Pages

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Political Polarisation Widens

 By Yuba Nath Lamsal

The world recently saw some turns of events in the political landscape which are likely to have far-reaching impact in the global order. The change of guards in the 10 Downing Street, general elections in Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Israel, Brazil and the United States will definitely have their consequences both at home and abroad in multi-fold ways. Politics in Europe and North America has almost an identical trend. So were the election outcomes. However, the political trend in Latin American countries often tends to go a little different way and the election in Brazil is its manifestation. 

Britons’ woes

London continues to suffer aftereffects of the Brexit since Britons chose to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. The far-rightist conservatives were particularly behind the Brexit bandwagon and they called the shots. Their principal argument was that Britain surrendered its sovereignty and interests in the name of European integration. However, many Britons now may be regretting as UK has entered a new cycle of political uncertainty and economic crisis. Its fallout is visible in the British politics as the UK saw five prime ministers—David Cameroon, Teresa May, Boris Jonson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak — in a period of five years. Last month, Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy party, took charge of political affairs as Italy’s first female prime minister following the general elections. Italy went to polls after prime minister Mario Draghi offered to quit over his failure to cobble up majority in parliament.  The new Italian government is assortment of several right-winger parties. The rise of far-rightist in Italy is a bad omen not only for Italian politics but for the entire Europe. 

Sweden, known as social democratic model in the world, seems to be deviating from the Nordic model and sliding to rightist path. In the general election held this year, the rightist coalition of the Moderate Party (Moderaterna), Sweden Democrats, Christian Democrats, and the Liberals together mustered majority in Rigstag, unicameral Swedish parliament, paving the way for Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to assume Swedish premiership leading a rightist coalition government. However, Denmark polls went to traditional way retaining the left of the centre government headed by Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen. In the general election for the unicameral Folketing, the Red Block, a pre-poll alliance of the left and left of the center parties, won the majority.

Similarly, the election in Israel, a Jewish state in the Middle-East, took rightist turn. The election results for Knesset, Israeli parliament, paved the way for Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightist Likud party, to head hardliner coalition government in Jerusalem.  The left leaning labour party has been pushed to political oblivion for at least until another election. Although the election has resolved the ongoing political ruckus for the time being, the new government is not likely to resolve the long running problems and instead is expected to further sharpen political divide in this Biblical holy land.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States went to election for the Congress or the US parliament to select members of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of US Congress, and Senate, the powerful upper house of parliament. Congress elections are held in the United States in every two year in which all 435 members are elected from the 50 states. One third of the Senate members or 33 are elected in every two years. 

According to US constitution, all states get two senators each irrespective of their physical and population size and the tenure of the senators is six years, whereas the tenure of the member of the House of Representatives is just two years. The number of representatives of the states is determined in every ten years following the national census on the basis of the population of each state. However, every state gets at least one representative but total number of House of Representatives should not exceed 435. 

US global presence

 However, Democrats retained their hold in both Houses, although the Republican Party, too, continues to have its strong presence. Since the Congress is the powerful institution in formulating laws, its make-up will definitely have impact both at home and abroad. In the US, Democrats are often seen as left leaning and Republicans as right winger. But in reality, both are rightists -- Democrats soft rightist and the Republicans hard-rightist. With US being the only superpower having global presence, its policies will definitely impact worldwide which, together with Europe, will definitely encourage right wingers across the world.

However, Brazil has shown the other way as left winger Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva and popularly known as Lula emerged victorious defeating right winger incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro in the recent presidential election. The South American politics is generally left-wing trend and Brazil has retained this trend. Brazil’s election outcome has sent ripples to Latin American politics also serving a blow to Washington. It seems the overall global politics is taking right-wing turn which may further accelerate polarisation of global politics and sharpening ideological divide. In the emerging multi-polar world, the sharpening political polarisation may be both boon and bane for the rest of the developing world. 

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

 

Published in The Rising Nepal on Nov 16, 2022

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/18619

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Vote conscientiously

 'Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote'

Yuba Nath Lamsal 


Modern democracy begins with the ballot box. There can be no democracy without elections, and free and fair elections are not possible in the absence of democracy. Democracy and elections are inseparable. An election is thus the heart and soul of a democratic system. 

The 2022 general election in Nepal is just round the corner – barely three weeks from now. The election fever is picking up momentum. As French political philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville says ‘people get the government they deserve’, the November 20 election is the acid test for the Nepali voters as to what type of government they seek to have for another five years.

Voting is the power of the people like former American President Abraham Lincoln said, “the ballot is more powerful than the bullet". It is through the ballot papers individual citizens hand over their sovereign power to a particular party or a candidate to use on their behalf. In the wise and conscious decision of citizens on polling day lies the fate of our democracy and country for the next five years.  The people must follow the diktat of their conscience.  

Every vote counts in the election because it helps elect the type of government taking office after the polls. If we do not vote, there will be a high chance that bad people will be elected as American author George Jean Nathan says, “bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” Voting is not only a right but also a civic duty and obligation of a citizen. We all must exercise our voting rights and choose the best representatives capable enough to govern and steer the country towards a better and brighter future. 

Promises galore 

As the election date is getting closer by the day, political parties and candidates are scrambling to turn the tide in their favour. Given the track record of earlier elections, parties and candidates promise to the people to get votes. But they lied and betrayed the people. This is why people have the least trust in our politicians and political parties. 

Nikita Khrushchev, a diehard communist who ruled and ruined the erstwhile Soviet Union for eleven years with an iron fist, ridiculed multi-party democracy as a political sham and said, “Politicians are the same all over and they promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.” Khrushchev made these remarks to discredit parties and politicians and defend what Alexander Solzhenitsyn called ‘The Gulag Archipelago’. But it illustrates the present-day reality of electioneering and electoral practice in Nepal, where leaders promise anything and everything. Leaders and politicians make tall promises despite knowing they cannot be achieved. This blatant betrayal of the people’s trust makes a mockery of the democratic system. 

This is not an isolated case of Nepal alone. The phenomenon of election and electioneering in most developing countries is almost identical.  Politicians and parties lie to the voters and break the promises made to the people during the elections. The parties' election manifestos are mere rituals that hardly exhibit consistency in the promises and reality on the ground—a clear manifestation of how parties lie and deceive people.  As a result, political parties are slowly earning the reputation of ‘gangs of liars’.

Same shame

In developing countries, elections are often manipulated and engineered by people in power. Three ‘Ms’ play a decisive role in the elections — muscle power, money power and media power. As money plays a bigger role, elections have become expensive and unaffordable for ordinary citizens. This is not a fabricated story but felt and realized by leaders themselves. Nepali Congress leader Sashanka Koirala publicly said that he spent Rs60 million during the last parliamentary elections in 2017, far exceeding the Election Commission's limit. As a Russian proverb goes, “When money speaks, the truth remains silent”, money’s decisive role has pushed the sanctity of the election to the back burner. 

In the wake of rising perversions and distortions in the election, the Election Commission seems strict on executing the election code of conduct. The Election Commission has already asked for clarifications from candidates, including some high-profile leaders, namely, Puspa Kamal Dahal of CPN-Maoist Centre;  Madhav Kumar Nepal of CPN-Unified Socialist; Gagan Thapa and Sashanka Koirala of the Nepali Congress and warned them to adhere to the election code fully. If the Election Commission ensures strict compliance with the election code of conduct, the election would be, to a large extent, much more affordable and protect the sanctity of the election. Money and muscle powers will have little impact and people’s genuine verdict will prevail. 

Everyone's test 

Democracy beckons truth, honesty, integrity and accountability from parties and politicians. That alone commands the goodwill and the trust of the people. Elections are the instruments to gauge the popularity of the parties and candidates.  Political parties behave as though they are private limited companies of some leaders, treating workers as employees and the people as their customers. In principle, the political parties are not limited liability companies but public entities accountable to the people.  

Voters are not customers but the ultimate arbiters in the decision-making and governance of the country. Political parties should not treat one another as enemies. Instead, parties compete to serve the country and the people best. The candidates in the elections are also not rivals but competitors or partners. 

The fate of our democracy lies in the sanctity of the election. Political parties and candidates must respect the fundamentals of the election and democracy. However, the Election Commission alone cannot ensure the purity of the election if all other stakeholders, including political parties, leaders and individual candidates, extend positive support. The election is not only a test of parties and candidates but also a big test of voters’ judgement and conscience.

Xi’s 3rd Term Amid Strategic Tensions

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

Over the last one week, all eyes were on Beijing to see the turns of events in the China’s grand political event to be held once in every five years. The 20th national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) kicked off on October 16 and concluded on October 22 re-electing President Xi Jinping as general secretary of the CPC for unprecedented third tenure, signifying that he would continue to lead China at least for another five years. 

The national congress consisting of 2,300 delegates from across the People’s Republic China elected 205 central committee members and 171 alternate members. Apart from it, the powerful politburo standing committee has been reshuffled in which four veterans have retired from politics and the new and younger ones have been replaced them. The politburo standing committee members to retire are Premier Le Keqiang, National People’s Congress chairman Li Zhansu, People’s Political Consultative Conference chairman Wang Yang, and Vice-Premier Han Zheng. Now the new powerful politburo standing committee consists of Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi. Li Qiang will also take over premiership in March 2023 replacing Li Keqiang. 

The CPC is the heart and soul of the Chinese nation, which has been at the helm of affairs for more than seven decades since 1949. The national congress of the CPC is the highest decision making body. Its first national congress was held on 23–31 July 1921 with the participation of 50 members. Now it has grown to be world’s largest political party with over 96 million members. The CPC is the ruling party and its national congress is, definitely, an important political event for China and the Chinese people as its decisions impact every sector of China.  

Standing tall

At the same time, it is important also for the world. China, being the world’s second largest economy and also an emerging super power, the ruling party’s congress and its decision definitely send ripples globally. Thus, the CPC national congress was being watched very closely and carefully by all in the world. Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”. So goes in practice. Similarly, Mao Zedong, soon after the 1949 revolution, said “China has stood up”. China is definitely standing tall and shaking the world. China’s meteoric rise has caused unease and nervousness to some countries while many are contented.  

The western world including the United States are filled with worry and apprehension as China’s rise has challenged their global hegemony while the countries in the developing world are happy to see the emergence of an alternative power in the unipolar state of global order. China is world’s longest continuing civilization. It carries the civilisational history of more than 5000 years. When Europe and the western world were in the rudimentary stage, Asia including China was a bustling civilization with several inventions and innovations. For Europeans, Asia was a greener pasture and they voyaged to different Asian countries to make their fortune. Having relations with China was a matter of pride for European countries. 

In 1873, Britain, a principal industrialising power in Europe, sent its emissary with valuable gifts to the court of China seeking to establish embassy in Chinese capital. However, with much humility, Chinese ruler of that time, returned the gift and denied permission to establish foreign embassy in China. This is a manifestation of China’s historic glory and power in the world until late 19th century. But the same British returned to China in 1830s with opium and gunboats to force open trade that gave birth to a series of external interventions and occupations in China until early 20th Century. A revolution under the banner of Mao-led CPC established People’s Republic of China in 1949 heralding a new era in China’s history. The period from 1949 to 1976 is foundational phase during which China basically focused on stabilisation and consolidation of the revolution. 

With the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1976, China entered the era of reforms and opening up boosting China’s economic growth and development in a miraculous way. The period of two decades under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao from 1976 to 2012 gave continuity to the economic reforms and growth. Xi g rose to power in 2012 and he focussed more on economic growth accompanied by raising income of the people and ensuring developmental balance in all regions of China. This is modernisation and national rejuvenation era under which emphasis was laid on poverty alleviation on the one hand and modernisation and innovation in all sectors on the other.

Alliances 

Now China has grown as world’s second largest economy and a global power with the capability of challenging the power of the sole superpower the United States of America. The western countries have adopted a common strategy to contain and counter China and its rise. They have accordingly built alliances of different kinds in Asia and the Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and different wings and programmes under IPS as well as alliances like Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD consisting of four countries -- United States, India, Japan and Australia -- and a trilateral security alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States or AUKUS are a few initiatives taken by the West against China.  

China too has come up with its own strategy and programmes to counter the US and its allies. China has not built any specific alliance targeting the West. But Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and recently announced Global Security Initiative (GSI) and Global Development Initiative (GDI) are being portrayed as Beijing’s strategic arms to enlarge and expand China’s interest in the world seeking to undermine western influence. Tension, thus, are high between China and the United States. Against this backdrop, Xi Jinping has assumed the CPC leadership and the government for the third term. It is yet to be seen what impact Xi’s third term will have both in China and in the world. 


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

First published in The Rising Nepal on November 2, 2022

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/17914

Friday, October 21, 2022

Opportunistic alliances ruin Nepali politics

 November elections will witness a ferocious battle not among individual parties but between two rival alliances

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Nepal at present has witnessed a sharp political polarisation giving rise widespread general impression that the politics is becoming unpredictable. Given the turns of events unfolding in our political landscape over the last couple of years, one cannot predict the direction and course our politics is heading towards. While political parties are key actors in a multi-party system the general people see the political parties and their leaders as the least trust-worthy and least credible.

The more the politics becomes polarized, the more the society becomes fractured. Over polarization leads to over radicalization which may be fatal to democracy. The soul of democracy is tolerance and plurality. In a divided society coupled with radicalized politics, plurality and tolerance find the least space.

Superstructure vs substructure

American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, in his book, ‘Political Order and Political Decay’ says ‘political decay is a condition of political development: the old has to break down in order to make way for the new’. In Nepal’s case, the old system has collapsed but the new one has still to develop and take roots. In the aftermath of the ‘third Jana Andolan’ or the People’s Movement of 2005-2006, Nepal’s superstructure changed. The country transformed from monarchical system to a republican set-up, from a unitary state to a federal system.   However, the inner institutions and mind-set of those in the helms of affairs continue to be the same old frame of mind, unable to adapt to a new course. In the interregnum of political transition, this often happens. But Nepal’s case is unique as politics continues to be in perpetual transition since the country's unification.

In its chequered history, Nepal has experienced and experimented with different types of systems and regimes ranging from feudal monarchy to family oligarchy to absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to a federal republic. Until 1951, Nepal remained under the dark feudal and oligarchic system, when certain clans ruled and ruined the fate of Nepal denying even the basic rights and conditions for the people. Under the feudal oligarchic rule, people were treated not as citizens but as subjects.

The wave of decolonization and national liberation movements sweeping across the world and, more particularly, India’s freedom movement had a greater impact on Nepal. The family oligarchic rule of Rana clan was overthrown by the people’s movement in 1951 ushering in a new era of multi-party democracy in Nepal.

Wasteful decade

The new found democratic set up went through a tumultuous phase of trials and tribulations in a decade following the 1951 political change. The king whose power was restored by the democratic movement went against the very spirit of the movement and created a height of political instability with frequent changes of government pitting one set of people against the other. The king staged a coup and imposed his absolute regime in 1960 sending the democratically elected prime minister to prison and disbanding the multi-party democracy. An astute king, however, manage to ensure survival of the absolute regime for almost three decades by dividing people at home while tactically manipulating the geopolitical advantage Nepal could offer during the hey days of the Cold War.

Return of democracy

The 1980s and '90s saw what Harvard professor and political scientist Samuel Huntington called ‘the third wave of democracy’ across the world tearing down the iron curtains and walls of tyrannies of different kinds. Nepali people, too, joined this global bandwagon and triumphed in the battle for restoring the once-hijacked freedom and democracy in 1990, but soon started facing assaults from both the rightist and leftist camps. Inability to manage the internal rifts and failure to live up to general expectations of the people through delivery of goods and services gave rise to popular resentment towards the parties from which both the far rightists and extreme leftists took advantage. The violent armed rebellion launched by the Maoists spread like a wildfire across the country, while the king again took over power against the fundamental spirit of multi-party democracy attesting that monarchy was an arch foe of democracy.

When the king acted against democracy yet again, the political parties and people came to the conclusion that monarchy would pose a perennial threat to democracy. The Jana Andolan III not only reinstated the democratic polity but also paved the way for bidding adieu to a well over two centuries old monarchy.

General apathy

Nepal, now, is a federal democratic republic. However, the public resentment is high against the political parties as they have failed to deliver what they had promised to the people, which has also caused public apathy towards the system itself. We have experimented different types of systems and regimes but the fundamental problems remain unresolved. The problem is not with the system but with the people who handle it. Sheer incompetence of leaders accompanied with malice intention has led to systemic failure, the manifestation of which is the conflict between three branches of the government — legislative, executive and the judiciary.

Opportunistic alliances

Amidst this systemic dysfunction, general elections are scheduled for November 20. The upcoming elections will witness a ferocious electoral battle not among individual parties but between two rival alliances. Nepali Congress has formed an alliance consisting of ruling parties namely, the CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN-Unified Socialist and the National United Front. Similarly, the CPN-UML has formed a rival alliance with Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Prajatantra Party to face the ruling alliance. This is a unique scenario in Nepal’s electoral history. Alliances of different hues had also been in the past but they were in some isolated cases. The pre-poll alliance has been more institutionalized since 2017 election.

In the local election in 2017, there was an alliance between the Nepali Congress and the CPN-Maoist Centre. Other parties contested the elections on their own strengths. In the general elections held the same year the Congress-Maoist alliance broke up.  The Maoists switched its allegiance and formed the alliance with the CPN-UML. The alliance achieved close to two-thirds majority in the federal parliament. The UML-Maoist combine could form governments in six out of seven provinces keeping the Nepali Congress out of power both in the federal as well as provincial levels.

The UML-Maoist alliance later morphed into party merger forming the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and boasting to have accomplished the historic task of unifying a communist movement in Nepal. But the unity lived short due to opportunistic and cunning behaviour of the two principal leaders – KP Oli and Prachanda. This time the party split into three factions, each scrambling to outclass the others. Now the alliances have changed. Two rival alliances — ruling alliance versus opposition alliance — are in the fight. Both are opportunistic alliances not based on ideology and values but only for power, which makes the politics further unpredictable.

 -Originally published in www.nepalminute.com on October 14, 2022