Friday, July 26, 2013

Nepal: Parties, People And Polls

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Unless some new and unforeseen developments emerge in Nepal’s national political scene, the election to the second constituent assembly would be held on November 19 this year. The four major political forces namely the UCPN-Maoist, the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Madhesi Front, which represent in the high level political mechanism, reached an agreement to hold the constituent assembly election in November for which the neutral election government headed by the sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court has been entrusted. Although some political groups have expressed their resentment over the procedures taken for the election, it can be expected that the disgruntled parties, too, would ultimately come on board and take part in the electoral process. While most of the disgruntled parties have appeared softer with the demand of some changes in the electoral procedures to ensure their participation in the election, the CPN-Maoist, which came into existence after breaking away from the mother party UCPN-Maoist, is more adamant on joining the election. The CPN-Maoist is demanding that the present non-party neutral government be dismissed, the ordinance to facilitate the election scrapped and November election date deferred to ensure its participation in the polls. However, these demands are less likely to be accepted by other parties and the government, which would make difficult for the CPN-Maoist to participate in the election.
Still efforts are underway to ensure its participation in the historic polls. Given its demands and position of other parties, it appears less likely that the CPN-Maoist will participate in the election. Thus the government is more likely to go ahead with the election even if the CPN-Maoist and its allies decide to boycott and disrupt the election. But efforts are still underway to convince the disgruntled parties and bring them on electoral board because the government and other stakeholders are well aware of some of the possible consequences from the election without the participation of all parties.
If the CPN-Maoist and its allies resort to violent approach to disrupt the election, it will definitely impact the entire process. In the first place, it will pose serious challenge to security organs to ensure fearless voting. In such a situation, voters’ turn out may be low. But, given the tone and tenor of some leaders of the CPN-Maoist, it is expected that they would choose to boycott the election and allow the electoral process to go ahead. There is still a school of thought that says that the boycott threat is merely a bargaining chip of the disgruntled parties, which would ultimately join the electoral race.  But there are some who are of the view that it would not be possible to hold the election in a free, fair and peaceful manner if CPN-Maoist tries to disrupt the election. If the election was held without the participation of all parties, the question of credibility and legitimacy will always come up in Nepal’s post-poll politics. The constitution written and promulgated after the election that was held without the participation of the disgruntled parties and groups will always leave room for a section of people to question about the legitimacy of the statute.
In such an eventuality, holding the election without the participation of all political forces and groups has a risk. But there is no alternative to election. In the present uncertain political situation, fresh mandate of the people is the only way out. While there is a risk of legitimacy question about the entire political and constitution writing exercises in the absence of participation of all political forces, there is also no guarantee that the second Constituent Assembly election, too, would come up with a constitution to be acceptable to all. The conditions and issues that led to the collapse of the first Constituent Assembly without delivering the constitution continue to remain unaddressed and resolved. Unless these conditions and issues are not settled and a basic agreement on some key and contentious issues was not reached among the major political parties, it is very likely that the second Constituent Assembly, too, will meet the fate of the first Constituent Assembly.

Against this background, people are still skeptical about the possibility of holding the election in November this year. Their skepticism has valid ground mainly because the election was supposed to be held in July this year, for which the present government was formed. The election in July could not be held for the lack of adequate time, preparation and other legal tools needed for the election. The government was well aware of this situation and wanted to announce the date for the election once all necessary preparations were complete. Now the election date has already been announced after making necessary homework and the government. Similarly, the Election Commission, too, is seriously working to complete this mission. Thus there should not be any kind of doubt and skepticism about the November 19 election.
But people are still not fully convinced and so are the political parties. In public, parties seem to be committed to election and confident about the November 19 election. But, in private, parties do not appear fully prepared for the election in November. The reason is obvious that they are not sure about their position in the election, although all major parties claim that they would emerge winners in the election.
Particular party may win or lose seats in the Constituent Assembly because election is a political sporting in which one wins and other lose. But the election is a democratic process in which country and people win. This is more so in the present political context because the election alone would end the political transition and herald in a new political era of peace, stability and prosperity in the country. Thus, the election is a must for which all responsible person and party is required to extend meaningful support. If the election is derailed or delayed for any reason, it would only deepen confusion, chaos and crisis in the country. Since the present political arrangement was made with consensus agreement of major political parties, the delay and disruption would also raise question about the credibility and competence of our political parties and our institutions both at home and abroad. Thus, election must be held on the scheduled day, for which necessary initiative needs to be taken on the part of the political parties to create atmosphere conducive for all political parties and groups to take part in the election.
Free and fair election is a soul of democracy. Holding election just for the sake of election alone would not serve the real purpose. Election should genuinely reflect the people's sentiment and voice. In order to ensure free and fair election, security arrangements should be made in a proper manner so that voters would be able to cast their ballots without any kind of fear and intimidation. Secondly, voters should be adequately educated about the election system, process of the election and voting procedures. The higher is the voters’ turn out, the more successful would be the election. The voters' turn out would depend on security arrangement and good voter education. If the people are assured of the security and if they are properly educated about the importance of constituent assembly election and voting system, the voters' turn out would be definitely high. There is another aspect of the election that is related with the quality of voting. It has to be ensured that voters give their verdict perfectly without any mistake so that no vote would be invalid. This, too, requires good and effective voters’ education.
The Election Commission has vowed not to allow any kind of fraud in the election and ensure flawless election, for which it has already announced a code of conduct to be followed by all stakeholders of the election. The Election Commission prepared the updated the election code of conduct, which has more teeth than the previous ones. But the announcement of the code of conduct alone may not serve the real purpose. The important aspect is its strict implementation right from the center to the polling booths. Given the human resource and expertise in the Election Commission, the code of conduct is not likely to be strictly followed and implemented. If the election conduct has to be strictly implemented, the Election Commission has to commission a team of experts and energetic people with adequate budget and resources. This would alone check goons to influence the electoral process and ensure that genuine people would be elected.
The Election Commission, the government and other stakeholders of the election are, thus, required to pay serious attention to the aforementioned issues and accordingly act in order to ensure free, fair, fearless, peaceful and credible election. It needs a perfect coordination and cooperation among all concerned sectors until the last day of election. If these issues are appropriately addressed, the election would definitely be free, fair and credible representing the genuine verdict of the Nepalese people.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bhutan election: A farce in democratic facade

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan Kingdom, saw a second engineered general election in which the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won a landslide victory and poised to form the next government in a monarchical system with democratic cover. The PDP, which is known more as pro-Indian party and also the party close to Bhutan’s monarch Jigme Keshar Wangchuk, won stunning victory over the ruling  Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Party (DPT). Apparently, the election was seen as a race not between Bhutan’s two parties but between Thimpu and New Delhi. In other words, in the closely contested electoral race, the pro-Indian party PDP won over the relatively more nationalist DPT party. In the election held for 47 seats of Bhutan’s parliament, the National Assembly, PDP grabbed 32 seats whereas the DPT could manage to win only 15 seats. This has given more than two thirds majority to DPT, which is sufficient enough even to change Bhutan’s constitution.
In this nationalist vs pro-Indian race, New Delhi directly and openly threw its weight behind the PDP. On the eve of the election, as a direct support to PDP, India suddenly and abruptly cancelled the subsidy on petroleum products, driving the cost of fuel up three times, which harshly impacted on the life of the people belonging to the lower strata of Bhutan. However, this was dubbed as the incompetence of the ruling DPT party to handle affairs with India for the purpose of easing woes of the Bhutanese. The PDP went ahead accusing that the ruling DPT utterly failed in handling foreign policy endangering Bhutan-India relationship in the name of diversifying foreign and diplomatic relations. While PDP criticized the DPT for ignoring the concerns of the people by antagonizing India, DPT accused the PDP of politicizing Bhutan's ‘most important strategic relationship’ with its neighbors and Bhutan’s foreign policy for petty political interest. This sent a message to the voters that days ahead would be more difficult if DPT was re-elected to power.
In a more brazen manner, the PDP openly criticized the DPT for its decision to diversify its foreign policy and diplomatic relations. The PDP maintained that Bhutan needed no relations with other countries except India. It was perhaps the views that New Delhi has maintained, which was echoed on the streets and alleys of Thimpu through the mouth of PDP leaders. This is a testament that the recent election in Bhutan was not a democratic exercise but a drama staged at the behest of the external forces. In the drama, PDP leaders were used as a mere pawns, while Bhutan’s monarchy, which often boasts of its nationalist and people-centred policies, became a party to foil the design to raise Bhutan’s status as a sovereign country rather than a protectorate of a certain power.
India and Bhutan signed a bilateral treaty of friendship in 1949 that governs the relations between these two countries. This treaty restricts Thimpu to exercise its sovereign authority in handling its foreign and defence policy. Under the 1949 treaty between India and Bhutan, New Delhi had controlled Thimpu’s foreign policy. The Article II of Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan had stated that the external relations of Bhutan will ”be guided by the advice of the Government of India”. It was under this treaty that Bhutan did not have diplomatic relations even with China that shares common border. However, Bhutan and India revised the treaty in 2007 that allowed Thimpu to diversify its international relations. The revised treaty has rewritten Articles 2 and 6 of the 1949 treaty that gives Thimpu “more freedom to pursue its foreign policy and also in the purchase of non-lethal military equipment as long as such decisions do not damage India's vital strategic interests”.Taking leverage from the provision of this treaty, Bhutan diversified its relations establishing diplomatic ties with as many as 42 countries in the world including China. After the establishment of the diplomatic relations, Bhutan and China had agreed to establish their residential embassies in the capitals of the two countries. China was soon to open its embassy in Thimpu. But this was deferred under pressure perhaps from New Delhi.
This particular decision of DPT government annoyed New Delhi. Since then, India started cultivating the opposition to gain more political clouts and strength in Bhutan’s politics, in which Bhutan’s monarchy, too, extended support. Until then, the Bhutan’s monarch had soft corner to the DPT but it remained helpless under pressure from New Delhi. Thus the PDP became a preferred choice for both the monarchy s well as New Delhi during the election. 
Although India's ministry of external affairs clarified that it was a mere procedural issue concerning the subsidies on petroleum products and had nothing to do with Bhutan’s internal politics, India’s such an abrupt decision on the eve of election has not been taken in a positive manner by nationalist Bhutanese. Some have even compared this move with that of Sikkim prior to 1975. Now Bhutan has parliament with two-third majority of a pro-Indian party, which some suspect as an ominous sign for Bhutan’s independence.
Bhutan was under absolute monarchy which had deprived civil and political rights to the people. The simmering democratic movement in Bhutan was brutally crushed in collaboration with India. Nepali-speaking Bhutanese appeared in the forefront of the movement demanding civil and political rights, which was taken by the Bhutanese monarchy s a move to dethrone him. As a result, Bhutanese regime took the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese as the principal threat. This was taken as an opportune time by Thimpu as well as New Delhi to flush the Nepali-speaking population out of Bhutan and reduce the Nepali speaking people into minority. Nepali speaking population used to constitute almost half of total population of Bhutan. Thus, more than one fifth of the Bhutan’s population were forced to flee the country. It was only after this, multi-party system was established in Bhutan through a constitutional amendment. Accordingly first general election was held in 2008 in which DPT had won overwhelming majority.
The recent election and its results show that Bhutan is still not a full democracy. India’s control and influence is heavy which can change the game anytime. While Bhutan’s pursuit of independent foreign policy has cost heavily to DPT, it is now time for Bhutanese people to cautiously watch the activities of the PDP and political developments so that this election results may not be misused in the interest of external forces and in the expense of Bhutan’s independence.
The election and change of government are Bhutan’s internal affair.  Nepal has nothing to do with this. Nepal’s only concern is that external interference in Bhutan should and that Bhutanese refugees who have been living in camps for more than two decades should be allowed to return home. Since the eviction of Nepali-speaking population was the making of the Bhutanese monarchy in collusion with the external force, the change of government in Thimbu will bring about no visible change. The monarchy is as power as it was before and the influence of external force has been further consolidated after the election. Thus, Nepal’s desire to repatriate the Bhutanese refugees is likely to remain as a mere pipe dream for the years and even decades ahead. Bhutan’s democracy will be functional and credible only when its almost 20 per cent population, who are forced to live in other countries as refugees, are allowed to return to their homeland and take part in the political process.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Power And The Politics Of Profit

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Politics and power are inter-linked. Politics, in principle, is for power. In other words, the politics is the vocation whose core objective is to seize or grab state power and rule the country.  There is also a school of thought that prophesizes politics as social service that should not take politics as a profiteering vocation but a route and means for public good. But this school of thought is slowly losing ground and the politics of power and profit is gaining currency in the present day world including Nepal.
In the modern day, politics is not being taken as social service nor is it viewed purely as a means to rule. It is a mix of both. But politics is being widely viewed in the eyes of the public as the means to grab power by a group of people to control state apparatus and nation’s treasury through which the winners dole out positions, perks and benefits of various kinds and nature to their supporters and followers. Be it in the authoritarian systems or democracies, there are visibly two sets of people—the rulers and the ruled.  In the feudal system, the rulers and ruled are distinctly manifested as the later are often exploited and discriminated more visibly. This distinction is slightly blurred in the modern liberal democracy championed by the western capitalists. In liberal democracy or multi-party system, the rulers tend to avoid the terminologies ‘rulers and the ruled’. Instead, they use the word ‘majority’ for the rulers and the ‘minority’ for the ruled. The liberal or multi-party democracy is also called a competitive political system in the sense individuals and political groups or parties compete to prove their merit through periodic elections. This merit of individual candidates or parties and their popularity is tested in the election held on the basis of adult franchise. Elections are, thus, competition to determine the worth of candidates and parties. The winners are the majority, who are entitled to rule whereas the losers are minority or the opposition, who are to be ruled.
Marxists define the society and politics from the perspective of class analysis. In the Marxist lexicon, the society, as it is at present in the world, is composed of two classes—the bourgeoisie and the proletarian. The competition between these two groups or classes is always stiff and fierce, which the Marxists or communists define as the class struggle. Karl Marx, father of communist philosophy, has defined the world and the history of mankind as the history of all hitherto class struggles. And the communists and Marxists preach and prophesize class struggle as the vehicle to seize power. Marxists believe that proletariats will win and prevail over bourgeoisies in the class struggle as bourgeoisies are only handful, whereas poor and proletariats are in overwhelming majority all over the world. This will, according to Marxists, ensure control of proletariats over the state machinery and the earlier rulers bourgeoisies will be rendered into the status of minority or the ruled. This is how communists and Marxists enforce ‘proletarian dictatorship’. In the classical Marxist or communist lexicon, election has no space and the power is seized only through the use of force or armed revolution.
Classical Marxists and communists do not believe in election instead they define the election as a bourgeoisie conspiracy to keep the state power in their hands for ever and render the majority poor and proletariats powerless. In communist philosophy, only the violent class struggle guarantees power in the hands of the majority, which is the basis to eliminate classes and create classless society. Although communism preaches equality and egalitarianism, classes do exist in communist system, too, in the form of ruling class and the ruled class, which was evident in several countries where communism was experimented. The classless society is a utopian idea that is less likely to materialize in real life of the people.
Politics is, thus, a vehicle to seize power. Only the means and methods vary, but all individuals that have chosen politics as their vocation and the political parties have one and only goal that is power seizure. But their approach, line and policy make the difference. Feudal rulers as seen in Nepal under Rana Oligarchy and king’s absolute regime prohibit and discourage any kind of competition and choices to the people, through which they tend to ensure their rule and control over state power for ever without any kind of challenge and threat. The approach and method of ensuring the feudal control over power is the control over armed forces, bureaucracy and national treasury.  In feudal system people are taken as a mere tools for serving the rulers and masters.
Feudalism began to see its decline once the feudal exploitation over people became unbearable. For the first time in the history of the mankind, French people revolted against the brutal and ruthless feudal exploitation that had virtually rendered the people as slave machine in the service of the ruling elites and heralded the dawn of people’s power by establishing their own government in 1789. The slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity soon resonated on the streets and alleys of Paris. The idea of French revolution slowly reached out to elsewhere in the world as a message of free people. Coming to the 20th century, the message and meaning of French revolution had eventually become a lingua franca of the human society and it continues to be the same even now. Earlier in 1783, the American War of Independence had succeeded in liberating the United States from European rule. This heralded a new era of national liberation movement, which later became a source inspiration for many countries and people of colonized countries in Asia, Africa and America. Similarly, the revolts of British people against King Charles I and his execution and followed by several other great upheavals including the industrial revolution were yet other important events of great significance in the history of mankind. All these events slowly paved the way for bringing feudal era to an end in Europe and marked the beginning of capitalist era not only in Europe but in the entire world.
Now the world is capitalist. In capitalism, focus is laid mainly in production and profit. The more you produce and the more profit you make. But the profit goes to the pocket of the owner, who invests money, which Marxists call an anathema. But the capitalists assert that one who invests must get the profit and take it as a natural phenomenon. Marxists and communists are of the view that the workers are the principal force for production, who should get the real benefit but are paid a meager wage that is hardly enough for their survival nor is it worth the sweet and tears they shed during the production process. However, capitalists contradict with the Marxist views on investment and labor. According to them, the investment and investors are the principal force in the production sector whereas workers are hired on contract basis to perform their job and they are paid according to their works and performance. According to propagators of capitalism, the workers have no risk and they are concerned only with their job and the wages. Whatever are the logics and counter logics, one thing is true that capitalism thrives on profiting. If profit is not guaranteed, the investment would not be forthcoming and in the absence of investment there would be no production.  If there is no production, there would neither be masters nor workers.
Anyway, capitalist path and capitalist revolution is the way forward in the world including Nepal. All political forces including the communists are advocating for capitalist revolution in Nepal. The Nepali Congress is already a staunch supporter of capitalism and the CPN-UML’s bahudaliya janabad (People’s Multi-party democracy) is nothing other than capitalist democracy. The UCPN-Maoist that had been advocating the new democratic revolution to establish the one-party communist regime, too, has abandoned this path and embraced the capitalist approach and peaceful competitive political system. In the Hetauda Congress, this party formally adopted the political line of spearheading a capitalist revolution for augmenting national production and economic growth.
In capitalism, profit is the principal driving force, which has been clearly reflected in our politics.  Thus, politics has been a profiteering business in the present context of Nepal and this business is thriving. In this politics of profit, only losses and gains are calculated and strategies and policies are adopted accordingly. Gone are the days of value-based politics. Present politics is thus devoid of values, principles and morale. And the norms in politics are to ‘get power’ by hook or by crook, which is evident in the political actors of the present day Nepal.

Regime change in Egypt

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Egypt, home of ancient civilization in the North Africa, saw some convulsive events last week leading to a military coup that ousted democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi. This week’s dramatic events in Egypt and subsequent ouster of the legitimate government will have far-reaching impact not only in the Middle East and North Africa but also in the entire world.
The army coup was triggered by the popular unrests on the streets and squares of Cairo and elsewhere demanding end to the rule of Moslem Brotherhood led by Morsi, who was accused by the opposition parties of trying to Islamization of Egyptian society and patronizing corruption and misrule. But Morsi’s party and his followers have dismissed the allegation. Instead, the Morsi supporters seem to be defiant against the military move and claimed that Morsi continues to be the legitimate president of Egypt, for which they would fight until their last breath.
The tone of defiance of the Morsi supporters has already been reflected on the streets of Cairo. The mood in Cairo and another city like Alexandria seem to be bizarre as clashes between the two groups have already been reported in which several people have been killed. The situation has not yet subsided which is indicative of the fact that Egypt may see more bloodshed and confrontation, which may turn into an ugly civil war, if tension further escalates. In such an eventuality, the military-backed regime will have tough time not only to justify the ouster of Morsi regime but also to ensure greater stability in the region.
Many people especially the Western media have dubbed the recent turns of event in Cairo as the people’s rejection of Moslem Brotherhood’s misrule and a second revolution for a more democratic society and reforms in Egypt. It may be a popular rejection of the Morsi’s handling of several key issues that have direct bearing on the life of the people like rising unemployment rate and deteriorating social and economic conditions of the people.  The popular unrest is not the second revolution but a continuation of the  revolution that had started in this land of the Nile almost two years ago that had toppled the previous Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Since Mubarak was ousted from power and an election was held in which Moslem Brotherhood won a majority, paving the way to the formation of Morsi-led government a year ago, which had been taken by some external forces with indignation because of the background and tract record of the party that was installed on power in Cairo. Moselm Brotherhood is a political party/group influenced and guided by the Islamic principles, which may be incompatible with the basic and universal principle of modern democracy.
The unrest had subsided last year following the ouster of the Mubarak regime and holding of a new election. Egyptian people had high expectations on the new elected government and had expected that it would work hard to effect solution to the numerous problems in Egypt. However, the change of the government was not the solution the people had sought. People did not seek the mere regime change but wanted a substantial change and improvement in the life of ordinary people. In other words, it was a revolution both for civil and democratic right but also a revolution for bread and butter. But the new government proved its utter failure in both of these tasks. Instead, it continued to impose, as was the case in the previous regime, the ruthless capitalist model prescribed by some western powers.
The current situation of Egypt is precarious. The economic crisis is deepening every day causing a great deal of miseries and hardship on the life of the people especially belonging to the lower strata of the society and the working population. The unemployment rate is high and it continues to rise. Inflation is skyrocketing every day. The Foreign reserve has plummeted to a record low in Egypt’s history. The IMF has issued its own precondition to get rid of the economic crisis, which are likely to add further burden to the already impoverished people. Under pressure from the IMF, the Morsi regime had cut public expenditures, laid off government workers, ended or sharply curtailed subsidies on fuel, and devalued the Egyptian currency. This angered the people which provided ground for the military and the dissidents to topple his regime.
Thus, the unrest was not a new phenomenon but a continuation of the old revolt against reactionary and rightist policies that had created two societies in Egypt. In other words, the driving forces behind the upsurge are the contradictions of the political and economic system that has produced financial parasitism, social inequality, poverty and the breakdown of democratic rule.
In Egypt, mass uprisings have toppled individual rulers and destabilized the political elites, but they have not succeeded in overthrowing the system in which military is the real power and the ruler. History is witness that the change of individual leaders has brought no change in the life of the people anywhere in the world. If real and tangible change has to be brought about in the life of the people, there must be systemic change in which pro-people regime will be established with pro-people agendas. In the case of earlier change of political changes in Egypt, only the players changed but the game remained unaffected. This was the prime factor behind the recent popular upsurge against the Morsi regime, which was hijacked by the military in the form of its takeover.
Given the present situation, people’s mood and political superstructure, no significant changes are expected even if fresh elections are held. The Moslem Brotherhood is a political party that believes in Islamic fundamentalism. As Egypt is a predominantly a Muslim majority country, Moslem Brotherhood has strong base in the society. If elections are held again in a strictly free and fair manner, it is more likely that Moslem Brotherhood would definitely have strong presence and say in Egypt’s politics. Similarly, military is the powerful institution in Egypt which has, in one way or the other, has been role in politics and power. Throughout Egypt’s history, military has been the ruler under civilian façade only exception during the Morsi regime. The military is not likely to let any government to remain in power for long unless the government toes its line and pursues its agendas.
The fall of Morsi regime in Egypt has given both positive and negative message. It is good because a popular movement toppled Islamist regime. It is bad because it produced no better alternative. Morsi’s ouster did not bring about positive results in the politics of Egypt. Instead, it invited yet another dictatorship—the military rule— which would make difficult for people of Egypt to get rid of it in immediate future. It means Egypt has once again returned to an era of dictatorship, which is yet another paradox. It is likely to invite more resentment and antagonism of the people because this political change was not aimed at bringing about changes in the life of the people but intended to further consolidating power of the military and the generals.
Egypt is at the center of the Arab World and developments in Egypt will definitely have repercussion in the entire Middle East and North Africa. The world is watching closely the events in Cairo. Already marred by poverty, unemployment and sluggish growth, Egypt may see further deterioration if confrontation and conflict flare up. It would be wise if the new leadership handles the matters delicately and makes serious efforts to address the genuine problems of the people. In the modern era of 21st century, military dictatorship under any façade and with any face may not convince the people.  Thus, it would do well the military leadership in Egypt gives up its desire, if any, to hold political power and hold genuine election so that the people would choose their representatives to rule their country.