By Prabasi Nepali
Politicians Taking Us for a Ride
As usual, our beloved politicians are at loggerheads whether the constitutional amendment should first be pushed through parliament, or whether the three-tier elections should first be held — the famous ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma. It does not concern them a wit that if the elections are not completed by mid-January 2018, about a year from now, the current parliament will become redundant and the country will be faced by a constitutional crisis and possibly political chaos. This will then be ideal for external powers to fish in troubled waters.
Not that they are not doing so already. Under massive pressure from India, the ruling coalition of CPN-Maoist Centre and Nepali Congress is hell-bent in tabling the constitution amendment bill in Parliament. Needless to say, the proposed amendment is highly controversial. Not to say redundant. The Madhes-based parties (completely unrepresentative of the people of Tarai-Madhes) also favour the bill for their own parochial reasons. The necessary two-thirds majority is not likely, since the main opposition CPN-UML and the RashtriyaPrajatantra Party (RPP) oppose the move. Will the confrontation between the ‘Appeasers/Sycophants’ and the ‘Nationalists’ spill over into the streets and divide the nation?
US—China Relations: Crucial for World Peace
With the rise of China, there is little doubt that the world has now become again bipolar. Thus, US-China relations are of utmost importance to preserve international peace and security. Russia is trying to play spoil sport, but it is no longer a super power, in spite of being armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. It can only be classified as a would-be ‘great power’, with very little or no ‘soft power’.
In spite of the President-elect Donald Trump’s bravado, it has become evident that he has no inkling of international politics and the historical antecedents of US-China relations. If he thinks that the United States can adopt a more uncompromising attitude towards China and even undermine the ‘One China’ policy, he is in for a very rude awakening. It is one thing to break the protocol that existed since the United States and China established diplomatic relations in 1979by covertly arranging to take a direct ‘congratulatory’ call fromTaiwan’s president — the Chinese were just too sophisticated to take this very seriously, and brushed it aside as a minor matter. It is something quite different to use the ‘One China’ policy as a bargaining chip, or more threateningly to undermine it. Trump and his foreign policy/national security team would be playing with fire.
Trump has shown himself to be a novice in the field of foreign affairs by attempting to be ‘the king of tweets’, which by itself is not the way to conduct diplomacy. His utter lack of knowledge of realpolitik is reflected in not appreciating the ambiguity behind the decades-old policy which benefits all three countries – the United States, Taiwan and China. The United States can conveniently ignore the question of reunification (which both China and Taiwan aspire to, although on each one’s terms). Under this fiction, the US has been engaging with Taiwan economically and military, with the tacit approval of China. The status quo has benefitted both China and Taiwan. Trade and people-to-people contact between the island and the mainland have been robust, and political and military tensions have not been a distraction.In fact more than 2 million people from Taiwan, about one-tenth of its population live and work on the mainland, taking advantage of the unique economic advantages as a result of cultural affinities.
The current ‘One China’ policy is of advantage to the People’s Republic of China as it practically rules out the de jure independence of Taiwan. All the three states are fully aware that for all practical purposes —without having to spell it out verbally — that Taiwan is fully autonomous, i.e. de facto independent! Taiwan’s status is completely different to that of Tibet. Here the ‘One China’ doctrine has a completely different connotation. China does not tolerate any outside interference in the domestic affairs of the “Tibet Autonomous Region”, and it is ‘autonomous’ in name only, i.e. it is a province fully integrated. That is why China was very irritated when Nepali Congress leader, SherBahadurDeuba hobnobbed with the so-called prime minister of the ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’ during a conference in Indian Goa.If Trump envisages a more forward-looking and aggressive policy vis-à-vis China, even encouraging talk of Taiwan independence from the mainland, he could bring everything influx, questioning the very stability of tri-lateral relations in particular and that of the Asia-Pacific region in general. Trump seems hell-bent in rocking the boat. As a reaction to a nascent provocative policy toward China/Taiwan, China could embark on even more assertive policies in the South China and East China Seas, which it considers its backwaters.
Thus, the United States has a vital interest in maintaining the status quo and not encouraging Taiwan in provoking China by seeking complete independence with international legal recognition. This would only trigger a violentchain reaction — China would then abandon its policy of peaceful reunification and embark on military measures for Taiwan’s ‘Anschluss’ to the homeland. It is doubtful whether a Trump administration would then have the courage of its convictions to challenge a now powerful China on its home turf. As Professor Charles L. Glaser of George Washington University has written: “U.S. strategy must therefore strike a careful balance: its policies must effectively deter attacks against U.S. vital interests, while at the same time not posing a serious threat to China’s security.” This may be too much to expect from a brash president who is not cognizant of the fine points of diplomacy and geopolitical realities!
US Electoral College: Last Shot to Stop Trump?
This Monday, in the second stage of the US presidential election, 538 electors met to determine who will be the next president of the United States (POTUS). They did not meet all together in one place, but the meetings of the Electoral College convened in the capitals of the 50 states of the union and the District of Columbia, just about six weeks after Election Day. Until now, these meetings were little more than a mere formality. This year, Donald J. Trump lost the national popular vote by nearly 3 million, but won the most electoral votes (more than the necessary 270). The number of electors from each state is equal to its number of representatives and senators in Congress; Washington, D.C. is allotted three electors, giving a total of 538 electors. The electors in their respective states at the capitols cast two votes: one for the president and one for vice president. The results were then sent to the National Archives and Congress, and will officially be announced in a joint session of the latter on January 6.
This year the Electoral College has been thrust into the spotlight because American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia has intervened massively in the presidential election to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The election has so to say been “rigged”. Many prominent Americans have argued that the electors are not bound to vote for the candidate who won the most votes in their respective states, and therefore all the electoral votes allotted to the said states. The Electoral College was originally a compromise between those framers of the Constitution who wanted Congress to choose the president and those who favored a popular vote. Many argue that it has outlived its usefulness. President Obama described it as a “vestige”.
Fact is that nothing in the Constitution, nor in federal law binds electors to vote a particular way. There are some state laws that bind them to vote according to the popular vote outcome in that state. Others are bound by more informal pledges to their political party. Under some state laws, so-called ‘faithless electors’ who vote against their party may be fined or even disqualified and replaced. However, till now no elector has been prosecuted for doing so. There is no doubt that this year’s presidential election was exceptional. However, in spite of various attempts to influence Republican electors to vote in a way that’s consistent with their conscience and the Constitution, and against Trump in the ‘national interest’, he did garner the necessary votes. Notwithstanding that the Electoral College was ‘not intended to be a rubber stamp’, but more of a ‘fail-safe emergency brake’. As the great Alexander Hamilton writing in the Federalist Paper No.68 stated that the meeting of the Electoral College “affords a moral certainty, that the office of the President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
Evidently, the Electoral College failed to do its duty for which it was theoretically and originally designed, namely to prevent the election of a demagogue or more problematic, a puppet of a foreign power. Nevertheless, Trump is officially the new POTUS. Congratulations, Mr. Trump!
External Relations & Domestic Constraints
By Prabasi Nepali