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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Democracy As Geopolitical Commodity

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Democracy of late has figured as a geopolitical commodity in the 21st century’s world order with the United States and China coming face to face in the bid for enlarging strategic sphere. With Washington claiming to have led the democratic world against what it calls the ‘closed societies’ referring to China and Russia, a new kind of global polarisation or a new Cold War has resurfaced.  

The Westphalian world order that has been in place since 1648 seems to be crumbling, but it is not known what exactly will replace it. In the face off between the existing superpower and the emerging superpower, the US-led Western bloc takes liberal democracy as a tool to malign the China-Russia axis, while China is critical of the Western model of democracy. This is not merely a rivalry between the two big powers but a clash of two civilisations— oriental civilisation versus Western civilisation. 

Fundamental feature

In this unique contestation of international powers, the concept of democracy is the central theme of the debate and dispute. Freedom is the fundamental feature a genuine democratic regime or system must guarantee to its people. There are two district categories of freedom which include ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’. Unless people are practically guaranteed with the ‘freedom from fear’ and the ‘freedom from want’, a regime or system may not be called fully functional democracy in practical sense.  

Freedom from fear begs a guarantee of civil and political rights whereas freedom from want signifies the condition wherein the regime pledges an individuals all basic needs to live and grow as a free citizen. In other words, freedom from want is to guarantee social and economic rights including right to food, right to housing, right to healthcare, right to education, etc. 

The United States and its allies are using liberal democracy as a soft power to enlarge their influence in the world and seek to disparage and demonise China and Russia as authoritarian hawks while China calls Western liberal democracy as a political sham in which money plays greater role in politics than the people. Democracy, in fact, is judged in the ability of the government to ensure both ‘freedom from fear and freedom from want’. The Western liberal democracy focuses more on the former or individual liberty, civil and political rights whereas China calls its system as a holistic democracy that attaches greater priority to the latter or social and economic rights. Chinese scholars are of the view that China has been able to eliminate poverty and ensure sustainable development while the West has utterly failed in ensuring people with freedom from want. In other words, China defines its political system as a democracy with ‘Chinese characteristics’.

Democracy has therefore been caught in the geopolitical crossfire of big powers’ strategic misinterpretation. Civil and political rights including individual liberty, holding periodic elections, right to vote and freedom of expression are definitely necessary and important features of democracy but equally important are the social and economic rights. In the absence of freedom from wants or social and economic rights, democracy cannot be complete and functional. In essence, there are inherent flaws in what have been called as democracies. Similar case is with the system that does not provide civil and political rights. Against this background, the Nordic countries have adopted a mixed model in which civil and political rights are guaranteed with periodic elections on multi-party basis and strong system of social justice. Under social justice, people are ensured with their basic needs including right to healthcare, right to education, guarantee of job, universal pension system and government’s protection for the weaker and needy section including children, disabled and elderly people. The Nordic way could be a better alternative. However, genuine issues and problems of the people have taken the backseat in the present confrontational political trajectory in the world. 

Economic condition determines a country’s intention and position. The rise of economic strength gives rise to strategic ambition of a country that leads to steady military build-up and arms proliferation. Imperial ambition also comes with the economic and military might. Similarly, a country needs strong military power to protect the expanding economic interests and imperial ambition, while the increased military build-up needs to be backed by strong economy. In a way, economic growth and military rise appear to be Siamese twins. If a country’s economy dwindles, it cannot sustain military power. After World War II, British economy was badly bled by war and could no longer sustain its military expenses. Similar case was with the Soviet Union as it collapsed like a house of cards because its economy could not back up and sustain the mammoth military machine.  

Strategic ambition

Now China is the 21st century’s phenomenon. With the rise of economic power, China’s strategic ambition also has risen which is natural. However, the continued military rise needs to be backed by sustained economic growth of which Beijing must be mindful. In the unilateral global order that came to be in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, China’s rise is welcome as unilateral world order is always dangerous for the balance of international power. Economically, China is close to the US and is likely to surpass the American economy soon. But China still lags far behind the United States in terms of military strength and technological prowess. Economic strength alone cannot make a country superpower. A country must be equipped with hard power, soft power, political stability and legitimacy as well as strong economy and technological superiority to be a superpower. 

Some are of the view that the world is heading towards multi-polar order with the US, China, Russia and even India competing in the race of superpower. Given the size and nature of economy, military and technological might, only China at the moment has the potentials to become another superpower. Russia and India are and will remain as regional powers for a few decades to come. The unipolar world is dangerous but more dangerous will be the multipolar world. Thus, bipolar world is better for the balance of powers and global peace. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

-Published in The Rising Nepal on March 29, 2023 

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/24619

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Ripples Of China’s Two Sessions

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

All eyes were on China last week as Beijing was abuzz with hustles and bustles of the ‘Two Sessions’. The  ‘Two Sessions’ are the annual gatherings of the National People’s Congress, (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The NPC is China’s supreme legislative body or parliament while the CPPCC an apex political consultative council having more advisory, supervisory and coordinating role. In China, the two sessions are always significant political events. But the events are more significant this time as these bodies have made political and policy decisions having greater ramification on China’s internal political and economic life as well as international landscape at a time when China is growing at a faster speed to challenge the west-dominated world order and create the new one.

The NPC elected Xi Jingping country’s President, General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of Central Military Council for third term. Premier Li Keqiang departed and Li Qiang got elected new premier, while Han Zheng was elevated to the position of vice president. Zhao Leji was endorsed as chairman of the 14th National People's Congress and Wang Hening as chairman of the CPPCC. The new team has taken up the huge responsibility of shaping China’s future for the next five years, with which expectations are high at home and scepticisms abound in the western world. 

Diverse picture

With Xi Jinping cementing his position in the leadership steering a strong team of loyalists, analysts and experts alike are trying to paint a diverse picture of China’s future.  While the United States and allies designate China as an acute threat and tend to portray a grim picture, full of optimism abounds in the rest of the world seeking to turn China’s rise into opportunity for better and cooperative world order.  Western analysts are of the view that China may soon enter into an economic slump, political crisis and international conflict. With economic slowdown, according to them, political disgruntlement and dissatisfaction may ensue disturbing internal cohesion, which may force Chinese leadership to enter into conflict with external powers in the region seeking to divert domestic attention. 

China watchers, who have studied and understood Chinese history, society, system national character and behaviour, call such analyses and predictions too na├»ve, surficial and mere wishful thinking rather than based on ground reality. China is world’s longest continuing civilisation with over 5000 years history and has its unique national character and features, which are rare in other societies. This continuity of history, national sentiments and social, political and moral systems and values have made China what it is today and have bound Chinese people together into a strong and proud nation. Chinese society values community spirit and togetherness rather than western individualism. 

Chinese society is based on oriental and Confucian wisdom that values more for community rights and welfare. Similar case is with the meaning and norms of democracy. China claims that there cannot and should not be a single model of democracy and different countries may have different models of democracy. China calls its political system as Chinese model of democracy. China’s impressive economic growth accompanied by development in all sectors is definitely a miracle. This is neither an overnight event nor simply an accident. Chinese call these achievements as being rooted in progression of the system. This is the result of decades of meticulous planning, arduous execution and monitoring and vision of different generations of leadership. 

China begins the journey of modernisation with 1949 revolution. Mao Zedong led the revolution and established a new kind of political system in China laying the foundation of modern China and socialism of China’s unique character. Mao didn’t copy other country’s model even during the revolution and Chinese revolution was based on China’s own context and character. Thus, the path of China’s socialism building too has its own characters which it calls ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.  The second phase of China’s modern history and modernisation begins with Deng Xiaoping’s rise in 1976. Deng is the architect of China’s reforms and opening up. Leaders after Deng namely Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao gave continuity to the process Deng initiated. 

New phase of history begins with the rise of Xi Jinping in the leadership in 2013.  Xi has pursued the policies and mission set forth by both Mao and Deng which has transformed China into a modern socialist country.  The last ten years or Xi’s two terms as president of China have been successful as China has not only made miraculous progress in economic and other sectors but has also stood in the community of nations as a proud and powerful country. Under Xi, China has risen as world’s second largest economy and powerful country to be able to challenge the sole superpower United States but at the same time it has achieved tremendous success in eradication of poverty, effecting physical developments and delivery of services back home. 

Challenges 

China’s phenomenal rise to great power status and its ability to lift more than 800 million people out of poverty in a period of two decades are definitely most important developments of the 21st century world.  Xi is at the helms for the consecutive third term. Now it is to be seen what course China will take in future. The road ahead is definitely not rosy. China will have to face bumps and problems ahead. China is already facing slowdown in economic growth, demographic imbalance with decline in the working age population and most notably hurdles likely to be created by international adversaries. 

Antagonistic international powers may continue to unleash barrage of propaganda and try to fabricate an atmosphere to push Beijing into military conflict in the neighbourhood. Tensions are already boiling in the Taiwan Strait. China’s relations with some neighbours like Japan and India are not cosy. South China dispute still remains unresolved. If conflicts flare up in the neighbourhood and once China gets involved, its adversaries may try to play with different interest groups and sections seeking to disturb the internal cohesion. These are the dangers China is likely to face and Beijing has always to be watchful so that China’s giant ship continues to sail through smoothly in its journey to prosperity. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

 

published in The Rising Nepal on March 15, 2023

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/23968

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Cost Of Strategic Miscalculations

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


After the World War II, US president Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin And British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the resort town of Yalta , presently Ukrainian territory, in February 1945 to chart out the future of Europe. Europe was cut like a birthday cake based on the US and Soviet sphere of influence. Countries were divided and families were separated. Berlin Wall was the symbol of this division. But another American president Ronald Reagan pointing out to the Berlin Wall made an appealing speech in February 1987 and asked Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall.  That marked the beginning of the end of the post-World War II European order.

Europe‘s map was redrawn. Germany was reunified, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were disintegrated. A new Europe emerged. In the words of Fareed Zakaria, “the Berlin Wall wasn’t the only barrier to fall after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War but traditional barrier to the flow of money, trade, people and ideas also fell”. Its repercussions went far and wide across the world. Bipolar world order collapsed which was replaced by the unipolar order in which the United States rose to be the sole dominant global power and arbiter to write the rules of the game in the international system. Russia was rendered into a mere regional power with almost no role in the global system. 

Paradigm shift

However, things started to change with the advent of the 21st century and a great paradigm shift has taken place in the international geopolitics. Russian president Vladimir Putin once said, “disintegration of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20 the century” and he is avowedly trying to regain Russia’s past glory as a global power. Similarly, with the rise of Xi Jinping in the political helm of affairs in Beijing, China, too, has risen as a principal global power challenging the United States militarily, economically and technologically.  

United States has seen the rise of Russia and China as a formidable challenge. Pentagon authorities castigate Russia as an ‘acute threat’ whereas China a ‘systemic threat’ with capability of challenging the United States politically, economically, militarily, technologically and diplomatically. United States, is, thus, chalking out multiple strategies and tactics to contain and weaken its principal rivals both in Europe and Asia. 

Big powers always clamber to make bigger gains out of the developments and events taking place in the world. US and NATO are moving eastward in Europe. Russia considers Eastern Europe as its sphere of influence. Moscow is weary of NATO’s eastward enlargement in Europe. Ukraine’s decision to enter into NATO’s umbrella infuriated Moscow and Putin considered it as an open invitation to American and western troops at its doorstep. This led or misled Moscow to invade Ukraine. 

With Russia-Ukraine war dragging on for more than a year, it is being used by big powers as a geopolitical weapon against their rivals. Big powers are, therefore, trying to extract economic, strategic and geopolitical gains out of it. While the United State has taken Ukraine’s side and is mobilising monetary, military and moral support to Ukraine, China and India have apparently declared their neutral stance. But their decision, too, is guided more by their own national and geopolitical interests rather than by the just cause. 

These powers want Ukraine war to prolong further so that they can reap more benefits. Washington wants Russia to remain entangled in Ukraine war so that Moscow may not come out of it and may not be able to look further west in Europe. The war will bleed Russian economy weakening Moscow’s overall strength which will give an opportune moment for Washington and NATO to strengthen and enlarge their position further east in Europe. China is looking this as an opportunity to make further inroad into European market, while India is benefiting from buying Russian oil at much cheaper price. 

In this strategic and geopolitical game, Joe Biden was in Europe last week in an effort to embolden Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy  and mobilise support of European countries for Ukraine, while China’s top diplomat Wang Yee also made a tour of different European countries seeking to make its geopolitical and economic inroad into Europe. While Biden vowed not to give in a single inch of NATO land, Wang Yee spoke of peaceful and diplomatic negotiation to end the Ukraine war. India too is insisting on the end of war through negotiation. 

Both US and China are important countries for Europe. Europe cannot ignore both of them. United States, being the largest military power of NATO, is the principal guarantor of European security and EU is China’s largest trading partner. China’s economic investment and engagement in Europe are ever growing. While US interest and engagement in Europe is more strategic, China’s engagement is guided more by economic interest. 

The US seeks to check Putin’s assertive Russia in Europe and China in Asia-Pacific region. Washington is strengthening the already existing alliance system, making new alliances and trying to bring more Asian countries especially in South Asia and East Asia to its fold to contain China. Beijing wants US to get engaged more in Europe so that Washington’s resources and attention are diverted elsewhere from Asia. Guided by these motives both US and China want Ukraine-Russia war to linger on. 

Ramification of war

Whatever the reasons and logics, war cannot be justified. War is enemy of civilisation and it inflicts humanity generations. The ramifications of war go beyond national borders. We have seen countries ravaged by wars which have not come out of it for years. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and several African countries are some of the examples, which were caught in wars due to strategic miscalculation and mishandling of foreign policy.

Ukraine is another example. But at the same time aggression and invasion in other country by any name and excuse is objectionable, which Russia needs to take into note. But other powers should not try to take benefit out of war but make sincere efforts to end conflict through peaceful means in which is the interest of all. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

 

-This was published in The Rising Nepal on March 1, 2023

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/23332

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Can Nepal Seize Geopolitical Opportunity?

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


The 33rd US president Harry Truman, in an address to a joint session of Congress (parliament) on March 12, 1947, said “At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one”.  He highlighted the geopolitical compulsion and reality of that time, with which US foreign policy priorities and approaches were shaped and dictated. Geopolitics is the study of the relationship between politics and geographical conditions based on which a particular country or countries adopt policy and strategy to assert position on the global or regional issues. 

It is to do with intermingling of geography and other dynamics like history, economics, politics, demographic nature, culture, military capability and recently technology. All nations are sovereign and are, in principle, free to make their own choices in policy formulation. But nations’ choices are often dictated by geopolitical compulsions. In the international relations, the nature of power is always imperial. The more powerful the country is, the more imperial ambition it tends to possess. This has been the nature and behaviour of powers right from the beginning of civilisation. Small and weaker countries must, therefore, take cognizance of this inherent character of big powers while dealing with the community of nations. 

Geopolitical determinants

If a country adopts foreign policy decisions duly taking the geopolitical determinants and inherent character of powers in mind, the country definitely can have an edge over others but it may land in a soup once a country or the government fails to understand this while making foreign policy priorities and decisions. It, thus, depends on the wit and will of those in the helms of foreign policy conduct whether to turn the geopolitical compulsion and situation into advantageous position or sink in the ugly rivalry of big powers.

Geography is a permanent and unchangeable feature while other geopolitical dynamics keep on changing. Geopolitical focus, thus, shifts with the change of different dynamics. Until the middle of the 20th century, the centre of global geopolitical pivot was Europe, which shifted to American continent after the World War II. With the dawn of the 21st century, the global geopolitical pivot has shifted to Asia, thanks to the rise of Asian powers mainly China and India in the global landscape.

China has already emerged as the second largest economy and poised to be the largest one in near future. India is currently the fifth largest economy and a fourth military power. Asia in general and Indo-pacific region in particular accounts for close to half of the total global GDP and also nearly 50 per cent of global population. If one seeks to dominate the world, it has to first control Asia. In the present context of Asia’s phenomenal growth on multiple fronts, one cannot understand the world without understanding Asia. So goes with the geopolitical and strategic manoeuvring. Asia, thus, has been a pivot of global geopolitical and strategic contestation. International powers are, therefore, rolling up their sleeves to have strategic upper hand in the region.  

Big powers are scrambling to enlarge their presence and influence of various kinds in Asia and the pacific region or the Indo-Pacific region. The general tendency of the principal geopolitical players in this scenario is self-fulfilling for which they try to take countries of the region into their fold and play against the rival. Thus, Asia has grown as a key theatre of geopolitical rivalry and conflict between powers. Indo-Pacific region is, thus, getting heavily militarised, thanks largely to the bid for greater and better strategic leverage in the region in which the United States, Russia and China are the principal contenders. 

Since Russia is preoccupied in Ukraine war following Moscow’s unilateral and unprovoked invasion over a sovereign neighbour, United States and China are the key players in the geopolitical race in Asia while other powers are simply behaving like satellites of either of the two key contenders giving rise to the risk of conflict breakout and flare up in the region.  Different kinds and nature of alliance, groups and sub-groups have already been created in the region perusing the countries to join these alliances or groups. Even hinterland countries like Nepal, Mongolia and others are being coaxed and cuddled by international powers to bring into their strategic fold. 

Nepal at the moment appears to be in the epicentre of Asia’s geopolitical arms twisting. The flurry of visits by officials from different countries and their Nepal-focused activities are illustrative of Nepal’s geopolitical vitality. Since the dawn of 2023, two important US officials have already visited Nepal within a period of three weeks and some more are in the offing, while Indian foreign secretary was here just the other day. British Defence secretary and EU officials, too, came for official visit in 2023 and trip of some officials from China, too, may be in the pipeline. This geopolitical rivalry of big powers and Nepal’s vital location can be both opportunity as well as challenge for Nepal.

National interest 

In the realist international order, no country is permanent friend or permanent enemy. What is permanent is the national interest. Each country devises its policy and priorities taking its national interest at the core. The present geopolitical situation can be and should be turned into our advantage for which a wise, mature and pragmatic foreign policy approach and handlings are necessary. If we make slightest of the mistake and miscalculation, it can lead to catastrophe. Nepal does not have luxury to align with one country or power at the expense of other.  Neither our foreign policy nor our geopolitical reality allows us to do so. 

This is the time of tightrope walking in the world of diplomacy which requires Nepal to act and move cautiously and wisely in a mature and pragmatic manner. As China’s leader late Deng Xiaoping said, ‘it does not matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice’. Deng said so in the context of political ideologies, but it is applicable in the domain of diplomacy, too. Thus, Nepal needs to seize the opportunities created by the present geopolitical ambience based on our stated foreign policy with foreign policy bottom-line —Amity with All and Enmity to None. 

 (The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

This was published in The Rising Nepal on February 15, 2023.

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/22785

 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite: John Kenneth Galbraith. 

 

Civilisation is the history of human evolution. Human species or Homo Sapiens have existed on earth for over 2, 00,000 years. Human being has arrived at the present stage crisscrossing a long trajectory and different stages of evolution. From primitive age, agricultural civilisation and industrial civilisation, humanity has arrived at the knowledge civilisation. 

Now we are in the age of fourth industrial revolution. This is because of humankind’s cognitive power and inquisitive behaviour. The invention of steam engine was the first industrial revolution, electricity marked the second industrial revolution, invention of computer was the third and digitalisation is the fourth industrial revolution. The world is entering into fifth industrial revolution or the age of artificial intelligence in which, according to Yuval Noah Harari, technology will be smarter than human being. 

Cognitive power

The cognitive power made human being superior from other creatures on earth. Inventions and innovations were made in the process of struggle for survival and better life out of cognition power. In the long and chequered history, human being has traversed different social and economic phases — hunting age, tribal stage, agricultural period, slavery era, feudal era, and capitalist period. During the hunting-gathering age and also in the early agricultural period, all used to live in a group and there was equality. Private property didn’t exist. This period is called primitive socialism.

 With the development of agriculture, stronger ones started owning and controlling land and they forced the weaker ones to work on the land. Classes were then created. The produces belonged to the owners whereas real producers had to survive on meagre fief. Society was divided markedly into two classes based on birth or family lineage. Social and economic inequality began. Feudal monarchies were dominant everywhere in the world during the medieval period. Feudalism, thus, thrived under state protection. However, its development was at the expense of serfs and tenants. 

Change is the law of nature and is continuous process. Society and production process changed. With urbanisation and commerce, agricultural labourers slowly shifted to urban areas to work in the factories. This caused labour shortage in the rural areas and agriculture slowly declined. Charm in agriculture faded with the growth of industries, which gave rise to mercantile activities in the cities. The march of industrial revolution also changed the mode of production and nature of economy. This marked the demise of feudalism and birth of capitalism in Europe.  

French socialist Louis Blanc coined the word ‘capitalism’ in 1850. In the beginning, capitalism was agrarian, then it grew as mercantile capitalism and slowly turned into colonial capitalism. From 17th to mid-19th century, European capitalist countries colonised almost entire world one way or the other. Wars were waged over colonial control that bled Europe severely and the colonial powers miserably weakened. After the Second Word War, national liberation movements took place worldwide and colonised countries attained independence. 

Europe was the bastion and leader of capitalism. After World War II, financial and political power shifted to America and US emerged as the leader of capitalist world. Then came the age of industrial capitalism which soon mutated into fiscal capitalism. Now it has taken the shape of globalised capitalism. With the change of time and circumstances, capitalism continues to mutate and now we are in the age of mutated capitalism. Harvard professor and author of “In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism”, Shoshana Zuboff calls the present state of capitalism as ‘Surveillance Capitalism’. 

According to Zuboff, surveillance capitalism is ‘a rouge mutation of capitalism marked by concentration of wealth, knowledge, and power unpreceded in human history’ and  is ‘significant threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth’. French economist Thomas Piketty prefers to call the capitalism of twenty-first century as ‘hyper capitalism’ and is of the view that hyper capitalism ‘is more and more fragile’ and may collapse for an alternative while Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis calls 21st century’s capitalism as ‘techno-feudalism’. 

Capitalism is a system in which private individuals own capital and goods.  Business owners employ workers on wage-basis and determine the prices of the good to be sold in the market on competitive way. Pure capitalism is a laissez-faire capitalism in which market determines everything. Investors make profit and also have the risk of incurring loss, while workers get wages and have nothing to do with profit and loss. Karl Marx describes land, capital and labour as the means production and says capitalism is profit-based system that exploits the workers for profit and creates two classes — bourgeoisie and proletariat classes.  

Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848 and proposed an alternative political and economic system — communism. Marx says “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” According to Marx, class struggles between capitalists and proletariats (workers) will topple the capitalist regimes and establish the ‘dictatorship of the proletariats’ where there will be equality among all and the dictum ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs’ will be maintained. Marx, however, adds societies cannot reach communism directly from capitalism and there will be a transitional period between capitalism and communism. That transition is socialism. In other words, socialism is a preparatory period to switch over to communism. 

Clock of history

Influenced by Marx, Vladimir Lenin led the October Revolution in Russia and ended feudal imperial regime and experimented socialism. Since Stalin’s time, it is called ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Lenin did not follow exactly what Marx professed: displacing capitalism by proletariats’ revolution. Lenin, instead, did through peasantry’s revolt. Similar case is with China where Mao led peasants’ revolution and toppled Kuomintang regime. Different countries have, thus, different and unique experiences of revolution. 

But clock of history turned back when socialism was replaced by capitalism in Russia and some other countries. Capitalism is still dominant in the world. Even socialist countries have reverted to capitalist system. This begs question: Has socialism failed or Marxism itself is flawed? Is communism possible or communism is mere philosophical utopia only for academic discourse? 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

This article was published in The Rising Nepal daily. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Electoral Mandate And Message

 Yuba Nath Lamsal


Results of the November 20 general election are out. No single party has secured a clear majority to run the country on its own strength. The kind of outcome the election has produced is no surprise to all. A hung parliament had been a foregone conclusion even before the polls.

The Nepali Congress (NC) has emerged as the largest party in the House of Representatives (HoR), whereas the CPN-UML has secured the second position. The CPN-Maoist Centre is a distant third. A brand new party Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) has come up as the fourth force which is a great surprise for many. However, RSP’s sudden emergence has been greater surprise and also a threat to the main and established parties as they had earlier underestimated this party and misunderstood the mood of the voters. The other distinct feature of the election is the slight rise of the traditional Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) that demands to turn the clock of history back to the old monarchical era.

Hybrid electoral system

Everyone including the political parties had expected almost a hung parliament and triangular power equation in the HoR. This was so because of the electoral system we have adopted. Our electoral system is hybrid or a mix of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and the proportional representation (PR) method. Of the 275 seats of the HoR—the lower house of federal parliament, 165 are elected directly by the people under the first past the post system while the rest 110 are chosen based on the proportionate representation system. Under the duel electoral system, a single party majority will be a far cry. 

The FPTP system is in vogue in many countries in the world while a few countries do practise the proportional representation electoral method. Both electoral systems have their own merits and demerits. In the FPTP system, the winner takes all while the loser is deprived of everything. In proportional representation, all parties in contest get representation based on the votes they secure. In other words, none loses in the proportional representation system and all get the share based on their strength. Critics argue that proportional representation system has been a recipe for political instability with frequent change of governments in the developing countries and newly emerged democracies. It is often said that proportional representation system has been successful only in countries with higher education level, mature democratic exercises and better coalition culture. In some European countries especially in the Nordic Region, the proportional electoral system has worked well. Parties make pre-poll alliances and accordingly form the government after the election and such government, in most cases, lasts full term. 

There is a raging debate in Nepali civil society domain for and against the electoral system. Proponents of the proportional representation system want to make it fully proportional while its opponents seek to scrap the proportional system and go back to the FPTP model. It is true that the hybrid electoral system we have adopted is unlikely to produce a single party majority government and the coalition is a fait accompli. But this should not be construed as a recipe for political instability. Countries having proportional representation system also have maintained political stability and achieved high level of development. The Nordic countries are its testimony. It is not the electoral system but our political culture and attitude that are more responsible for instability in Nepal.

Nepal has adopted the present electoral system since the 2008 Constituency Assembly election. Until then, Nepal had FPTP electoral system and several elections were held under this system. But political stability was elusive. Moreover, some ethnic and other minority communities had felt marginalised, unrepresented and underrepresented. Their demand was fully proportional representation system to ensure their representation in all levels of decision-making. Proportional representation system was, thus, necessary, to address the voice of all communities and make our political system democratic and more inclusive. The Maoists took up this case and vociferously pushed for fully proportional representation electoral system while other parties were opposed to it. Finally, the hybrid kind of electoral system was agreed upon as a compromise between the seven party-alliance and the Maoists.  This is how the present electoral system was adopted after intense debates on its merits and demerits. 

Proportional representation system is not bad in itself. It is not desirable to seek its alternative at the moment. What has to be done is to discourage and deter the anomalies and misuse of this system by the political parties and their leaders.  

Popular expectations

Nepal’s democracy is relatively young and yet to take its roots. The country has witnessed a political upheaval and change almost in the period of a decade or so since 1951. Our democracy came under assault—mostly from monarchy and it was this reason why monarchy was permanently abolished. Nepali political parties are good at working together at the time of crisis. But once crisis is over, they often fail to continue this spirit. In the real politick, parties do not seem to have lived up to popular expectations and exhibit mature political culture. Power, position and perks motivate the parties and leaders more than their duty to build a better democratic culture and deliver services to the people. 

The recent election mandate of the voters is being interpreted as a public disenchantment towards the old and established parties. A section of the society is trying to create this kind of narrative. But in reality, this narrative does not hold much water. The established parties are still the largest three forces in parliament whereas a newcomer is just a fourth with merely 20 seats out of 275. People still have faith in the old and established political parties. The message of the voters is loud and clear that they are definitely not happy with behaviour and performance of the old and established parties but they are not seeking their alternative. People still want the parties to work better and in a more effective and transparent manner so that there would be better governance.  

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

Published In The Rising Nepal on Dec 21, 2022 

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/20340

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Can India, China End Ukraine War?

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

In the global geopolitical theatre, Europe has always played a central role throughout history. The history of Europe is the history of wars.  European geography was shaped by wars right from the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta to World War II. The present European political constellation is the making of the Second World War fought between two groups of international powers in which the Allies — a group of countries including mainly the United States, Russia and Britain — badly beat the Axis of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan. Germany was divided, Japan was demilitarized and Europe’s map was redrawn splitting the entire continent into American sphere of influence and the region of Russian dominance giving rise to bi-polar world order.

The disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 brought about a tectonic shift in the global geopolitical map in general and the geopolitics of Europe in particular with the world order turning unipolar. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. What had been done in the aftermath of Second World War was undone in the wake of the emergence of the unipolar world. The Berlin Wall was torn down, Germany was unified and several new countries were born in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. 

Tough Time

The advent of US-led unipolar order is now facing tough time. The world appears to be in labour pain trying to give birth to a new order — perhaps once again a bi-polar one. Some analysts and geopolitical pundits alike see it as the process of emerging multi-polar world order. 

More powers are emerging in the world challenging the Washington’s dominant position in the global politics, while American might is slowly declining. China, Russia and India alike are definitely rising as significant powers but they at the moment lack the quality and strength to become super powers.  Thus, the logic of multipolar world order does not hold water at least for another two decades. 

China’s economic rise is definitely phenomenal. It has already risen as a second largest economy and is on the path of becoming the largest economy in near future. Technologically and militarily too, China has made tremendous progress but lags far behind the United States and has to go a long way to match the military might of the United States. Russia and India may be further behind. 

Thus, United States is likely to maintain the sole super power status for at least another two decades. China, however, can emerge as a super in two to three decades, if Beijing continues to maintain its present economic growth and development in other sectors.

Unipolar world order is definitely not good for better global balance of power. Unipolar world disturbs international power equilibrium and creates hegemonic world order. Bipolar world order is the best for global balance of power. Multi-polarity creates chaotic order. Bipolar world order is possible but it takes a little longer until China reaches the parity with the United States in terms of military and technological prowess. 

Historically, Europe’s role had been a key for global balance of power. However, Europe itself is in crisis at present. Already badly bruised by pandemic, Europeans economy is in further trouble due to prolonged Ukraine war since Russia invaded the neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022. Europe is now facing the brunt of crises caused by Ukraine war. Different European countries are hosting almost eight million Ukrainian refugees. Prices of goods and energy have gone up making life of people more difficult. Ukraine war has not only made life difficult in Europe, the war has hit the entire world. 

International community has expressed a grave concern over the developments in Europe and Ukraine. The United Nations and a large majority of international community have condemned the brutal and brazen act of Russian invasion in Ukraine. While the rest of the world stands with Ukraine some important countries like India and China have refrained to take side in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. On the surface, Russia and Ukraine are physically at war but deep down in the global geopolitical contestation, the war is between the United States and Russia. Ukraine war is just the symptom and the real disease lies elsewhere. 

Ever since Putin came to power, his attempts were to revive the old glory of Soviet Union era for which he has doubled down military build-up and is flexing muscle in the western neighbourhood frightening the rest of European countries more particularly in the Baltic, Nordic and Balkan regions. Pro-Russian analysts try to justify Russia’s move as a counter balancing act against NATO’s eastward expansion in Europe. It is true that NATO is expanding eastward and, if Ukraine formally joins, NATO will reach the border of Russia. Moscow sees it as a serious security threat.  However, the West is of the view that NATO was forced to go eastward due to Russia’s warmongering in the neighbourhood. Whatever the logics and counter-logics, invasion in another country can by no means be justified.

Nuclear threat 

As the conflict escalates, spectre of nuclear war looms large in Europe, about which some Russian authorities, too, have not ruled out. The war has already hit hard Europe and the world, nuclear conflict will invite further devastation. Entire humanity and human civilization will be in danger. War is not in the interest of humanity. Thus, this brutal war must be brought to an end for which global efforts need to be initiated.

Since India and China have maintained neutrality in Russia-Ukraine conflict, these two countries alone can persuade Russia and Ukraine to bring into a negotiating table and find an amicable solution to end the war if they work jointly. Given their international stature as well as their engagement with both Russia and Ukraine, India and China have the capability of achieving peace between Russia and Ukraine.  Herein lies their international responsibility and these two Asian neighbours need to join hands for the larger cause of humanity. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

Published in The Rising Nepal on December 7, 2022

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/19713