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Friday, April 6, 2012

Parties In Existential Dilemma

Yuba Nath Lamsal

All political parties in Nepal are currently in serious internal turmoil. The internal feud in the parties has taken an ugly turn recently with factions and their leaders trading charges against their rival. The charges and accusation range from political and ideological deviation and compromise in national interest to financial corruption.
The political parties are being torn apart due to internal feud over the last four years since the new political process (peace process) began. As political game has taken a sharp twist and turn, the role of political actors, too, has changed. The political scenario in Nepal is fast changing, so are the political actors. Until two decades ago, the monarchy was the dominant force, whereas political parties had been banned and they were operating underground. The political change of 1990 brought about change in Nepal’s political equation and scenario. The change marked a sharp reduction in the power of monarchy and made the parties powerful actors in the politics of Nepal. The king became a ceremonial head whereas prime minister to be elected from parliament held executive power. The dominant role of the monarchy was reduced whereas the parties that had earlier been in the oblivion became the crucial actors in the newly emerged political scenario. The royalists that had enjoyed power and perks during king’s absolute regime were so badly marginalized that they were virtually routed in the first general election held in 1991. The principal players during the movement against the Panchayat regime proved their worth and prowess as they became dominant forces. The Nepali Congress was the winner in the election held in 1991 and formed the government on the basis of its clear-cut majority in parliament, whereas the CPN-UML emerged as a formidable opposition force. With the total 205 seats in parliament, the Congress won 114, the CPN-UML bagged 69 seats and the rest 22 seats were shared by almost half a dozen different parties. This was the composition of parliament and political equation in the immediate aftermath of 1990 political change.

However, this equation and scenario did not remain static. As the time changed so was the political equation. The Nepali Congress majority government could not complete its full five year term due to internal feud and factionalism within the Congress party. The internal wrangling turned in the Congress turned so acute that the Congress government headed by its own leader Girija Prasad Koirala was reduced to minority status in parliament during the voting on government’s annual policies and programmes, which forced the Prime Minister to take a harsh move of opting for a fresh election. This was the beginning of instability and a new round of political crisis in Nepal.

In the snap polls held in 1995, Nepali Congress lost to the opposition CPN-UML. But the winning CPN-UML still fell short of majority required for the formation of its own government. In the situation of hung parliament in which no party had majority, the largest party—CPN-UML—was given a chance to form the government but in minority status only to be pulled down in nine months. In the period of four years since then, five governments were changed, which was the height of instability in Nepal. In this state of instability, the royalists, who had earlier lost powers, were primarily behind the state of the flux as they often switched their allegiance and stance. But the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, which were the catalyst forces to bring about change in 1990, failed to comprehend and visualize the situation, instead they were locked in confrontation just to grab power and retain it. While the royalists were trying to further defame the multi-party system by creating instability and chaos to reap political benefit, the Maoists analyzed that the tangible change they wanted was not possible under multi-party system, which they called a bourgeoisie democracy. A revolutionary communist party believes that only armed revolution can achieve its political goal—be it for socialism or new democracy. According to revolutionary communists, multi-party polity is the capitalist and bourgeoisie system that exploits and cheats the people under the fa├žade of democracy and protects the interests of only a group of elites, capitalist and feudal elements but not the large mass of the people, majority of who are poor, downtrodden and backward. Thus, the Maoists, who did not believe in multi-party system, found the sordid state of parliamentary system during this period as a best example to justify their political logic. The Maoists then abandoned the electoral politics and launched armed insurgency against monarchy and parliamentary system.

The failure of parliamentary parties to deliver services had caused disenchantment among the people, on the one hand, Maoists’ popular slogans of patriotism and guarantee of basic needs had a strong appeal to the people especially from the lower strata of society, on the other. As a result, the insurgency grew and developed so fast that the entire rural areas came virtually under the Maoist control. The insurgency began from strategically defensive position developed into the state of strategic equilibrium and finally reached the strategic offensive state, which made the Maoists virtually in the position of dictating terms to the king and also the political parties. When the king took over power marginalizing parliamentary parties, there had been contacts and talks between the insurgent Maoists and the monarchy in order to strike a political deal. The Maoists did try to dictate their terms to the king demanding that the monarch either give up power or the throne. But then king Gyanendra refused to accept the Maoists demand instead he insisted the Maoists to give up insurgency and join the government under monarchy, which was unacceptable to the insurgents. Gyanendra Shah’s intention was to crush parliamentary part8ies with support of the Maoists. Marginalizing parliamentary parties and joining hands with feudal monarchy would have been a suicidal game for the Maoists. The proposal of the king was, thus, politically dangerous and disastrous which the Maoists were quick to comprehend. But the intention of the Maoists to enter into the dialogue with the king was not to strengthen the monarchy but to persuade the king to relinquish throne and agree for a republican system.

At the same time, the Maoists were also trying to dictate the parties in which they became partially successful. The Maoists had been demanding the constituent assembly to write a new constitution, federal system, abolition of monarchy and secularism, among some others. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML were staunchly opposed to these agenda. They were neither in support of a republic nor for federalism, secularism and a new constitution. They wanted amendment in the 1990 constitution and incorporate some cosmetic changes to accommodate some of the minor demands of the Maoists. When the king tried to further marginalize them, parliamentary parties slowly turned against the monarchy and became flexible to Maoists’ conditions. Herein came New Delhi to reap political benefit in the name of brokering a peace deal between the Maoists and Nepal’s parliamentary parties. Against this background, 12-point agreement was reached between the Maoists and the alliance of seven parliamentary parties, in which parliamentary parties agreed to most of the agenda of the Maoists, whereas the insurgents agreed for a Nepali Congress demand of temporary reinstatement of parliament. Under these conditions, the Jana Andolan II was launched against monarchy and the movement succeeded to compel the king to surrender in just 19 days.

Earlier the Maoists had run a parallel government and they soon became a dominant power even in parliamentary politics after the 12-point agreement and beginning of the peace process. The position of the Maoists continues to be dominant even now. The other parties’ role is secondary. The royalists are virtually in the oblivion although the Gyanendra Shaha and his loyalists are still trying to regain the lost image and power. However, the efforts of royalists are not likely to yield any fruit as it is their vain attempt to turn back the clock to the old days. Monarchy is something like a corpse that has already been buried and attempt to revive monarchy is like trying to revive the soul in the dead body, which is impossible. This is the nature of science.

The current internal imbroglio within the political parties is a product of party’s changed role and their differing ideological perceptions. The parties have found it difficult to adjust their role in the newly emerged situation. The parties had never visualized the present political situation. The parties are trying to find their space in the present politics, the course of which is uncertain. The ideological orientation and doctrine of the Maoists does not suit in this odd time but they have no alternative other than to adjust and readjust in it. This situation has created confusion and fierce ideological and political debate in the Maoist party. The Nepali Congress, too, is at odd because its leaders had never thought that they would ever have to face such a difficult position. The Congress always championed a multi-party parliamentary system but it is in a position to compromise certain values it stood for, which is definitely not easy. This has created debate and disorientation in the Nepali Congress. The CPN-UML is in the cross road for its survival and existence because of Maoists’ inroad into its vote banks. Until a few years ago, UML was the sole representative of communist ideology in Nepal’s parliamentary politics. Its position became shaky after the Maoists joined peaceful politics and they have pushed the UML to a poor to third position in the last election. The UML is now in dilemma which course and strategy it would fit in the present political scenario. This existential dilemma is the fundamental factor behind the present confusion-induced friction within the parties. But once hazy political atmosphere is cleaned, the confusion in the parties would also be cleared which would resolves ideological debate and factional wrangling in the parties.

BRICS : A building block for a new world order

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The fourth summit of the five newly emerged powers of the world concluded in New Delhi of India recently with strong warning note against the US-led Western hegemony in the global affairs and also calling for a greater international cooperation to build a new world order—a just, safe and peaceful order. Known as BRICS countries that include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, they represent more than half of world’s population. Unlike earlier three summits, the fourth one carried greater significance as it was held against the backdrop of an increasingly complex global situation ranging from tense political and strategic environment to the worst economic downturn. On these issues, the BRICS countries have come up more vocally and also with a vision and plan for rescuing the world from the crises.

There are looming dangers and disasters in the world from which, if they at all occur, a large swath of humanity is going to suffer. The political upheavals and popular protests are escalating in the Middle East and North Africa. The Western powers, in the name of supporting the agitating people, are trying to intervene in different countries of the Middle East and North Africa, have their greater presence in the region and extract both political and economic benefits out of the crisis. The standoff between the United States and Iran is also a matter of worry for the international community as it, if situation further deteriorates, would create a grave crisis in the world. The United States, accusing Tehran of developing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, has announced international sanction against Iran and urged other countries to respect the unilateral sanction, which is likely to trigger tension in the entire Middle East. At the same time, there are possibilities of US-Israel military strike against Iran which would have a serious impact on global economy. The tension and conflict in the Middle East may disrupt the supply of oil in the world and push oil prices out of control thereby further worsening global economic meltdown.

The case of Syria is of grave international concern at present because of ongoing political unrest against Bashar al Assad’s iron fist regime. The United States and some Western countries sponsored a resolution in the United Nations Security Council seeking to push for regime change in Syria. But Russia and China vetoed against the resolution and the Western plan for a regime change in Syria was blocked. Although BRICS nations were divided on the Syria issue as India and South Africa voted in support of the US-sponsored resolution on Syria. However, they are unanimous on Iran case as they have opposed the sanction against Tehran. Despite having divided opinion on Syria issue in the past, BRICS countries seem to have recently developed a common stance. In a joint declaration made at the end of the two-day New Delhi conclave, the leaders of the BRICS countries have said: "We express our deep concern at the current situation in Syria and call for an immediate end to all violence and violations of human rights in that country. Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues that reflect the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society and respect Syrian independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty."

They further said “Our objective is to facilitate a Syrian-led inclusive political process, and we welcome the joint efforts of the United Nations and the Arab League. We encourage the Syrian government and all sections of Syrian society to demonstrate the political will to initiate such a process, which alone can create a new environment for peace". This is a clear challenge to the United States and the Western countries that have been trying to dictate their terms on the resolution of problems in the Middle East. In other words, the BRICS countries have asserted their role in the international arena to resolve the international crisis in a more human, democratic and judicial manner.

On Iran, they said: "The situation concerning Iran cannot be allowed to escalate into conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in no one\'s interest. Iran has a crucial role to play for the peaceful development and prosperity of a region of high political and economic relevance, and we look to it to play its part as a responsible member of the global community. We are concerned about the situation that is emerging around Iran\'s nuclear issue. We recognize Iran\'s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions”.

The five emerging global powers are trying to set their own agenda in the international arena which may mark the end of the present unipolar world and herald a multi-polar international order. This is a beginning and the process would take some years to change the present Western hegemony. Presently, the United States and its Western allies are setting the global agenda including political, economic and security related issues, which is likely to come to an end in the near future, provided the BRICS countries move further firmly and resolutely.

Initially the group had been called BRIC as an acronym of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The world BRIC was coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O\'Neill in 2001, who was searching for a catchy way to more clearly and specifically sum up the broader shift in global economic growth towards emerging markets. Coming to 2009, it became a reality and the initiative got a further boost when South Africa joined the group in 2010. With South Africa joining the group, it became BRICS.

The BRICS initially emerged as an economic grouping of powers with no strategic goal. But with its combined economic prowess, BRICS definitely has a greater political clout and say on global strategic issues, which has already challenged the political, economic and financial domination of the United States and the West. Now this group is being viewed as a catalyst international power, which is being seen with both enthusiasm and suspicion. The West has already sensed the challenge and it has started demonizing the concept of the cohabitation of the BRICS countries saying the BRICS is group with no congruity in any form. It may be true to some extent as these countries are geographically far apart, except China and India and politically diverse. They have a little in common except their will and zeal to pull resources and exchange their experience to boost trade and business between one another. Yet they have a uniformed voice in the international arena for a better and more human, safer and peaceful world. They are also united to counter the Western hegemony. Contrary to the suspicion, susceptibility and indignation of the Western countries, the rest of the world has taken the move positively as the multi-polar world is always in the interest of the smaller, weaker and less developed countries.

Although the concept of the BRICS was mooted a decade ago when Russia, China, India had started discussing dialogue for strategic partnership and cooperation. As a group, it is a new phenomenon which was created only in 2009. BRICS is a Russian initiative. Moscow convened the summit meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2009 which Brazil, Russia, India and China attended and the group was formally announced. The second summit was held in Brasilia of Brazil in 2010 and the third summit in Sanya of China in which South Africa, too, joined the forum.

BRICS is a grouping that has sought coordination, collaboration and cooperation among the emerging powers on burning international issues that may include food and energy security to sustainable development, human security and climate change. Until the period of second summit, it was a gossiping club of a four emerging powers. However, concrete shape of organization and its plans were developed in the third summit. China, in the third summit held in Sanya of Hunan province, put forth some concrete plans including cooperation and coordination on issues pertaining to bilateral trade and banking sectors. The plan covers areas, including economy, finance, industry, commerce, sanitation and culture. More important is their bid to replace the US dollars by their own currencies as a mode of payment for international trade. The fourth summit discussed the issue concerning a BRICS bank to facilitate trade among the BRICS countries.

The New Delhi Summit of the BRICS countries has set a new but warning tone in the international affairs which has heralded a new beginning in the global power politics. It seems that gone are the days of western monopoly and hegemony. Coercion, bully and hegemony are no longer the norms of international diplomacy. The BRICS group is a bloc that possess both capability and will power to create a new world order. But the countries that have opposed hegemony of a particular country or group of countries in the international arena need to assess their own attitude and behavior in their own neighborhood and accordingly change their policy to suit with the position and policies of the BRICS group. This is more particular with India. New Delhi, for example, is opposed to the use of coercion in diplomacy, meddling and interference in other’s internal affairs and hegemony of any country. But this overture of New Delhi hardly matches with its policy in it neighborhood as smaller and weaker countries in South Asia are badly suffering from India’s hegemonic and bullying behavior which India inherited from British colonial rulers. The concept of BRICS group is definitely positive which is expected to boost cooperation on various sectors. More importantly, it would mark and end of Western hegemony and beginning of multi-polar world. Apart from this, the BRICS has to develop a mechanism to ensure that its members, too, do not adopt hegemonic attitude towards its weaker neighbors.