Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nepal’s tryst with probabilities

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Politics is said to be the art of possible. In other words politics is the practice of exploring the best out of many probabilities. The tryst with many probabilities in politics, may have given birth, rise and fall of many political ideologies, systems and regimes on this planet since human civilization germinated.
In the period of more than two hundred years of Nepal’s turbulent history, many trials and experiments were made in our political front. We experienced and experimented systems and governments of different colors and nature in the past. But none of the previous systems lived up to popular expectations and eventually failed in the test of people’s court compelling people to seek better alternatives. In the quest of seeking better alternative, Nepalese people dumped Shah’s dynastical absolute monarchy, Rana’s oligarchy and multi-party system under monarchy into the trash of history. Now we are making yet another experiment of republican democracy with federalism, secularism and inclusiveness in all decision-making levels. This is a new experiment and perhaps the best of all trials we made in the past. Still, we are debating how we can make this system work better and deliver to the people.
Ever since our new republic was founded some five years ago, there has been vigorous discourse on the issue of governance and superstructure of the state. The ideological polemics still remains unresolved. The super structure of the state can be determined only when ideological disputes and political problems are resolved. By abolishing monarchy, Nepal has resolved one political problem. This is because Nepalese people arrived at a final conclusion, after long and arduous trials and errors, that democracy and monarchy are incompatible in Nepal. Our experiences have exhibited the fact that as long as monarchy remained in place and vibrant, democracy always came under threat and often became casualty of king’s misadventure. This is not mere assumption and accusation but based on facts and proofs. Nepalese people led three decisive revolutions and were able to oust the despotic regime to be replaced by democratic dispensation. But there was fundamental flaw in the overall outlook that democracy would thrive under monarchy. This viewpoint proved to be fatal as the monarchy played against the wish of people and trampled multi-party democracy in 1960 and 2005.  Now this issue has been resolved after the declaration of republic and we are now experimenting to make this republican system better and more functional.
Even after the dawn of the republican democracy, our political journey has not been as smooth as expected. We have not been able to write a new constitution. The Constituent Assembly that was formed through election failed to deliver a new constitution and finally saw its unceremonious demise further prolonging the painful political transition. The ‘push and pull’ factor in the Constituent Assembly among the key political actors ruined the fate of the constitution which made it necessary to go for a fresh mandate for a new Constituent Assembly. We chose this option because we have no other better alternative to write the constitution.
Thus, the election has been announced and polling date fixed for the second Constituent Assembly by the Interim Election Council of Ministers headed by Khil Raj Regmi. Now the election to be held on November 19 this year will give the country a new elected body with the mandate of writing the much-needed new constitution and also the government accountable to the people. This decision has not only dispelled apprehensions and skepticism of the people about the possibility of the election as well as the intention and commitment of the government but also has once again revived optimism that country’s protracted transition and political crisis will finally come to an end sooner rather than later.
In a democracy, the final arbitrators are the people on any issue of national importance. Thus, the election is the best possible alternative in the present context of Nepal. The previous Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 failed to deliver a constitution, which was its sole mandate and objective, even after two additional years extended to complete its job. The constitution could not be promulgated despite, as had earlier been claimed by the parties, the completion of more than 80 per cent of the works concerning the writing of the new constitution. During the four years since the election to the Constituent Assembly until it ceased to exist, intensive debates were held and meticulous exercises were made both within and outside the Constituent Assembly to strike a compromise on some key issues to be incorporated in the constitution. But the single issue of federalism and its model defeated the entire exercise made in the four years. Ultimately, the May 28, 2012, proved to be fatal as the historic Constituent Assembly saw its dissolution upon which none wept and regretted. Instead political parties and their leaders started trading blame game against one another for the failure and demise of the Constituent Assembly. After the demise of the CA, leaders appeared jubilant and victorious, which could be seen from their rhetoric and body languages. It appeared as though parties and leaders got something they had desired the most. Leaders and parties may have won but the country and people were defeated. The entire nation was shocked and saddened, which was evident from the state of solemn silence for a few days after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. It was as though the nation was bereaved of something it loved the most.
The single issue of federalism took a huge toll in our national politics as well as in the historic process of constitution writing. On the surface, all parties seem to be committed to federalism, at least in principle, barring the two—Chitra Bahadur KC-led National People’s Front and Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal. In reality, parties seemed to have taken federalism just for a face value and also for immediate political benefit.  Situation developed in such a manner that these parties did not want to risk their political future by standing against federalism nor they could agree on different models of federalism they themselves had proposed and advocated in the past.
The UCPN-Maoist is the first party to raise the issue of federalism, which was later backed by the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The UCPN-Maoist went one step ahead to push for identity-based federalism. Other regional and ethnic parties were quick to endorse it and demanded that it be implemented in its letter and spirit. It is this agenda that earned popularity of the UCPN-Maoist among the hitherto oppressed and discriminated ethnic communities and emerged as the largest party in the CA election. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML arrived at the conclusion that the UCPN-Maoist would be further established and become more popular if the identity-based federalism was accepted. This obsession led the Congress and the UML to stand against the identity-based federalism. Had there been voting in the CA, there was high probability that identity-based federalism issue might have mustered majority. Even some ethnic CA members representing Congress and the UML had been advocating identity-based federalism, while there was a fair chance of getting support of Madhesi parties on this issue. In this backdrop, Congress and the UML might have concluded that the demise of the CA was better for them.

There was other scenario as well. Given the power equation in the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists and the Madhesi parties did not have adequate members to pass the constitution of their choice. If they wanted the constitution, they should have had to make compromise with the Congress and the UML on several issues including the one concerning federalism. Congress, UML and some other parties were determined not to let the ethnic-based federalism to get the final nod of the CA. The Maoists and Madhesi parties did not risk losing their agenda of identity-based federalism by pushing for voting on this issue in the CA without the guarantee that it would be passed and thus chose to let the CA die. All parties, thus, saw their interest served in the demise of the CA. Although the demise of the historic Constituent Assembly was the convergence of interest and a win-win for all parties, it served a blow to the country and the people.
Despite this dire situation, hopes are still alive and parties have begun afresh for a new mandate of the people through the election scheduled for November 19. But the issues and problems that led to the demise of the first CA have not yet been resolved. There is no certainty that the new CA, too, would be able to deliver the constitution without resolving these issues because parties are adamant on their posture and position. But there is no other route to seek solution to the myriad of problems and complexities. We must be optimistic and accordingly seek solution to our problems by ourselves by means of trials and errors.

In search of Identity in Politics of Nepal

Yuba Nath Lamsal
 Book Review
Nepali Politics In Crisis of Identity and Ideology
Authored by Dr Gopal Siwakoti
Published by Pairavi Prakashan

This is a new book authored by Professor Dr Gopal Siwakoti, who is known widely in the academic field and the field of journalism in Nepal. He taught political science in the Tribhuvan University, country’s pioneer higher academic institution, for more than three decades. He was a professor before he retired a couple of year ago. Dr Siwakoti is equally known and revered in the field of journalism as he edited several journals and also worked as a columnist in some newspapers and journals. Although his health is feeble in his late sixties, he is active in writing on various pertinent issues like state restructuring, constitutionalism, political development and many contemporary issues.
There are already more than two dozen books of political science to his credit and he has been continuously producing books on different topics of politics and political science. His works have helped the readers to understand more clearly the issues on politics, political science, constitution and constitutionalism as he mostly focuses on the current issues of Nepal’s politics and societal aspects of Nepalese and Nepalese society. Also his books seems to be more based on the curriculum of the Universities that have made Dr Siwakoti’s books in high demands among students pursuing higher education in political science and history. This book, which is under review, is also not an exception as it seems to be guided by the curriculum of university’s political science of different levels. The book is, therefore, useful for the students of political science especially on the issue concerning identity-based politics that is in vogue in Nepal at present and also the series of struggles launched by different ethnic, lingual and cultural groups of people in different intervals of Nepal’s history.
The author, Dr Siwakoti, has touched upon all the issues concerning Nepal’s political developments and trends from the perspective of people’s demand for identity-based politics. The topic appears to be very important in the present context as Nepal’s politics, deviating from values, ideals and principles, is being sharply polarized between the people who are demanding identity-based federalism and people who have opposed it. The issue of identity has come up more prominently after Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic. All political parties are committed to federalism in principle. But they differ on the model of federalism. Ethnic nationalities, indigenous communities, lingual and cultural groups are advocating for identity-based federalism. Others have dubbed the demand of identity-based federalism as an attempt of creating ethnic states which, according to them, may ultimately fragment and disintegrate the country. However, those who are demanding identity-based federalism dismiss that the identity-based federalism is neither the creation of ethnic states nor would disintegrate the country. They claim that identity-based federalism, in fact, strengthens the national unity and integrity.
 The raging debate on the issue of federalism is primarily responsible for failing the Constituent Assembly to produce a constitution. This is mainly because of either sheer ignorance on the intricacies of federalism and its model or parties’ deliberate attempt to avert federalism from being formally institutionalized in the constitution.  The book, thus, attempts to bring the issue of identity-based federalism to the fore once again. As the name of the book itself suggests that the politics of Nepal is in the crisis of both identity as well as ideology, the author has focused more on different political ideologies that came to existence in the world and their positive and negative aspects. This is important in Nepal in the present situation because Nepalese people are in the process of constitution writing and state restructuring on which parties have been divided and polarized.  Divided into 15 different chapters that deal with different issues and themes closely linked with politics, the book contains topics like constitutional developments, different political ideologies and their practices and Nepal’s political and social transformation that took place in different phases of history. Apart from political, constitutional and ideological developments in Nepal, the book is a mirror of Nepali society as it contains in brief the issues and phases of political, constitutional and social developments and practices and their successes and setbacks. Thus, the book is useful and worth reading. Despite being so useful and important, the book has some drawbacks as well. Going through the book, one may find some issues to short and surfacial. The author could have dealt in details and at length, which would have made the book more worthy. In addition, the book has a lot of proof mistakes, some of which are serious. It is expected that such drawbacks and mistakes would be done away with in the future edition of the book.

Russia Vs US in G-8: New world order in offing

Yuba Nath Lamsal
 The leaders of the eight Western industrialized countries, which are also called as the group eight or G-8, met recently in the idyllic surroundings of a secluded lakeside resort in Enniskillen of Northern Ireland to purportedly seek a way to discuss the global economy and prevent it from further sliding. However, they devoted most of the time to Syria issue in which the Western leaders and more particularly the United States tried to adopt a uniformed approach on their strategy of regime change and also seek wider international support to achieve this goal. The major agenda for which the Summit had been convened was pushed to background.
In the end, the leaders of the western world, as usual, concluded with issuing an agreed statement temporarily brushing aside some of their key differences just to send a message of unity. It was their time-honored tradition of diplomacy to hide the truth under a thick blanket of mistrust and come out with apparent statement of artificial unity and solidarity. The inside truth was that they gossiped much but came out with nothing concrete achievement. It was more than evident and visible in the recently held G-8 Summit.
The countries of G-8 group, which includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and Japan, have sharp differences on many regional and international issues that were just as great as they were in the beginning. This was particularly the case over the thorny question of Syria, the issue that dominated the entire talks.
They were supposed to be finding a solution to the world economic crisis, but in the event the meeting was largely dominated by the civil war in Syria, which may, if no solution sought in time, flare up to become a wider regional war that can drag the whole Middle East to larger conflict. But the solution each individual member of G-8 is seeking contrasts with the ‘super boss’ of the group— the United States, which led the summit to near collapse as no concrete and consensus decision was taken on any of the subjects that were raised and discussed in the conclave.
While the United States and some of its staunch allies pushed for giving military and all other required support to the Sunni-dominated rightist Syrian rebels with the objective of removing Basar al Assad’s authoritarian regime in Damascus, Russia and China are skeptical on the motive of Western countries. More particularly, Vladimir Putin of Russia is vocally critical of the role and response of the United States in Syria and has declared his support to Syrian regime. While rebels have received military, moral and material support from the West especially the United States, Russia has announced to sell military weapons and hardware to what Moscow describes as legitimate Syrian regime, which has concerned the Western world more than anything else. China considers Syrian issues as a purely internal affair and wants the external powers to refrain from meddling in Syria. In fact, the current Syrian regime and the rightist Sunni-dominated rebels are no different in nature and Syrian movement is not a genuine people’s democratic movement. It is a mission to replace Assad’s authoritarian regime by another rightist theocratic people. Genuine people’s democratic movement is yet to evolve in Syria. The West is desperate to install a friendly regime in Damascus for which the United States in particular has used every international forum and opportunity. Recently, a US-sponsored conference of the so-called ‘ Friends of Syria’ was held in Qatar’s capital Doha, in which all groups opposed to Syria’s current regime had been invited. And this was to boost the morale of the rebels in their fight against Assad’s regime.
The world including Russia and China is closely watching these recent events unfolding in the Middle East. Moscow and Beijing are deeply concerned with the expansion of Western interest in the Middle in general and Syria and Iran in particular and consider the Western adventure as a move purely guided by the controlling the oil-rich Middle East.
Against this background, some of the leaders of the G-8 countries have made their desperate attempts to patch up between Washington and Moscow. But these efforts, too, failed to yield any positive result. In the end, the scene of the G-8 meeting was virtually seen as Russia versus the rest of the countries on issue concerning Syria. Despite mounting pressure and persuasion, Putin refused to give in but bluntly declared that his country would continue to pursue with the avowed policy of resisting any kind of external interference in Syria. Finally, a communiqué was issued avoiding any mention of the most contentious matters that divide the member countries.
Immediately after the summit, the White House issued a statement stating and applauding the outcome of the G-8 meeting. In the statement, Washington expressed its satisfaction and happiness over “the international consensus reached on Syria issue.” This was, in fact, quite ridiculous as nothing had been achieved and no consensus reached on Syrian affairs. Instead the Syrian issue had divided the G-8 countries.
The United States and its allies raised and vehemently opposed what they called the ‘use of chemical weapons’ by Syrian Regime of Basar al Assad. The United States, France and Britain claimed that they had “hard evidence” for the lethal use of such weapons by Syria. But the United Nations observers have, so far, found no such proof. This is yet another propaganda that these countries have unleashed against a sovereign country. But one thing is sure that Basar al Assad is a dictator, who is running the country with iron fist denying Syrian people with their civil and democratic rights. But this is purely internal affairs of Syria and only Syrian people have the right to choose the political system and leaders on their own. No outsider has any right to interfere in Syria’s internal political matter.
What has been agreed is the holding of peace conference to be solely devoted for the purpose of seeking peaceful solution in Syria. The conference is to be held under the aegis of the United Nations probably in Geneva and all stakeholders are to be invited to the meeting.  The result of any peace settlement between the Syrian regime and the rebels will not be determined by words but deeds, which will practically decide Syria’s fate. But the West-backed rebels do not seem much enthusiastic for settlement of the problem through negotiation in the conference but want to continue with war and determine Syria’s fate from the battleground. This speaks the agenda and motive of not only the rebels but also of their Western mentors and masters.
The Western countries have backed the Syrian rebels and provided military weapons and other needed supports because, firstly, they may achieve the goal of ouster of their critical regime in Damascus and install their own puppet regime. This would help the West to control Syria’s resources. Secondly, US-friendly regime in Damascus may help in bringing political and military balance in the Middle East into the favor of Western countries while creating an adverse situation to Russia who is trying to make strong presence in the Middle East with the objective of reviving Moscow’s Cold War era’s ‘glory’.
The European Union’s embargo on sale and supply of arms to Syria was a major hurdle for the Western countries to openly give weapons to Syrian rebels. David Cameron of Great Britain backed by French President Francois Hollande was one of those who had been exerting pressure on the European Union to abandon its embargo on arms for Syria, in which he has been finally successful.  Under duress from their own powerful members, the European Union reluctantly revoked the ban on the supply of arms to Syria and agreed to allow its member states to follow their own conscience on this matter.
Whatever was stated in the statement that was released at the end of the summit, the G-8 conclave was a serious blow to the Western countries. While it was a triumph to Vladimir Putin, who consistently and firmly resisted the Western pressure and he finally prevailed, it was big shock to the US-led Western countries. This is a testament of the fact that Russia is slowly but steadily emerging as a power not to be ignored and asserting its role in the international arena. This gives yet another message that the uni-polar world is soon going to be over and multi-polar world is emerging sooner than later. With the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, a new phenomenon in the world is emerging with the emergence of different power equation in the international politics. While the clout of individual country or collective power of Europe is slowly waning, this is being replaced by Russia. And China has already grown as an international super power with its strong economy and military. This could be seen in the G-8 meeting as Russia stood firmly against the rest of the G-8 members including the United States.  This is a clear example of the fact that the new world order is slowly emerging and Asia is becoming the epicenter of the international politics and power.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Change of Guard in Iran

 Yuba Nath Lamsal
Iran, an oil rich Middle Eastern country, had a presidential election last week, in which the 64 year old Hasan Rohani was elected. The voter turnout was estimated 73 per cent of nearly 50 million eligible voters. Or more than 36 million Iranians had cast their votes to choose their president. According to the election results, Rohani secured more than half of the total votes cast.
A cleric, known to have close link with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatolla in the past but had kept distance with the Islamic cleric in recent years, narrowly cleared the margin that would have forced a two-candidate runoff. Teheran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Saeed Jalili, who was a tough nuclear negotiator with the West, came in distant second and third, respectively. Rohani secured 50.7 per cent of the votes while Qalibaf came second with 16.56 per cent and Saeed only managed to gain 11.35 per cent. At the bottom of the list is supreme leader Khamenei’s foreign affairs advisor Ali Akbar Velayati with meager 6.18 per cent votes.
Until two weeks ago no one had even the slightest hint that Rohani would emerge as the winner in the presidential race. With the endorsements coming from former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, a sudden wave came in favor of Rohani. Several liberal and reform-minded politicians and activists joined in to rally behind Rohani portraying him as a ‘lesser evil among all six candidates’ that transformed the tight election race into Rohani’s victory.
Despite not being in the list of favorites of the Iran’s supreme leader and the powerful Guardian’s Council, whose approval, according to Iran’s constitution, is mandatory, Rohani’s victory tells that the election, unlike accusation by Western countries, was by and large fair and free. Had the election, as accused and claimed by Western countries, been engineered and manipulated, election results could have been different and Rohani may not have been the winner.
The Western countries dub Iran as an authoritarian country depriving its people of their rights and freedom. Iran is, of course, an autocratic and theocratic regime and not a democracy according to the yardstick of western countries that champion liberal capitalist democracy. But last week’s presidential election was definitely a free choice of the people by any standard. No incident of vote-rigging was reported in the election. The only objectionable thing was the pre-election system that required approval of the candidates by the Guardian Council consisting of conservative Islamic Clerics. According to the system, only those who are approved by the Guardians’ Council can be the candidate in the presidential election. In this election, there were more than 60 aspirants to become the candidate for the presidential race. However, the Guardians’ Council had approved only six candidates.
The objectives of the approval process are to select the most dogmatic hard liners, strong believer in the ideas of the Islamic revolution, and of course, the most compliant to the supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei. This came as a result of the 2009 protests, touted as the largest since the 1979 political upheavals, when two reformists, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi of Green Movement, were put under house arrest for protesting the electoral process that they claimed were rigged to reelect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Despite this the election was free, which has now been accepted by the international community as well. Even the western countries have recognized the election results and seem to be jubilant from the outcome of the election. The jubilation of the West is understandable because the winner is not the favorite of the Iran’s powerful Guardian Council and its Ayatollah, the Supreme religious leader, who is an arch critic of the United States and some other western countries.
Rohani is not a new face in Iran’s politics as he has already served many years in governments on different capacities and also played crucial and highly sensitive role as Iran’s nuclear negotiator. Between 2003 and 2005, he was actually the head of Iran’s nuclear program. One more thing that caused the election tide to go to his favor was that Rohani had always been critical of the international policies of outgoing President Dr. Ahmadinejad, whom the Western countries and reformist within Iran describe as Islamic conservative opposed to reforms and democracy.
In his first statement after the results were announced, Rohani has pledged to create an environment for free dialogue in Iran and also truly respect democracy. Portraying himself as a champion of reform, freedom, democracy and modernization, he said “this is the victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation and a victory of commitment over extremism.”
It is now expected that Rohani’s victory may ease tension between Iran and the West, to a large extent, in general and with the United States in particular. This could well be reflected by the quick response of the White House congratulating not only Rohani but also Iranian voters for “their courage in making their voices heard.” In a message of congratulation, Obama administration has appealed to the Iranian regime to take the verdict of the people in the election as the clarion call for reforms and democracy.
The prime concern of the United States in Iran at present is not the regime but its military and economic strength and nuclear program. The White House wants Iran to stop its nuclear program, which Iranian leaders firmly resisted. According to Teheran, Iran’s nuclear programs are only for peaceful purposes that includes energy and medical purposes. With the Rohani’s election, the United States expects a complete U-turn in its international policy and nuclear program, which is something Rohani either won’t want to do or simply cannot do. The other concern of the West is to contain and to weaken Iran just because of Iran’s relations with Syria’s Basar al Assad against whom a massive people’s movement is being launched. The West has backed the rebels whereas Iran has openly supported Assad’s regime. If reform minded and pro-West person takes over power in Teheran, it would be easy for the West to oust Assad in Syria and install their lackey in Damascus.
The US desire is to prevent Iran from strengthening and enhancing its military capability—something that would be threat to US monopoly in the Middle East and also threat to Israel’s security. White House officials often claim that Iran’s nuclear efforts may not be threat to Washington but it poses serious threat to regional peace in the Middle East. If the USA is serious about peace and nuclear security in that part of the world, it has to engage itself in the direct talks with Teheran and seek peaceful resolution. Teheran, too, should not be rigid and apprehensive about the issue and fear raised by the West. Iran, thus, needs to open up its nuclear plants for competent and credible international inspectors and offer the proof that its nuclear programs are genuinely for the peaceful purpose. In the same manner, the Western countries, too, have to give up their double standard. If they are at all serious for world peace and denuclearization, nuclear weapons of all countries must be destroyed including that of Israel.
For the past decades, Iran, because of its economic and military power, has been successful in attracting the international limelight by keeping itself at the center of the Middle East’s politics. Although the objectives of Tehran are common knowledge to the world community, they get the international media’s attention as interesting developments simply because it is a country that has been consistently resisting Western pressure and diktats.
Despite will and wishful thinking of the West, Iran’s new leadership, in all its probability, is not likely to depart from its earlier stance. Iran will continue backing Bashar Assad and also it will continue with its nuclear program. But he would definitely be open for talks and dialogue with the West to ease tension and resolve conflict in peaceful manner.
After the election results were declared, Tehran exploded with happiness. People started pouring out on the streets of Teheran and elsewhere in support of newly elected president.  In some places, the celebrations took the form of protests and demonstrations in demand of reform and democracy in Iran. This is a testimony of the fact that a new era— democratic and open era— would begin in Iran which would not only bring about changes in Iran but also contribute to usher bring about reforms in the entire Middle East. The real test, thus, lies on the newly elected president to change the course of Iran and live up to the expectation of the people.