Murari Sharma: Nepal needs to regulate transfer of power

The transfer of power has become a major problem in Nepali politics. It has demoralized politics, fueled economic recklessness, and increased unnecessary burden to the people and the country. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has continued that culture. It must be changed.

Have you ever given away something you love voluntarily? Have you ever given up your power at home or in office? I can tell you from my experience that it is incredibly difficult.  Some people stick to power and position forever, going to any extent.

Therefore, democratic societies stipulate specific period and procedure for tranfering power. Some countries have made them more specific than others. For instance, the United States holds its elections on Tuesday after 1 November and requires the transfer of power on 20 January.

Nepal’s constitution lacks such specificities. Therefore, Mr. Deuba has been exploiting the loophole while promising to resign after the elections are finished. I can understand Mr. Deuba’s stand. The federal upper house, indeed, is yet to be elected and obtain its full shape.

However, Mr. Deuba stands on a shaky ground. Even if he had resigned a month ago, he would have continued as the interim prime minister. Mr. Deuba is too smart not to understand it. Then, why has Mr. Deuba not yet resigned resign? While no one can read his mind, we can rationally speculate a range of motivations behind his procrastination.

First, Mr. Deuba expects to become prime minister again during the life of the recently elected federal house of representative if he can break the CPN (UML)-Maoist Center alliance. A coalition of his party, the Maoist Center, the Federal Socialist Forum, and the Rashtriya Janata Party will constitute a majority in the house. Therefore, Mr. Deuba thrown a bait to the Maoist Center leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal by supporting him for prime minister for the next five years. If Mr. Dahal takes the bait, if would be the eighth wonder if Mr. Deuba did not ask him for a roatation and become prime minister again.   

Second, Mr. Deuba has already reaped the benefits by not resigning. If he had resigned, he could not have forced President Bidya Devi Bhandari to sign the upper house election ordinance, which incorporates his choice, the single transferable vote system, not the first-past-the-post favored by the UML. Under the measure, his party will have a respectable representation in the upper house, otherwise impossible. Mr. Deuba might also be able to wangle one or two members to be nominated to it by President Bhandari.

Third, Mr. Deuba has already appointed governors and chief secretaries in the provinces the people of his choice. While there is no guarantee that the government waiting in the wing would keep them all in their positions, some of them may survive, which would be a major gain for Mr. Deuba’s party, which has not won a majority in any of the seven states.

Fourth, Mr. Deuba, by sticking to power,  could announce several populist programs on the fly, without costing them. For instance, he has reduced the eligibility age for the old-age pension from 70 to 65 and for the single or widowed Dalit women to 55.  In addition, he has been spending money from the state coffers to reward his cronies, friends, and supporters in one pretext or another. Even the Finance Ministry and Home Ministry have expressed their concerns about Mr. Deuba’s reckless populism.

However, the left alliance (UML-Maoist Center) is not free from its own shortcomings that have allowed Mr. Deuba to continue in power and take these reckless populist measures. Even though the alliance members have agreed on power-sharing in six states where they would form the government, they are yet to agree on it at the center.

This is not the first time a prime minister has clung to power even though he has lost the majority. Prime Ministers Girija Koirala in 1994 and Man Mohan Adhikari in 1995 dissolved the house and called elections, so they stayed in power until the election as interim. When he lost the majority, Mr. Deuba did the same in 2002, though he knew he could not organize the vote owing to Maoist disturbances. 

After the 2008 elections, Prime Minister Girija Koirala showed no signs of quitting from April to September. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala clung to power by breaking his agreement with the UML until it became untenable for him to do so on the face of the Indian economic embargo and opposition from the UML. K.P. Oli waited for a no-confidence motion to mature and resigned on the eve of the motion hitting the house floor.

Such examples demonstrate that they occur frequently. To prevent such maneuvering and resulting damage to democracy and the treasury, Nepal should introduce specific dates for the election and transfer of power. If the specificity of the United States is impossible to follow for one reason or another, it out to be a limited timefame, so it would not be stretched as an elastic.   

We lock our doors to prevent the well-meaning people to be tempted to steal. Similarly, we should put in place rules for checks and balances, so well-meaning politicians would not be tempted to stretch their power as an elastic. Firm rules and strong institutions are the locks of democratic politics that help secure our democracy and freedoms. 

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Murari Sharma: Selection of state capitals has not been wise

The government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has announced the temporary state capitals for Nepal’s newly created seven provinces, which are yet to be given their specific names. The decision has stirred protests in some of those cities that were also aspiring to the privilege. As people, should we be worked up against the selection?

For now, Biratnagar will be the capital of State 1, Janakpur for State 2, Hetauda for State 3, Pokhara for State 4, Butwal for State 5, Surkhet for State 6, and Dhangadhi for State 7. Dhankuta, Dharan and Itahari were competing with Biratnagar, Birgunj with Janakpur, Bhaktapur with Hetauda,  Dang with Butwal, and Doti with Dhangadhi. The protests have erupted in those places which were left out in this decision, barring in State 3. While politicians who rooted for the left-out cities are up in arms, political pundits have also joined the fray.

Some political pundits, like Krishna Khanal, have suggested that the squabble over the temporary state capitals of the newly federalized Nepal should not be a subject of fierce emotional outpour. Prima facie, it is true that temporary state capitals might be just temporary and not worth fighting against. It might also be true that if you already live in a privileged area or have enough resources to overcome the geographical distances, the issue is not worth crying over.

But for most other people, the location of state capitals matters. The state capital will bring investment, business opportunities, employment, good schools and hospitals, good transportation links, access to power, political influence, and so on. Besides, the temporary capitals may prove permanent in most situations because the people in these places would not easily abandon the privilege once they have achieved. Changing the status quo would bring even a bigger turmoil. So let us look at whether the selection of the temporary capitals has been wise.

A host of factors — political and non-political — needs to be considered while making such a momentous determination. The Deuba government, which is now in a minority and on its way out, could not garner support from the left alliance, the winner of the recent general elections. Besides, it seems that it did not give enough thought to some of the important of non-political elements essential for this important decision. They include the availability of transportation links, including air links, communication facilities, room to grow further, central location,  water supply, and security, mainly external.

Let me dwell on these elements specifically her. From the point of transportation links, the seven state capitals have been well thought out. They all have good roads linking to them to Kathmandu and to the provinces they will serve. Except for Hetauda, other places have air links as well. All seven state capitals have had good communication links, if not the best ones, within their respective regions. They all have room to grow into bigger cities as well.

In terms of the centrality of location, the decision is a mixed bag. While you cannot quibble much about Janakpur, Pokhara, and Surkhet, other places do leave much to be desired. Biratnagar, Hetauda, Butwal, and Dhangadhi are nowhere near the center of the respective provinces.

In addition, life needs water to sustain, and no wonder why most large cities are located near a river or sea. Unfortunately, except for Pokhara, no other temporary state capital is near a large body of water. While selecting permanent capitals for the states, we need to make sure that the source of water is within a manageable distance.

From the external security point of view, Makwanpur, Pokhara, and Surkhet are fine. They are far from neighboring countries, and this distance will shield them from the external threat of a quick aggression. But Biratnagar, Butwal, and Dhangadhi will be vulnerable to external threats as well as an internal criminal threat.

In the past, Indian police have come all the way to Kathmandu and other places in the name of a hot pursuit of criminals. Biratnagar, Butwal, and Dhangadhi will be under the direct range of fire for Indian security officials. If Seoul with 10 million people were not just 35 miles away from its border, South Korea could afford to be much tougher with its northern neighbor. Sure, in Europe, some capitals — for instance, Bratislava — are not far from their international borders, but the continent is not as volatile as the Asian continent where Nepal lies.

Among the various requirements for the ideal state capital, security must stand at the top. The reason is simple. You cannot change your geography but you can change all other elements through investment. For instance, India established New Delhi and the United States established the Washington DC, and both countries built the infrastructure to sustain their federal capitals.  In other words, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Butwal, and Dhangadhi should not be made permanent state capitals at all. They are too close to the border.

Among the candidate cities in State 1, Dhankuta has no airport and its land transport link is also tenuous. Itahari is ideal for transport links at the crossroads of the East-West Highway and North-South Highway but it is closer to the Indian border than Dharan.  Dharan has no room to grow without destroying the forest at its feet. But at any rate, Biratnagar should not be the permanent state capital unless we want Patna to be our de facto state capital.

From the security point of view as well as connectivity, Bardibas will be the ideal place for the capital of State 2. It is much farther than Janakpur from the border and is at the crossroad of the East-West Highway as well as Kathmandu-Bardibas Road. Besides, a new international airport is being considered in Nijgadh, which will be within a reasonable distance from Bardibas. Birgunj will be even closer than Biratnagar from the Indian border.

Hetauda needs a sizeable airport to become a permanent capital of State 3. Some heads of state and government visiting Nepal would want to visit state capitals as well, and we must have an airport that can handle much bigger planes than the Pilatus Porter, Twin Otters, and other small aircraft. For State 4, Tuslipur will be a better place than Butwal from the security point of view as well as from its relatively central location. Its airport should be extended for better air connectivity.

For State 7, Dhangadhi is too close to the border to feel secure and not centrally located for the province. But Doti is not a good substitute for Dhangadhi. Doti’s airport cannot handle big aircraft and is not a regional air link hub. State 7’s capital should be established anywhere north of the Eas-West Highway. Attaria could be considered as a possible choice, for instance.

While the Deuba government might have been under pressure to pave the way for provincial set up to start functioning and to choose places for state capitals that already have had some infrastructure, the decision should be treated as a stop-gap measure only. The new federal government and provincial governments must give serious attention to the elements that should be taken into account before making decisions on permanent state capitals.

While other countries are marching ahead on a long trajectory of political evolution and economic growth, Nepal has remained behind because we always go for the short-term political expediency rather than long-term vision. Our decision should be transformational: We should do what we want to be 10 or 20 years down the road, not cling to the status quo and expediency while deciding our permanent state capitals and our future. So the squabble over the state capitals is necessary to arrive at a rational decision.

 

 

Murari Sharma: Who should we fear most?

Last night, I woke up from a nightmare, frightened. Bombs were blasted in my area, and the fire was burning at several places. When a missile headed my way, I woke up in a fright. I was soaking with sweat, and my mouth was dry. Now I have been wondering whether such a scenario is possible for real.

Let me start with the causes of nightmares. According to the National Health Service of Britain, stress, trauma, mental health conditions, and some types of medicines, like antidepressants, cause adult nightmares. Since I do not have mental health issues and do not take antidepressants, the sources of my nightmare are stress and trauma, as most other adults.

Evidently, we live in stressful conditions and complex societies, often visited by traumatic experiences. We worry about our close ones’ and our health, finances, reputation, job, and progress; sometimes, disasters, accidents, wars, and so on also visit us. As human beings, we also worry about communities and nations at large. My personal and family issues are not serious enough to cause me nightmares.

I have been worried about volatile Nepal, Nepal’s neighbors, the burning Middle East, and the simmering war of words between North Korea and the United States.

Though they may not be imminent, my worries are not impossible. As we know, the world has not always washed in hope and enlightenment, in positive progress of science and technology, and in the optimistic and teachings of great saints like Rama, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammad. It has also witnessed the annihilation of peoples and civilizations, creation and use of devastating weapons of mass destruction, and rise of rascals like Hitler, Mussolini, and others like them.

Similarly, both at national and individual levels, we have witnessed the acts of kindness as well as of brutality and predation. For instance, many wealthy countries have been generously contributing to the growth and development of their less fortunate counterparts. To help the poor and dispossessed amongst themselves and halfway across the world, many in those countries have been contributing whatever they can. At the same time, we cannot forget the horrible exploitation by slave-owning nations, colonizers, aggressors, raiders, robbers, looters, and thieves.

Who should we worry most about?

In a rough and ready manner, I put people into four groups: Saint saints, Saint satans, Satan saints, and Satan satans.  Saint saints are those who mostly live for others and to help others, like Buddha, Jesus, and Gandhi. Satan satans live for themselves, such as murders, robbers, and hardcore criminals. Evidently, both Saint saints and Satan satans are a few. Therefore, the vast majority belong to the other two groups: Saint satans and Satan saints.

The Saint satans are those who start out as honest, pious, and charitable but give in to the baser instincts — enriching and empowering themselves by hook or crook while hurting others — as they proceed. Satan saints are those who start with baser instincts but wear the patina of higher value to win trust, fame, and office. Often difficult to distinguish, the majority of politicians, bureaucrats, priests, non-governmentwallahs, journalists, businessmen, and so on, belong to one of these two groups.

How much positive and negative contributions they make depends on how capable they are and what role and how much remit they acquire. Those with limited role and remit do limited good or damage and those who have wide role and remit do the opposite. The source of my nightmare has been these two groups of people at the national and broader levels. We should watch politicians most since they take the driving seat of society.

Before an election, most politicians go to their voters as their humble servants and promise to them the sun and moon. Once they are elected, they treat their voters like trash, pick their pockets, and plunder the country with two hands to enrich themselves, stay in power, and reward their relatives and bribers until the next election. If it serves their interest, these leaders take the country to war.

At the regional level, I have been worried about the politicians in India and China. They have been our frenemies. More out of self-interest than of charity, they have been helping us as a neighbor and friend. At the same time, Nepal has suffered two wars each with these countries and three crippling economic blockades from India since 1969 and sermons to find a modus vivendi with India from China. If Nepal were to work seriously against their self-interest, these neighbors would not hesitate to punish it and its people.

At the broader level, I have been worried about those Western countries and their priests that have been sowing the seeds for the clash between civilizations by supporting or carrying out the aggressive proselytization of the vulnerable Nepali people. Though it looks innocuous now, the seeds will germinate and trigger a war of attrition until Western religions dominate our country or fracture it.

I have also been worried about the Middle East, the source of energy for much of the world, going on between Isreal and Palestine and between the Shias and Sunnies in Yemen, Syria, and other places, where Sunnis are killing Shias and vice versa.

Above all, I have been worried about the war of words between the United States and North Korea, which may escalate into a nuclear exchange. Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un both have threatened to start a nuclear war and claimed that their fingers are on the nuclear button. Since I have never met any of them, I have no personal opinion about them, but what I have read about them makes me jitter.

The casual remarks made by several knowledgeable people apart, the assessment of 27 psychologists and Michael Wolff in his Fire and Fury, have presented a frightening picture of Trump. Kim’s killing his own relatives in a fury and starving his people while he pursues nuclear ambition have told his chilling story as well.  In other words, both Trump and Kim are whimsical, impatient bullies, if not maniacs. What if they turn out to be Saint satans or Satan saints and do push their nuclear buttons?

The half of humanity might get killed, making World War II’s 60 million casualties like a drop in the ocean of mass killing. World War II killed mostly those people whose countries were involved in it directly or indirectly, but a nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea could end up killing, maiming, or causing deadly diseases in the entire world. Unless you live on Antarctica, you could not feel safe. We have not seen too many Saint saints trying to diffuse this growing crisis.

This time, unlike in the past, the killings would not be distant. The casualties may include you and me, our relatives, or both.  Therefore, I have my nightmare. I hope my nightmare is a mundane incident that happens occasionally with all. Otherwise, all of us need to worry about the gathering threats, seriously.

 

Murari Sharma: This is what Chanakya would have said

Are you happy with the progress happening in Nepal? Most probably, you are not. I am not happy either. My unhappiness, like yours, is related to the lethargy, instability, lack of direction, corruption, etc. that we witness day in day out in the government. Yet, the country has been moving on spontaneously, with or without government intervention. It would be good if the new government becomes a positive force change. 

The country is on the cusp of having a new government. General elections for the federal and seven provincial legislatures have just been finished, and the left coalition of the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) has won shy of a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and comfortable majority in six out of seven states. Though differences remain among political parties regarding the election of the upper federal chamber, it will be sorted out one way or another. Therefore, it is time to focus on the future.

Already, the contours of the future have been spelled out in the victors’ election manifestos. For the future, the contours have already been drawn. The alliance members have promised heaven in their election manifestos. If the left coalition delivers only on half of its pledges, Nepal will have a successful economic take-off in the next five years. 

As many elements for the take-off are already there, the country is waiting for a big push to launch it. When I was growing up, I had to walk for three days to reach Dharan, the nearest motor head for my village in Bhojpur. My village had no piped water and electricity. My town, Dingla, had no college. Traveling and working abroad was a big deal. Going to the Terai involved the risk of malaria.

Now, those things have changed. You can travel to Dingla by sports utility vehicles (jeep), at least during the dry season. My village has electricity and piped water and my hometown has a college. Malaria has been eradicated in the plains. Now almost every house in my village has someone working or studying overseas.

On the national level, poverty has declined significantly and standards of living have improved. The people living below the poverty line was 41. 5 percent in 1984/85, 49 percent in 1991/92, and 25 percent in 2015. Income, education, and health services have improved, pushing the longevity to 69 years average (WHO, 2015).

Yet, there is wide dissatisfaction among my friends and compatriots about the country’s performance, especially in the post-1990 period. The country has been waiting for the big push for quite some time, but governments one after another have failed to deliver it. While the failure has been apparent in myriad areas of national life, it is nowhere as pronounced as in enduring political instability, rampant corruption, and anemic economic growth. 

In the post-1990 period, Nepal has suffered political instability as never before. Sure, you cannot and should not expect the panchayat era political stability because democracy is a managed chaos. Every few years, you have elections to change the government, but Nepal’s has been chaotic chaos, not organized chaos. 

No majority government has run its full 5-year course. The majority government of the Nepali Congress collapsed due to the factional fights during the first and the third parliament. The second parliament, as well as the first and second constituent assembly, were hung houses with the attendant frequent changes in government. In addition, we had the decade-long bloody insurgency launched by the Maoists in 1996 and the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, both of which rocked the country to its core. No wonder why from 1990 to date, we have had 24 prime ministers, excluding the cabinets presided over by King Gyanendra twice, and 10 from 2006 alone. 

Such political instability has promoted and nurtured a culture of rampant corruption. Corruption had been around during the panchayat era as well, but it had been limited. Only the royal family could engage in corruption without fear. Now it has been institutionalized and accepted as never before. The institutionalization of corruption is so deep that political bosses have been openly auctioning off public posts and contracts to the highest bidders. They have been appointing people, as ministers and members of anti-corruption bodies, who have been publicly known as corrupt. 

Now corruption has evolved as a badge of honor and basis for state reward. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has become prime minister twice despite touting his own corruption publicly in his 2002 video. Khum Bahadur Khadka and Jay Prakash Gupta received hero’s welcome when they were released from jail at the end of their sentence for corruption. 

As a result, Nepal’s best corruption perception index score has been 90 in 2004 and the worst 154 in 2011, while the rest of the years have been around 125. This is shameful.

Both the political instability and the rampant corruption have cursed economic growth. No prime minister has had long enough time to see his vision implemented for five years. Consequently, the growth rate has suffered over time as well as in relation to other countries. According to the CEIC (a Euromoney Institutional Investor Company), from 1965 to 2016, Nepal’s growth has crossed 7.5 percent thrice, twice before 1990 and only once in the post-1990 period, which does not speak well of the success of democratic governments to deliver economic growth. 

Similarly, Nepal’s economic growth has been lackluster in relation to other countries as well in the post-1990 period. China grew by double digits until it has decelerated in the last few years. India grew close to double digits in the same period. Bangladesh, the sick man of South Asia, has grown by around 7 percent a year in the post-1990 period overall and at around 13.7 percent on average in the 2007-17 period. Bhutan has done much better than us as well.

Despite these ailments in the public sector, people have been taking private initiatives to push the country forward when the government has not worked as an obstruction. For instance, after the government relaxed restrictions on passports and foreign exchange, people have been going abroad for employment and studies, sending back remittances, and bringing back skills, which have contributed to Nepal’s growth.

The remittances have mitigated poverty and kept its balance of payment favorable. The skills have contributed to employment and productivity and unlocked entrepreneurship. Private schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals have cropped across the country. Growing cash crops has come into vogue. Building local feeder roads have become an obsession, and most people have access to mobile phones, and most towns have Internet connections.

In other words, things are happening in Nepal, though the contribution to them from the government is minimal. Everyone in my village now wears shoes and flip-flops, travels by road, and send their children to school. Of course, the condition should have been much better. I only hope the next government, elected under the new constitution, will be a positive force for political stability and economic growth and an impediment to corruption. 

We, ordinary people, should continue expressing our dissatisfaction, so the king (ruler) would, as Chanakya has said, lose no time when the opportunity waited for arrives. The left alliance should seize the opportunity.

Murari Sharma: What next?

Elections are meant to give one victory and the other defeat. But sometimes, victory and defeat get into your head, and you end up destroying yourself immediately or in the near future. The victor needs to heed the Hindu precept: A wise person should not be arrogant in victory and diffident in defeat.

In the just-held general elections, this is what Nepal needs in the victory of the left alliance and the defeat of the democratic alliance.

The general election is over. Though the votes still being counted, people have already spoken and the picture has become clear.  The left alliance, mainly of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center), is on the way to a comfortable majority in the parliament and in six provinces out of seven.

Elections are won or lost based on several tangible and intangible things. They include ideology, the performance of the outgoing government, the length of the outgoing party in power, external factors such as war, foreign relations and strength of the opponent and internal factors such as the message and unity of a political party.

Krishna Adhikari,  a Nepali Congress Party supporter and my nephew, has rightly identified reasons why the NCP slid from the first position in the last general election to the third position in the general election whose vote counting is still going on. Because the list is already exhaustive, I do not think anything else needs to be added to it. But it would be illustrative to set it in context and highlight some of the reasons.

Adhikari says the NCP has lost the election not only because the CPN (UML) formed an electoral alliance with the Maoists but also because of 10 other reasons, as follows:

  1. False allegation against the retired Chief Justice Sushila Karki
  2. Injustice meted out to DIG Navaraj Silwal
  3. Higher priority to the panel over the party
  4. Zero organizational work
  5. Zero ideological education
  6. Growing crowd of opportunists, venal and disloyal party activists
  7. Prevalence of thug culture in the party and inertia of committed workers
  8. Lack of interest among the party leaders to understand people’s aspirations
  9. Failure to reach long-term and populist programs to people
  10. Incompetent, ignorant and arrogant leadership

All these points are valid. The only three other things I wish to add and explain are as follows:

  1. The jumbo cabinet as the symbol of misuse and corruption
  2. Lack of vision in the NCP leadership
  3. Inability to speak out when India imposed an economic blockade causing hardships for people.

However, it would be incorrect to say that the left alliance won the election only due to the NCP’s weaknesses. The UML has been the best-organized party at the grassroots, and its alliance with the Maoist Center gave it added strength.  But what helped the left alliance foremost were KP Oli’s vision and his standing up to India.

You need a dream and the determination to realize it and go beyond.  When he was prime minister for nearly a year at the head of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center), Oli had shared his vision: Road and rail network with China, use of Chinese ports for transit, tuin-free Nepal in two years, piped gas in every kitchen, and a ship Nepal can call its own.

Oli’s opponents and political pundits associated with them had ridiculed Oli. They had gone to the extent of labeling him as insane, who should be taken to Ranchi mental sanatorium. Even some of his party colleagues had thought he had lost his marbles.  But I had defended Oli in these pages at that time. I had written then that what he said were within the realm of possibility for Nepal.

For instance, the ship. I had applied for a job when Nepal had leased a ship and named it Narendra Laxmi when I was looking for a job as a young man.  If Oli promised to have another Narendra Laxmi after 40 years of the first Narendra Laxmi, how was it insanity? It was lack of vision of his opponents and political pundits associated with them.

Increased connectivity with China is feasible and should be promoted. A Chinese technical team has already visited Nepal and found the increased road and rail links possible. They will increase trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. They could at least be insurance against any obstruction of supplies from the south. If the cost is comparative to and from the Indian ports, such links will make Chinese ports viable as transit points for Nepal as well.

The piped gas to every kitchen is expensive and time-consuming but not impossible. In the UK kitchens, the gas comes from Russia and Ukraine through pipes. For the cost conscious people, pipe-delivered gas is much cheaper than the bullet-delivered in the long run.  If Oli can control only a small portion of leakage from the public coffers, he will have more resources than he needs to make Nepal tuin-free in the next 3 to 5 years, if not in two years.

But the NCP leadership forgot what Poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota has written: You must have the goal of touching the moon. It forgot how John F Kennedy dreamed in 1961 of sending a man to the moon and in 1969, the United States landed a man there. When Kennedy said it, it had sounded as incredible and insane as KP Oli’s dreams.  

Indeed, Oli might have taken an insane risk by calling the Indian economic blockade of 2015-16 as such. India, the hegemon in South Asia, is a decisive influence in Nepal due Indian dominance of Nepal’s economic, cultural and political factors. While the pussy-footed NCP leaders blamed a few Madheshi activists for it to remain in the good books of New Delhi, Oli called a spade a spade.

I am not suggesting that we should have adversarial relations with India. We need close, friendly and cooperative relations with the rest of the world, especially with our immediate neighbors. But such relations should be based on mutual respect. But the Nepali people elect their leaders to serve them and their national interest, not someone else’s.

This time, the Nepali people have rewarded Oli with a victory considering his dream and his guts to stand up to India on their behalf. Now the ball is in Oli’s court.  Now he needs to do two things: One, remember what Poet Lekha Nath Paudel has said: The tree that bears fruit is always bent. He must show humility and magnanimity in victory because he needs cooperation from other parties to realize his dream.

Two, he must avoid corrupt transactional politics and continue with his transformational politics, which he had started with his patience and push to promulgate the new constitution in 2015, defying the pressure from different quarters.  It will do him and the Nepali people good.  The Nepali people will see some progress and Oli and his party will not be pulverized in five years, as the NCP has been this time.

By the way, this is not an application to Oli for a job. I am beyond that stage. I will be pleased if Oli keeps the promises he has made to the people before this general election.

 

 

 

Murari Sharma: This General Election will have Lasting Impact

Nepal has held the general election in several districts on 26 November and will have it in the rest of the country on 7 December 2017.  While one would like to believe all general elections are equally important for a country, that is not always the case. Like this one.

Because of its timing, political alignments, and potential for reshaping politics for the years to come, this general election is one of the most significant ones for Nepal in its democratic history.

This general election is taking place at a critical time in the country’s history. This is the first election for the normal parliament after the country went republic in 2008. Both the 2008 and 2013 elections were for the constituent assembly to write a new constitution, not for a normal parliament.

Therefore, this election, being held under the new constitution for the first time, marks the end the political transition started in 2006 and beginning of a new political era. This election heralds the end of a unitary state and the beginning of a federal country for the first time.

In this election, we have seen the kind of political alignment that we had never witnessed in the country. The main left-parties, the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center), have formed a coalition and indicated that it could lead to their merger after the general elections. Similarly, the Nepali Congress Party has aligned itself with the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and to some extent with the Rashtriya Janata Party.

To remain relevant, smaller independent parties have formed their own coalition. They need to meet the minimum threshold — at least one directly elected member of parliament and 3 percent votes — to appoint members from the proportional representation category. Out of 275 seats, 110 will come from proportional representation.

This election will possibly shape Nepal’s future political course. First, the emerging political alliances indicate that they could evolve into two grand coalitions or two loosely organized political parties, leading a two-party state, like in Britain and the United States. It will inject some degree of stability in the political arena, which has been highly unstable and volatile most of the time since 1990, especially after 2006.

Second, the federal structure will make or break the country. If the political leaders make necessary compromises and accommodation to hold the country together, the country will follow the footsteps of India and other federal states, which had highly troubled past. For starters, India used to have a number of secessionist movements, in Punjab, Tamilnadu, and eastern states.

There will also be enough autonomy for states to pursue their own course within the federal structure and stay together, as again in India, Nigeria, South Africa, etc. 

If the political leaders fuel the fire of identity politics, which has become visible and vituperative after 2006 more than ever before, the country may fall apart. Ethiopia, Sudan, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, most Central Asian countries have gone down this route and become independent from the larger entities. Provincial structures, mechanisms, and resources will help secession efforts, unless stamped down, as in Catalonia.

Third, neighboring countries — India and China — have deep strategic interests in Nepal, which they are trying to pursue by changing their approach in the new context. Both rivals fear that one could Nepal and its territory against the other.

Previously, China used the Palace, leaders sympathetic to it,  and economic assistance to safeguard its interest. India used political fraternity as well as economic and cultural diplomacy/strong-arm-tactics, as necessary, to shape Nepali politics and policies in its favor.

But in the post-2006 scenario, the previous balance has been upset. For instance, the monarchy is gone. The identity politics in Nepal has fractured the old alliance-influence structures, and federalism has created its own challenges and opportunities for Nepal’s neighbors to influence its politics and policies.

China, worried about Tibet and other minority regions seeking autonomy or secession, has taken steps to increase engagement with Nepal. It has agreed to provide transit facilities for Nepal’s third-country trade, strengthened its contacts and assistance to the Nepal army, proposed closer road and rail links between the two countries, and increased investment in Nepal.

In other words, it has taken important steps to prevent Indian influence in Nepal from increasing in the new context.

India, on the other hand, has tried to keep its overwhelming influence unabated. While it has continued nurturing the old political fraternity and using economic and cultural diplomacy/strong-arm-tactics and economic and cultural leverage, it has also tried its best to impose its desire to have only one state in the Nepal Terai, which abuts India and which has people readily identifying as Nepalis of Indian origin.

The origin thing is spurious at best, but it seems to have been working as an effective propaganda tool.

For example, India tried to impose its desire to have only one state in the entire plains of Nepal by sending its Foreign Secretary to prevent the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, used its diplomats to stir unrest in the plains demanding one-Terai, one state demand, and imposed  an economic blockade when the Nepali leaders did not bow to its wish.

Any election can produce leaders that could change their countries or the world, but only some are designed to be that way. For instance, the normal elections produced leaders who have destroyed/shaken the system from within, such as Hitler, Gorbachev,  Trump, and Modi. But Nepal’s current election belongs in the latter class, such as the first post-independence elections in various countries or the first post-apartheid election in South Africa.

However, the media and most political pundits have not focused on the historical significance of this general election. They seem interested more in which-party-will-win-and-which-will-lose-game. This speculative game makes an interesting reading, like a romantic story. But at the broader and deeper level, this election will determine the course of Nepal’s political and economic future, including the influence of its neighbors in the process.

So this election is way more important than other elections. It is not an election just for the normal transfer or reaffirmation of power. It will define how the power is structured and used in Nepal and whether Nepal remains territorially as we know it.

Murari Sharma: An inward-looking America is bad for America and the world

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, to Bangladesh, in recent months. This number is steadily rising towards a million. If President Donald Trump had not withdrawn the United States from the world, the generals in Naypyidaw probably would not have ordered the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Rakhine State.

Some American leaders and celebrities have declared President Trump unfit for his office. Some psychologist and mental health experts have doubted his fitness as well. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz says Trump “has fascist tendencies.” These things are for the American people to decide. 

I respect the American people’s decision. So I am interested only in how Trump’s policy and personality have been affecting the United States and the rest of the world, including Nepal.   

Donald Trump ran on the nationalist, anti-trade, and anti-regional arrangement agenda and won the election. Naturally, nationalists in general and far-right nationalists, in particular, have felt that his election has mainstreamed their own beliefs. Trump is not one of the mainstream internationalist Republicans, who believe in free trade. And he sees regional groupings and their collective strength to bargain antithetical to US interest.

His personality is volatile, impulsive, and unpredictable. His threat to North Korea or his urge to investigate Hillary Clinton’s already investigated emails, his tweets at 3 am, his Access Hollywood tape, his call on Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, his trashing of minority judges because they decided against him in court cases, etc. do not speak for his trust and dependability. 

Already, Trump’s policies and personality have produced some negative impacts for him, the United States, and the rest of the world. For instance, his military general has said he would not follow Trump’s ‘illegal order.’ His attorney-general has said cannot abide by his urge to investigate his opponent. Such cases put Trump’s command and control in doubt.  

The United States has already suffered some significant setbacks on the world stage. For instance, he withdrew the United from the Paris climate change agreement, and China and Europe stepped in.  Washington has lost the opportunity to lead and shape the climate change agenda, and it might miss the climate-friendly technology gravy train.  

Likewise, President Trump withdrew from the Transpacific (trade) Partnership negotiations, but the other countries in the region have decided to move forward with the negotiation without the United States. Washington has effectively ceded the leadership of and influence in the region to China. 

Citing that the agency was anti-Israel, Trump withdrew the United States from UNESCO even though it had rejoined the agency after staying out for several years. The agency will continue criticizing Tel Aviv, now without any moderation from the United States. 

Trump has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if other members do not agree to amend it to America’s advantage. He has issued similar threats to several other countries. These countries will move on without the United States because they can do it now.

The United States is a major economic player, but it is not as indispensable now as it was 30 years ago. For example, according to WTO, the European Union was collectively the largest trading bloc in 2016 with the trade volume (export+import) of 3,821 billion dollars, followed by the United States 3,706 billion, and China 3,685 billion. China and Japan together posted 4,937 billion dollars. 

Similarly, while the US remains the foremost technological and financial powerhouse, other countries have been catching up and reducing US leverage. China is charging ahead in green technology. America is near the bottom in the industry’s share of GDP. London has superseded New York as the largest financial center.

During President Trump’s recent visit to Asia, the relatively reduced stature of the United States was visible. For instance, Japan and South Korea — where Trump’s trust rating is 17 and 24 percent, almost one-third of his predecessor — did not provide many trade concessions to oblige him. It is yet to be seen whether they buy American weapons in the volume Trump wants. 

China treated Trump nicely for not raising human rights issues and keeping at bay the dumping and currency manipulation issues, which he had raised repeatedly during his presidential campaign. It signed a few relatively minor trade deals. Beyond that, there was nothing to write home about. 

In Vietnam, the APEC countries rebuffed Trump’s single-minded emphasis on bilateral trade and decided to move ahead with the TPP without the United States. In the group photo, Trump was made to stand in the second row, slightly to one side.

In the Philippines, Trump endorsed his equally volatile counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, who has been killing anyone suspected of being involved in drugs, blatantly violating human rights and the due process of law. And yet, Duterte made his soft corner for China clear as soon as Trump left Manila.

While there is nothing wrong for a leader to promote his country’s national interest, the problem is with the identification of such interest.  The Trump brand fails to recognize the fundamental logic that Winston Churchill had recognized long ago: With power comes resources and responsibility. If you do not have one, you will not have the other either. Paul Kennedy has asserted that the empires of yore rose and fell with their command over resources.

For instance, the industrial revolution gave Britain resources and power to bring much of the world under its control. When Britain was stretched thin, the resource-rich United States powered ahead. The colossal loss it suffered in World War I and II and in the independence of its colonies relegated Britain to the second, even third-rate power. 

If the Trump brand of Make America Great Again succeeds, the United States is likely to follow the British trajectory. To prevent such a course, the United States needs to continue building alliances to share the cost and maximize benefits for its friends and allies around the world.

That brings me to Myanmar. The Myanmar military systematically persecuted the Rohingyas, the Bengali Muslim minority, and the Nobel Prize-winning foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi did not stop them. She even sought to brush the issue under the carpet, including in her speech at the UN General Assembly in September this year.  

If the Myanmar generals had not witnessed the United States abdicating its global leadership, they would have thought twice before ordering the ethnic cleansing, thanks to the UN provision for humanitarian intervention in cases of extreme human rights violation. To be sure, the provision has been inconsistently implemented. But the mere possibility of it could have restrained the generals.  

As for Nepal, the outcome has been mixed in the past under Republican and Democratic presidents. For example, President Johnson, a Democrat, and President Reagan, a Republican, welcomed King Mahendra and Birendra in America, respectively. Often Republican presidents have been more liberal in providing aid and trade concessions.

But President Trump is different. He wants to cut aid, reduce trade concessions, terminate the Temporary Protection Status for thousands of Nepalis living in the United States, and end the diversity visa program. So, the prospects under Trump are not bright for Nepal. I will be happy if proven wrong.