By Prabasi Nepali
Local Elections: Consensus so near, yet so farthe government has finally decided to hold local elections on May 14 — after a gap of two decades! The United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) last Saturday had already rejected PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s proposal regarding announcement of poll dates before a revised constitution amendment bill twowas passed by parliament. According to RajendraShrestha, co-chair of the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (a constituent of the UDMF), the PM held a meeting with UDMF leaders and sought their support to announce poll dates immediately, but they rejected his request. Shrestha also told the PM that if poll dateswere announcedwithout passinga revised constitutionamendment bill, the UDMF would terminate ties with the government and announce protest programmes.In a similar vein, Sadbhawana Party chair RajendraMahato told the PM that if the dates for local elections were announced without ensuring passage of the constitution amendment bill, polls would be meaningless. The general secretary of the National Madhes Socialist Party, KeshavJha said that almost all the UDMF leaders told the PM that if he was under compulsion to announce poll dates, the UDMF also would be compelled to announce agitation against the polls.
It seems that Nepal’s political parties have maneuvered themselves into a ‘chicken or egg’ situation, or in the language of game theory a ‘lose-lose’ state of affairs. After more than two decade without political direction at the local level, most sane people are of the opinion that this requires urgent remedy. The leaders of the Madhes-based parties have their own personal axes to grind, and/or are following the agenda of foreign powers, which do not tolerate that the country needs political stability in order to move forward on various fronts, not least in sustained economic development. Without doubt, it is clear that elections must have priority before constitutional amendment.
Of grave concern is the possible nexus between the Madhesi separatist, C.K. Raut and the leaders of the Madhesh-based parties. The “Nepal Samacharpatra” has written extensively about this connection and the apathy of the government vis-à-vis his movement. It must demand that these parties distance themselves completely from Raut or face the consequences.
United States & the Western Alliance
Under Donald Trump, the United States is now having a troubled relationship with both the NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). During his presidential campaign, Trump had railed against both institutions, and now his administration has great difficulty in assuring European leaders of the extent of US engagement in Europe, especially in the face of a resurgent Russia and Trump’s own ‘bromance’ with Vladimir Putin and aspirations for closer relations with Russia.
US Vice President Mike Pence represented the US at the annual Munich Security Conference in Bavaria, Germany and brought a message of support from the president, but failed to wholly reassure allies and trading partners about the new president’s approach to Russia, NATO and the EU. In his first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, Pence told European leaders and ministers: “Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.”
However, Trump’s conflicting remarks on the value of NATO, his cynicism of the 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and an apparent disregard for the future of the EU have left Europe alarmed for the seven-decade-old leadership of the Western Alliance. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Twitter expressed his disappointment that Pence’s speech contained “not a word on the European Union’, although the vice president did take his message to EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday. While Poland’s defense minister praised Pence, many others, including France’s foreign minister and US senators in Munich, remained unconvinced that he had persuaded allies that Trump, an unapologetic loose cannon, would stand by Europe.
This stance was buttressed by the viewpoints of US Senators — both Republican and Democratic — who were also participating in the security conference. Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy, said unabashedly that he saw two rival governments at tug-of-war emerging from the Trump administration. Pence, the defense secretary (retired four-star general) Jim Mattis and his foreign secretary (former Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson all delivered messages of reassurance on their first official visits to Europe. But events in Washington, including a bombastic news conference Trump gave in which he branded accredited White House reporters ‘dishonest people’, sowed more confusion. He also branded six media groups, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN as “enemies of the American people”. Senator Murphy wrote on Twitter from Munich tellingly that the vice president “just gave a speech about shared values between the US and Europe as the US President openly wages war on those values” [!] According to various observers, the forced resignation of Trump’s national security adviser (NSA) Lt.Gen. (retd.) Flynn over his contacts with Russia (even before Trump’s formal inauguration) just before the ‘charm offensive’ in Europe also tarnished the message Pence, Mattis and Tillerson were attempting to send. In addition, Trump’s emissaries were flatly contradicted by US Republican Senator John McCain, who told the conference on Friday that the new president’s team was “in disarray”. The Americans were thus sending mixed messages, and there was enough to doubt Pence who said that the new US government would uphold the post-World War Two international order. This, in spite of the indubitable fact that the US is Europe’s biggest trading partner, the largest foreign investor on the continent and the EU’s associate in almost all foreign policy activities, as well as the main promoter of European unity for more than sixty years. And Trump had rubbished all this in one go.
End of Balanced US Mideast Policy
In a roundabout way, President Trump has said that he would not persist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, i.e. no two-state solution to the simmering conflict. This is part of his unorthodox presidency in which he brings his “deal maker’s style to the diplomatic arena, challenging established principles and flouting time-tested formulations” (New York Times/NYT). At the same time, this has the effect of “sowing confusion among allies and adversaries and raising questions about how seriously to take any of his pronouncements” (NYT). In the case of China/Taiwan, he first appeared to be breaking with decades of American policy by seriously questioning the ‘One China’ dictum, but finally capitulating.
According to seasoned Middle East peacemakers, Trump would soon learn that there is no ‘one-state solution’ to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and he would inescapably return to two states, an article of faith for US presidents since Bill Clinton first endorsed it in January 2001. According to these analysts, the problem with Trump was that he seems incapable of grasping the complicated logic behind the principles he is ditching. Martin S. Indyk, special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during the Obama administration said: “It’s the perfect example of a naïve American thinking he can wave his magic wand and solve the world’s problems.” And according to Isabel Kershner, in its own self interest, “If Israel does not [soon] act to separate itself from the Palestinians, it will be less secure, less democratic and less Jewish.”
Trump’s Russian Connection
In a lengthy editorial, the highly influential NYT has written that there is now no question that the Trump administration’s (and previously his election campaign apparatus’)ties to the Russian government need to be thoroughly investigated immediately. The only question is who will be in charge of that investigation.Not only is there a case that Russia was actively attempting to swing the election in favor of Trump. The Economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman even questions Trump’s personal integrity in the face of his being continuously solicitous of Vladimir Putin’s interests. Then there are the swirling rumors about Trump’s personal financial connections to Russia, compounded by his continued and stubborn refusal to disclose his tax returns. This in itself is highly suspicious. Professor Krugman concludes that Trump is facing a clear crisis of legitimacy, and nothing he has done since his inauguration (including the antics of his national security advisor, Michael Flynn/or was he made a scapegoat?) diminish fears that he is nothing more and nothing less than a ‘Putin puppet’ — in other words, the classic ‘Manchurian candidate’. Is a monumental ‘Russia-Gate’ scandal — which will dwarf the Watergate scandal (the most outrageous political misconduct in US history) — in the offing?
Domestic Turmoil & Foreign Policy
By Prabasi Nepali