By Prabasi Nepali
Constitutional Election Threshold
There was some discussion among the larger political parties of amending the constitution to introduce an election threshold –- restrictive clause — of 3 percent, i.e. political parties that do not obtain at least this percentage of the total vote in the proportional representation portion in the national election, would not be represented in parliament. This would have the admirable effect of eliminating mini and fringe parties with negligible representation of only one, two or three members from entering parliament and playing an outsize role in politics.
At present, these minimalist parties can make and break governments. These small political parties should seek their future in larger political parties, or join together with others of their ilk and contribute to the stability of the political system. The ‘threshold’ functions admirably in many countries, for instance in Germany.
These same smallest fringe parties are punching above their weight and putting pressure on the bigger political partiesnot to pursue this goal of political stability as their very existence is at stake. Unfortunately, they have not contributed much to the political progress of the country.
Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar
The United Nations has reported that Myanmar is engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims in this multi-ethnic South-East Asian nation. Reports have emerged that troops have been shooting at villagers as they try to flee the Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh. Thousands of desperate people have pushed over the border in the last few days, weeks, months, bringing with them horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and the systematic killing of their ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar (former Burma). The UN has stated that over 30,000 Rohingyas have already abandoned their homes, desperate to escape the soldiers that have pushed into the strip of land on the Bay of Bengal near Bangladesh.
Dhaka has conceded that thousands are massed on the border, but has refused urgent international appeals to allow them into the country. Instead it has appealed to Myanmar to undertake means to stop the flow of refugees. Myanmar does not consider the Rohingyas its citizens, instead characterizing them as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh. According to the UN, Bangladesh is in a quandary. If it declares the border to be open, this would further encourage the government of Myanmarto continue the atrocities and push the Rohingyas fully out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of their Muslim minority.
Amnesty International said that the Myanmar army was carrying out “collective punishment” of the minority group, a one million-strong population reviled across Myanmar. Their massive atrocities was a reaction to attacks on the security forces six weeks back, but went far beyond what was necessary and proportional. Myanmar’s new civilian government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected allegations that atrocities have taken place.
Primary Presidential Elections in France
The surprise winner of the first round of France’s right-wing presidential primary election two weeks back was conservative Francois Fillon, who was premier throughout the 2007-2012 presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.Fillon, an admirer of former British premier Margaret Thather, who has pledged deep economic reforms, pulled off a stunning upset, surging from behind to knock off his former boss Sarkozy out of the race and beating the longtime favourite, Alain Juppe, into distant second.
Last Sunday, the two former prime ministers – Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe — went head-to-head in a runoff vote for France’s centre-right presidential nomination. Fillon won nearly 67 percent of the vote and will, therefore, represent the centre-right. Now the spotlight falls on the Socialist party, and whether the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will stand again in his party’s primary in January 2017. Fillon will most likely represent the entire French political mainstream against the ultra-rightist National Front’s Marine Le Pen, in another test of the anti-establishment anger in Western countries that saw the United Kingdom vote to leave the EU (‘Brexit’) and Americans to elect Donald Trump as president.
Turkey & the European Union
There has now emerged a crisis of confidence between Turkey and the European Union (EU). European governments had become alarmed after Turkish President RecepTayyipErdogan’s heavy crackdown in the wake of the failed July 15 coup. Now recently, the European Parliament in Strasbourg angered Ankara by recommending a freeze in the negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU. Although this resolution is not binding on the European Commission in Brussels, the harm has been done. Erdogan immediately threatened to open Turkey’s borders to allow immigrants to reach European countries – a move that would tear up a landmark agreement that has reduced the flow significantly. Germany had played a major role in brokering the deal.
During a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan warned the EU in no uncertain terms: “Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened, bear that in mind.” In March of this year, Ankara and Brussels forged an agreement to halt the flow of migrants to Europe – an accord that has largely been successful in reducing numbers crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just over 171,000 have crossed to Greece so far this year, much lower than the comparable figure for 2015 of almost 740,000.
Turkey had agreed to step up maritime and land border controls in exchange for incentives on its long-stalled EU-membership bid, including visa-free travel for its citizens and an advancement of membership negotiations. However, till date, no apparent progress on the visa issue had been made and the accession talks had been stonewalled. Ankara thus accused Brussels of failing to keep its side of the bargain. In addition, Erdogan held Brussels accountable of failing to deliver some six billion euros in aid for refugees. Turkey itself was looking after 3 million refugees – mainly 2,7 million Syrians from the civil war, but also Iraqis; but the EU failed to honor its pledges.
In this tense situation, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – who has now decided to contest for a record fourth term – has again taken up the mantle of leadership and cautioned that the EU-Turkish agreement was in the interest “of all parties” and that “threats on either side are not helpful”.
US Politics after Trump Victory
Donald J. Trump won the necessary votes in the Electoral College and thus became the President-elect of the United States. However, in an unprecedented manner he lost by more than 2.2 million popular votes to Hillary Clinton. Therefore, he does not have the popular mandate to realize all his hare-brained and hair-raising schemes in the domestic arena and international affairs. Moreover, his victories in crucial ‘battle ground’ states – Michigan, Wisconsin andPennsylvania – were very narrow. America is a profoundly divided society, and Trump, like Sisyphus, faces an unenviable uphill task in uniting the country, and making ‘America Great Again’.
Trump may have won in part by riding the popular angry wave against the establishment and promising to drain the ‘swamp in Washington’, but he will need all the help he can garner to even keep his administration afloat. The liberal press and the intellectual class will follow developments with a critical eye. The critical media – among others, CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times – do not for a moment believe that Trump is up to the formidable tasks of domestic renewal and acute international challenges. Charles M. Blow, a NYT-columnist is particularly withering in his critical comments. He deems Trump as ‘head of state’ to be a constant and present danger to the state itself! He considers it his ‘absolute obligation’ to meet Trump and his agenda with resistance at every turn. As “a fraud and a charlatan”, he will not be given any breaks just because one branch of his “forked tongue is silver”. The only thing that Trump cares about is “self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment”.Currently, there is a huge public debate on the conflict of interest between Trump’s future duties as president and his US and world-wide business involvement. Trump’s judgement seems to be that there cannot be any conflict of interest — after all power and money go hand in hand!
International Affairs in Flux
By Prabasi Nepali