By Prabasi Nepali
Nepal Transforms from ‘Loktantra’ (Democracy) to ‘Loottantra’ (Kleptocracy)
After the major ‘SujataKoirala Scandal’ involving a huge amount of state grant for her medical treatment, Nepal’s legislators have now awarded themselves a massive increment in emoluments and other benefits which will be a major burden on the state exchequer.
The members of parliament will now receive a monthly salary of about – believe it or not — Rs. 80,000 – a princely sum compared to the pay of average hard-working Nepalese! In addition, they will receive Rs. 2000 per day during sessions of the parliament, and Rs. 2500 per day for travel expenses. Moreover, they will receive a one time grant of Rs. 50,000 for furnishing their apartments. For our MPs, Nepal has already reached the status of a Singapore or a Switzerland – no need to wait until our leaders realize this dream!
For the fourth time last Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated in the capital Seoul demanding President Park Geun-Hyeresign over a major corruption scandal. These protests were the largest seen in South Korea since the pro-democracy protests of the 1980s. The ranks of the protesters were swelled by thousands of high school students who finished their final exams earlier in the week. Whole families were participating, and there was a general feeling that ‘history was being made.’
The anti-Park rallies have continued despite two televised apologies from the president over a scandal linked to her friendship with long-time confidante Ms. Choi Soon-Sil, who has been arrested for fraud and abuse of power. Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Choi, 60 misused their relationship to coerce donations from large companies like Samsung and Hyundai forher own non-profit foundations for personal gain. She is also accused of interfering in government affairs, despite holding no official position. Now the state prosecutor has stated that the president played a collusive role in a considerable portion of the criminal activities.
In an effort to placate the public, Park has agreed to relinquish some of her extensive presidential powers and submit to questioning by an independent prosecutor to be appointed by parliament. However, public anger seems to have reached the point of no return, and there is the perception that the people have been let down and humiliated. Ms. Park’s position has now become personally and officially untenable.
There are political disturbances not only in East Asia, but also in Indonesia (religious-loaded/Muslim campaign to oust the Christian governor of Jakarta) and Malaysia (where Nepalese migrant workers are treated very shabbily) in South-East Asia. In Malaysia, former long-serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has called for a sustained movement to overthrow corrupt and scandal-plagued PM NajibRazak. Thousands rallied last week to demand his resignation over the 1MDB (a state-sponsored investment fund) corruption saga.
Over 20,000 Malaysians sporting the yellow shirts of the reformist Bersih campaign, gathered under the shadow of Kuala Lumpur’s giant Petronas Towers twin skyscrapers to hear 91-year-old Mahathir accuse Najib of stealing public money and berating that Malaysia was “controlled by thieves”. The 1MDB scandal has sparked investigations in several countries. The US Justice Department has stated that the fund was pillaged in an audacious campaign of fraud and theft that involved an unnamed top Malaysian official – now known to be Najib himself.
Najib has shut down investigations in Malaysia, fired the attorney general and purged critics of his ruling party. There are running threats by the “Red Shirts”, ethnic-Malay, Muslim rightists who support Najib. The PM has condemned the ‘opposition plot’ “to unseat a democratically-elected government”! Because of his solid support in the Muslim-majority country (the so-called ‘Bhumiputras’; minorities are ethnic Chinese and Indian Tamils), Najib is not going anywhere, any time soon.
Possible Policies of US President-Elect
With various executive appointments, US President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s future cabinet and team in the White House is gradually taking shape. Simultaneously, his future domestic and foreign policies can also be speculated upon.
Without the US State Department (Foreign Ministry in other countries) being involved and as a radical departure from established protocol, Donald Trump has now embarked into the realm of international relations. Last week, he had already received more than 30 congratulatory phone calls from various foreign leaders in the days since he had won the election. These were not routed through the State Department according to established diplomatic practice, but came through direct to Trump’s residence in Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, which until the formal inauguration of the president-elect on January 20 will be his ‘official’ residence. Trump apparently used his own interpreter (as in his conservation with Russian president Vladimir V. Putin), or relied on interpreters provided by the Japanese entourage.
This was also where the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe – ignoring protocol and diplomatic niceties – camecalling. This was Trump’s first meeting with a foreign leader since winning the election. Japan has been very anxious about Trump’s utterances during the presidential campaign regarding US policies vis-à-vis East Asia in general, and Japan in particular. Abe described the 90-minute meeting as “really cordial”. Furthermore, he was convinced that “Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence.” During the election campaign, Japan (and NATO members) had been extremely concerned by Trump’s reservations of the network of security alliances that the US had maintained since the Second World War. He maintained that the US’s allies in Europe and Asia were not paying their fair share for the American nuclear umbrella of protection and the stationing of US troops in various countries. The Japanese Foreign and Trade Ministries had urged the Japanese PM to take a robust line with Trump on the value of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, the signature trade agreement of the Obama administration), but Abe chose to take a soft approach and cultivate a personal relationship with Trump.
Besides putting together his principal officials in the new administration, Trump was also focusing on foreign policy. He had discussions with the ‘doyen’ of former secretaries of state, Henry A. Kissinger on “events and issues around the world”, from Russia and China to Iran and the European Union. This intimate briefing from a successful master of foreign policy must have impressed Trump no end. His next meeting with Israel’s ambassador was impressionable, since the envoy gushed: “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel”, although a key member of his administration, his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism through his far right-wing news media operation, Breitbart News. Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, has given Trump his first in-depth exposure to the government’s surveillance capabilities.
General Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton and a mentor to Gen. David H. Petraeus, commended Trump after his audience. He remarked that he was impressed by Trump’s personality and his intellectual curiosity about national security affairs. Moreover, in contrast to most presidential candidates who do not have in-depth knowledge in such matters, Trump asked “excellent questions.”Gen. Keane also commented that the new president’s greatest challenge would be to maintain America’s leadership in a world in which radical Islamic militancy was threatening to metastasize into a “global jihadist movement” – this must have been music to Trump’s ears. The general was also of the opinion that the US was confronted by hostile powers, like Russia, China and Iran seeking regional dominance.
Unfortunately, America today is a divided country. Hillary Clinton may have lost the Electoral College, but she garnered more than 1.5 million more popular votes! The Washington Post wrote significantly: ‘There are today two Americas’. Donald Trump must now prove that he can also govern and administer – satisfy or placate his supporters, and rule against his myriad detractors. This is tantamount to square the circle!
US President-Elect Dominates World’s Attention
By Prabasi Nepali