New Year 2014: Unrelenting Human Optimism; by Murari Sharma

People from Kiribati to the United States celebrated the arrival of New Year 2014. I also watched on television, as always, most of the celebrations, dominated by colorful lights and fireworks, and enjoyed it. Things may or may not change that much, and changes might be for the better or worse, I marvel at the boundless human optimism that motivates us to rejoice the onset of every new year.

New year celebrations enthuse rich and poor alike. The rich see it as an opportunity to enjoy it by displaying their wealth and luxury. The poor enjoy free festivities and dream that the new year will bring better days, leaving behind the dreary and destitute life they led in the years gone by.

Yet, only a few years in history have brought in revolutionary transformations for peoples, countries and the world. Such changes may include independence from colonial rulers, introduction of a new political system, invention of  a new technology, finding of a new cure for an old disease, start or the end f World War I and II, human landing on the moon, etc. Evolutionary changes are more common, constant and consistent.  

Although some countries and players witnessed revolutionary change in fortune in 2013, for most it was remarkably an evolutionary year.       

For Nepal, 2013 was a year of evolution, though there were winners and losers. Elections were held for the Constituent Assembly II and centrist parties together won two-thirds majority while fringe groups on the left and right did not do so well. A bureaucratic government maintained unprecedented law and order and organized peaceful polls. The national cricket team made it to the world cup. There was no acute shortage of imported basic supplies. Tension between various ethnic groups seen in 2012 over federalism subsided. Foreign employment increased and poverty declined.

On the flip side, growth rate and exports slowed down and corruption continued unabated. The UCPN (Maoist) split into two. Hill Janajati and Madheshi parties lost the CA II elections badly despite their fiery slogans for ethnic federalism and ‘one Madhesh, one pradesh.’ The nomination of candidates for the proportional representation stirred a political storm in all parties. Power blackouts and drinking water shortage in Kathmandu continued.

Out in the world, China and India stepped into space age with their space missions. The United States and Iran signed a nuclear deal that will for now freeze Tehran’s uranium enrichment project. The euro survived the 2008-09 recession and the debt crisis of Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland. The Japanese economy revived after a long stagnation and Europe and America showed sustained green shoots of recovery. The American Congress passed the first biennial budget is several years. Illiteracy and child mortality decreased and longevity increased across the globe.

Global developments were not all positive, however. China escalated tension in East Asia by establishing the air-defense identification zone covering Senkakus (Diaoyusent in Chinese) island and renewing its claim to several other islands in the South China Sea. The US suffered government shutdown upsetting global markets. South Sudan and Central African Republic descended into violence and bloodshed. Typhoon Haiyan devastated a large part of the Philippines. Russia suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in Volgograd. Greece, Spain and Italy suffered a serious debt crisis and deep economic contraction.

Besides, none of the old conflicts was solved. The civil war in Syria continued claiming thousands of lives and displacing millions of people. Egypt remained in turmoil and uncertainty, as the military removed the elected President Morsi and the court labeled his Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The Middle East sees no end to its conflict and misery. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Thailand continued to suffer from political instability and economic dislocation.

What lies ahead for Nepal and for the world in 2014 is hard to predict. Hopefully, Nepal will have a new constitution and will hold elections for a new parliament and for local bodies. Its economy will pick up, as the increased paddy production in the recent crop cycle suggests. But it is also equally possible that the statute will not be written and ethnic violence incited by political parties will once again consume the country over the sensitive issue of federalism. As a result of all these, the economy will suffer.

Justice is where no improvement is expected. Despite the Supreme Court’s recent verdict not to protect grave criminals under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Maoists will continue to prevent justice to protect their cadre. In response, other political parties will protect the security forces. The proposed TRC for conflict era violence will not be established, and if set up, it will offer a blanket amnesty to the perpetrators. Krishna Prasad Adhikari’s fast-to-death to bring the killers of his young son to justice will likely go in vain.

In the rest of the world, India will have its general elections. The tension in East Asia will hopefully be contained. The Syrian and Egyptian political crisis may be resolved with a happy ending. The United States will avoid another devastating government shutdown with implications for the global economy over the fight on the debt ceiling. Europe will continue to sustain its recovery and Japan will continue to grow respectably. However, chances of all these things going in the opposite direction are equally strong.  

It is hard to be convinced that 2014 is going to be definitely better than 2013. But what can be said with certainty is this: In many respects, 2014 is going to be better than the year behind us. Is some areas, it could be worse. Yet our relentless optimism will prepare us to celebrate the arrival of the next year, even though in reality we are losing one more year of our life and getting older. Belated Happy New Year 2014.