedly used chemical weapons in the rebel-held territory, inviting Trump’s missile strikes.

But the facts are not straightforward, though. In politics, they seldom are. International politics lacks factual basis further under the thick cloud of nationalism and national interests. While Western powers have implicated the Assad regime, the other side has blamed the rebels for using the chemical weapons. Independent verification is difficult to achieve more often than not. The Western narrative has covered the global media.

The reaction to President Trump’s order to strike Syrian military facilities has been mixed. The majority of Americans (51 percent) have welcomed the attack. The minority have doubts about the attack that does not have any strategy or goal behind it other than one-time punishment for the Assad regime. Similarly, world opinion is divided as well, especially because the strikes took place without UN authorization.

Former US President Barack Obama had desisted from engaging in military action against the Syrian regime for the lack of a good option. The American people are not eager to put the boots to the grounds abroad. Airstrikes alone would not push President Assad out, the American goal from the beginning. It appears President Trump has waded into Syria without any strategy, unless one is on the anvil as we speak.

Even if there was a strategy, it would be difficult to implement if Trump is indebted to Moscow for his election. Trump would be unwilling to move aggressively if Russia, which is supporting the Assad regime, had indeed helped him get elected to the White House. Congress is investigating the Russian interference in the US presidential elections.

Russia has fully supported the Assad regime with airpower and logistics. If  Russians helped Trump into the White House, Trump would think twice before he does anything to rub Russian President Putin the wrong way. An angry Putin will certainly spill the bins, leading to the ouster of Trump through impeachment. Trump would be stupid to stir such a firestorm.

And the pointers are not good for Trump. Trump himself publicly had called on Russians to hack into his opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign. He has made conflicting claims about his meeting with Russian President Putin in the past: He has met with Putin and not met with Putin.

Trump’s advisers have been in cahoots with Russians. His first National Security Adviser Flynn resigned due to his Russian connections. Paul Manaford, Trump’s former campaign manager with deep connections with Russia, is planning to register as a foreign agent, according to the Guardian.

Even a reckless maverick like Trump would not want to shoot himself in his foot.

That makes Syria’s and Assad’s future all the more uncertain. Assad will be difficult to remove because of the support he is receiving from Russia and Iran. The West, which is supporting the rebels, would not rest until Assad is gone. Unfortunately, the American airstrikes have emboldened the rebels without intimidating Damascus, Moscow and Tehran.

This means further escalation in the conflict, more bloodshed and more misery for the Syrian people, and more devastation of the country. Using force to change the regime of another country is wrong no matter who does it. If a situation warrants a humanitarian intervention under international law, then it must be swift and effective, so people do not have to endure unnecessarily prolonged misery.

The American airstrikes are wrong on the first count and do not meet the test of the second requirement. Yet the present occupant of the White House launched the one-time attack. This twitter master has often been whimsical and irrational so far. Until proven otherwise, there is no evidence that he is going to be consisten this time around. So the Trump’s airstrikes will make the Syrian conflict worse, with no end in sight.

That is indeed sad for the Syrian people, the rest of the world, and humanity as a whole.