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Friday, January 30, 2015

Constitutional fiasco once again

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Parties missed one more deadline and also failed to live up to their promise made to the people during the election held in November, 2013. All political parties had made their promise public through their election manifestos and public speeches that they would give the country a brand new constitution within one year of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. One year passed on January 22, 2015 but the Constituent Assembly did not come up with the new constitution. It is one more cheating and betrayal to the people of Nepal by our political parties and their leaders.

With the Constituent Assembly failing to deliver the constitution within one year, political parties have started trading accusations and blames to one another. While the ruling parties—the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML— are trying to hold the opposition parties mainly the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or UCPN-Maoist for delaying and blocking the constitution writing process, the UCPN-M and other opposition parties have blamed the ruling coalition to have delayed and tried to derail the constitution making process by rejecting the initiatives taken by opposition parties for settling the disputed issues on the basis of consensus and accordingly delivering the new constitution. Both the claims and counterclaims are partially true and partially bogus. But it remains to be judged what level of responsibility these parties have to bear in blocking and delaying the constitution writing process.

Let us first analyze on case wise basis as to how they are responsible and what their real intent was to bring or not to bring the constitution. Let us first analyze the position of the Nepali Congress, which is currently the largest force in the Constituent Assembly, viz a viz constitution writing and its promulgation. This party is the most beneficiary of the present political set up and arrangement. The Nepali Congress has both President and Prime Minister, which means it enjoys the real and absolute power. The Nepali Congress and its coalition partner—the CPN-UML— reached a nine-point agreement concerning power sharing prior to the formation of the present government. The agreement requires the Nepali Congress to hand over the leadership of the government to UML after the promulgation of the constitution. Similarly, it requires fresh election to choose new president, vice president and speaker of parliament once the new constitution comes into force. Although not clearly specified in the NC-UML agreement, it was gentlemanly agreed that the CPN-UML chief KP Oli will take over the leadership of the government while the present Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will be the new president. Similarly, they also agreed to share the positions of vice president and speaker accordingly. This was an agreement to share power between the largest and second largest party and rule the country jointly for full four years.

If constitution was promulgated within the promised period of January 22, Nepali Congress will be in moral pressure to quit the leadership of the government, which it does not want. The only way to avoid this situation is to delay the constitution writing so that it will continue to remain power. The inner intent of the Nepali Congress is to prolong the constitution writing process for another one or two year. By that time it may be able to reach out to the opposition party/parties to have a new coalition minus CPN-UML. Nepali Congress wants coalition and partnership with the CPN-UML only till the promulgation of the constitution. Once the constitution is promulgated, NC-UML partnership will be broken. At the moment, there has been polarization between the ruling and opposition parties on some key issues concerning the new constitution, while NC and UML have common position on these issues. Once these issues are resolved either through consensus or voting, the NC-UML partnership is most likely to be broken.

CPN-UML knows it well that NC will betray it anytime. Thus, it wants to create further gulf between the NC and other opposition parties to ensure that Nepali Congress will be compelled to continue its alliance with the CPN-UML. It also knows that the Nepali Congress will not respect the earlier agreement reached between these two parties for power sharing and will not hand over power so easily. Once the constitution was promulgated CPN-UML will have to be out of power because the Nepali Congress will not want it and NC will start to have different coalition probably with the UCPN-M. CPN-UML does not want to be out of power but to continue the present set up and arrangement, for which the constitution promulgation needs to be delayed further. The opposition parties namely the UCPN-M and Madhesi parties are neither in the government nor are they in the position to play instrumental role in incorporating their agendas in the new constitution. Thus, they do not want early promulgation of the constitution.

Thus, it becomes clear that parties were not prepared to deliver the constitution within the one-year deadline set by the parties themselves. Had they been serious, they would have settled the disputes long ago. But they did nothing to resolve the disputes and write the constitution in one year. Now they have started the alternative process only after the one year deadline expired. If they were really serious to give the constitution in one year, they could have settled these disputes either through consensus or voting long ago. Thus, all parties are responsible and they should stop trading blames.

Most importantly, the role of Constituent Assembly chairman Subash Nembang was not as responsible as it was expected. Nembang was a failure in the first Constituent Assembly as he could not sail the first CA smoothly to accomplish the mandated task. It was a mistake of political parties to choose someone who had proved to be a failure for the same position and with the same authority. The position Nembang held and is holding demands high-level of independence and neutrality and he is required to rise above partisan agenda and interest. But he has not been able to live up to this popular expectation. Opposition parties have already accused him of acting as a spokesman of the CPN-UML. The recent developments have created further crisis of confidence not only between parties but also between the CA Chairman and the opposition parties.

The assortment of all these factors led to the failure of parties and also the Constituent Assembly. Now people have even started talking about the relevance and validity of the Constituent Assembly and competence and sincerity of political parties. Thus, this impression has to be done away with by action of the political parties, their leaders and representatives in the Constituent Assembly and the CA chairman. They are in the crucial test in the eyes of the people and they are required to pass this test for the better future of the country and the people.

Russia poised to win diplomatic war with the West

Yuba Nath Lamsal
A new cold war that has recently brewed between the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russian Federation seems to have taken a new turn in the international balance of power. The tough measures adopted by Western countries especially the United States gradually waning and Western countries seem to be softening their stance mainly due to the new geo-political, strategic and economic reality.

This comes after the United States partially lifted economic sanctions on Cuba and announced normalization of relations with Havana. At the same time, US stance and policy on Iran, too, seems to be taken a new shift as Washington is seeking support and cooperation of Iran on war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  These developments are indicative of the fact that there is no permanent enemy in diplomacy and what is permanent is national interest.

With new turns of events emerging in the international arena, the Western countries mainly European states are keen to lift sanction on Russia and normalize relations with Moscow. After Russia's annexed Crimea in March 2014 following a ‘ referendum’, the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia and have kept tightening it. They not only banned economic and trade relations and cooperation with Russia but have also blacklisted some firms and companies that had done businesses with Russia in the past. The sanction particularly targeted Russia's state finances, energy and arms sectors, which are either run as public sector companies or owned and managed by the powerful elites close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Exports of equipment for military use in Russia and all other EU-Russia arms deals are banned. Similarly the EU has decided not to export any kind of technology.

The sanctions also targeted some individual businessmen and private companies that were involved in different kind of dealings with Russia. Their assets were frozen in European countries crippling them to continue their businesses. Apart from ban on business dealing with Moscow, the EU countries also announced travel ban which barred individuals from making even pleasure trip to any parts of Russian Federation even if a person is in transit. They would be placed on a visa blacklist.

The Western section has definitely hurt Russian economy but not as badly as the West had expected. Despite Western countries’ decision to impose sanction against Russia, big economies like China, India, Brazil and others ignored the call and continued their economic partnership and cooperation, which kept Russian economy floating. Most importantly, Chinese cooperation and partnership has helped Russian economy to survive. Had China not come to the rescue, Russian economy might have collapsed by now.

As anti-Russian sanctions announced by the West are not working as effectively as they were expected, some NATO members themselves have begun to call for relaxing the embargo and start new partnership and cooperation with Moscow as their economies are closely tied with Russian economy and Moscow’s gas supply. This issue has started beginning to bother some politicians and public quarters around the world. Even general people are increasingly opposed to the sanction. Only recently, a large number of German people took to streets in Berlin demanding an end to war-mongering remarks of German Chancellor Angela Markel and other leaders clearly referring to economic sanction on Russia. The protesters even adopted a petition criticizing German government’s policy of confrontation with Russia.

The issue of Crimea is still a subject of debate in the international discourse. Many think that it was against international law to annex territory of a neighboring country but there are still many who believe that Russia did not annex it instead Crimean people themselves chose to join Russia. As debate continues to rage, only history will settle the accounts. One thing is sure that Crimea has now become a part of Russia. The Western countries that spat venom on Russia and took tough measures against Russia are slowly giving up their stance and position. This may be a diplomatic victory of Russia but the issue will continue to remain as the subject of dispute and debate. Now European countries are desirous to restore relations with Russia because they think that their own national interest is more important than their support to Ukraine. Russia is important for European countries for number reasons as sections are likely to hurt European countries more than it hurts Russia. In the list of European countries that want to lift sanction and normalize relations with Russia are Italy, Bulgaria, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Spain and even Germany.

In Asia Japan initially joined the chorus of Western countries on Crimea issue. But it has recently come to realize that decision to join anti-Russian camp in general and sanction in particular was Tokyo’s mistake. Now BRICS nations are reaping benefit whereas China has filled the vacuum left due to the sanction of Western countries in Russia. China and Russia have even signed currency swap deal under which they can trade in their own currencies instead of dollars. Western countries are increasingly worried with this new development and scenario as sanction has helped further consolidate partnership and cooperation among the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

This is not economic issue alone but partnership between Russia and China as well as between Russia and other BRICS countries has security and strategic dynamics which has worried  NATO members because Russia-China partnership is certainly going to change the international balance of power and marked a tectonic shift in the international power. This is a beginning of paradigm shift of international power from the United States to Asia. This is perhaps the reason why the United States under Obama presidency has focused more on Asia and wants to have stronger presence in Asia especially in East Asia. This is mainly aimed at checkmating China from expanding and enlarging its influence in the region and also possibly to break Russia-China partnership.

One can see two parallel trends in the international arena when it comes to Russia’s role and relations with the West. One strong phenomenon is Washington’s pursuit of piling pressure on countries in the world in general and Europe in particular to curtail cooperation with Russia, whereas the BRICS countries are ganging up against US-led Western domination. Some of the countries in Europe seemed to have joined anti-Russia camp under duress without calculating long-term consequences. As countries have slowly started realizing the inherent flaw in the decision taken in haste, the sanction is likely to fizzle out marking a new and changed international balance of power.

Some even predicted that Crimea development would mark the beginning of the Third World War. But their predictions have turned out to be false as situation has already returned to normalcy. However, the question remains: Is it justifiable for a powerful country to intervene and take over territory of a weaker neighbor?  There is no shade of doubt that all countries, big or small, powerful and weak, must respect international laws and treat the countries equally. There should by no means double standard in the definition of international law, sovereignty and independence. All countries in the world are equal and sovereign, despite their physical, economic and military size and strength. International law should prevail in dealing with international issues and relations between countries.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Wang Yi’s Nepal Visit: Reinforcement of China’s Neighborhood Diplomacy



Yuba Nath Lamsal
After assuming leadership, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a blueprint of his vision for prosperous China and better world order. Known as the Chinese Dream, it is President Xi’s long-term goal of rejuvenating Chinese nation with power to raise the life of its own people and change the world for better. While domestic policy is to raise the living condition of Chinese people, his particular foreign policy focus is to strengthen neighborhood diplomacy. Outlining his vision in the international front, President Xi said, “Good diplomacy with neighboring countries is a requirement for realizing the Two Centenary Goals, and the Chinese Dream of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. Adding further, President Xi elaborated the policy and priorities of his neighborhood diplomacy saying, “We need to work harder to promote our diplomacy with neighboring countries, strive for a sound regional environment for our development, apply our own development for the benefit of neighboring countries, and achieve common development with them”
This is a clear manifestation of China’s particular focus and emphasis on good neighborly diplomacy and foreign policy in which Nepal has occupied a prominent place. As a man of word and action, Xi has tried to translate his vision into a reality, the impact of which has started being visible. After Xi came to power, he embarked on a foreign visit from neighboring Russia. Over the last two years, Chinese President and Prime Minister have visited almost all neighboring countries where they have offered benevolence of cooperation for peace, development and prosperity without any strings attached. Connectivity and cooperation are the two key phrases that the new Chinese leadership has thought as the best approach to attain a common goal of prosperity and peace. Since Nepal is a close neighbor sharing 1400 kilometer common border, China considers it as the important country with which Beijing wants greater partnership. This can be substantiated by exchange of high level visits between the two countries and China’s decision to raise aid volume to Nepal by more than five folds.
In the period of two years, there have been quite a number of high level visits to Nepal. President Xi himself appears to be interested to visit Nepal in 2015 to coincide with the celebration of 60th anniversary of the establishment of Nepal-China diplomatic relations. Both the countries have agreed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Nepal-China diplomatic relations in a grand manner throughout the year. Against this background, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Nepal last week, which is being viewed as a prelude to President Xi’s visit next year. During foreign minister Wang’s visit, China announced increase in its annual aid volume to Nepal from 150 million Yuan to 800 million Yuan. This is a clear testament of the fact that Nepal is now in China’s priority list and Beijing wants to substantially and practically contribute to Nepal’s development. China knows well that its affluence will be meaningless if it remains surrounded by an ocean of poverty. Additionally, China wants its neighbors, too, benefit from its rise and prosperity for which Beijing is prepared to extend any kind of support deemed necessary for the development of neighboring countries. It is exactly guided by this purpose, China is trying to enlarge its engagement, presence and collaboration in Nepal.
China has always been opposed to hegemony of any particular country or a group of countries and advocated multilaterism for peaceful settlement of issues in the international arena. Beijing is always in pursuit of peace and cooperation worldwide and its growth and rise are for purely peaceful purpose. Although some countries in the West seem to be a bit skeptical about China’s rise in terms of economy and military strength, the rest of the world is more optimistic from China’s forward march on the path of development, modernization and prosperity. Nepal is one of those countries that have been optimistic and enthusiastic about China’s rise.
Foreign minister Wang’s visit and his remarks in Kathmandu carry significant meaning and message not only in the Nepal-China relations but also for peace and development in the entire South Asia. Apart from assuring additional assistance to Nepal and keen interest to be a good development partner, Wang asked Nepal to act as a vibrant bridge between China and the entire South Asia to reap benefit from the growth and development in its two immediate neighbors—India and China. This indicates how strategically important Nepal is for China. In addition, he suggested Nepal to take initiative for a trilateral partnership with India and China.
Being a world power, developments and events in China have their own impact in the world and more so in neighboring countries. China’s growth and developments are expected to have positive impact on neighboring countries including Nepal. Thus, China’s development has inspired Nepal and made optimistic. As President Xi and Chinese officials have repeatedly made their position clear that China’s rise is for peaceful purpose, China has now started to practically translate this into action. Based on the vision outlined in the Chinese Dream, China has recently expedited neighborhood diplomacy and augmenting cooperation with neighboring countries including Nepal so that neighbors practically and directly benefit from China’s rise. Nepalese are definitely optimistic from China’s rise.
Nepal is not only a neighbor but its strategic location has made its position even more important for its neighbors especially China. Beijing is now effortful in expanding relations and trade with India and South Asia for which Nepal is the key gateway. It is due to this position China has requested Nepal to act as a bridge between China and South Asia. It against this background, China has proposed a trilateral strategic partnership with Nepal and India. The trilateral partnership is not aimed at having an alliance against any other particular country or group but intends to work collectively for the benefit and development of these three countries. Trilateral partnership is a proposition which, perhaps, aims to compete for contribution to Nepal’s development and also enlarge trade and other cooperation between these three countries on a win-win basis. As Nepal is currently seeking foreign invest in its infrastructure development especially in hydropower, the concept of trilateral partnership and cooperation for Nepal’s development will have positive impact. Nepal has huge potential of hydro power generation, but does not have adequate fund to finance mega hydropower projects. India has huge demand of energy but does not have potential projects to meet this rising energy demand. In contrast, China has both money and expertise to develop hydro power projects. If these countries practically cooperate and collaborate, China may be interested to fund Nepal’s hydro power projects from which both Nepal and India can benefit. Nepal cannot absorb all energy generated from mega projects and it can be exported from which India can meet the growing demand of energy. Thus, the trilateral cooperation and partnership is a win-win concept which needs to be materialized for the benefit of all three countries.