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Electoral calculus in America and India

By M. R. Josee
GAITHERSBURG, MD: There is nothing like a dull week for any observer of the international scene, whether oriented towards matters geopolitical or geo-strategic.
For someone who, like yours truly, comes charged with a Nepali perspective, there is always much to cogitate over, sometimes also plenty of political or journalistic verities to imbibe, or even the opportunity to understand new thinking in those esoteric domains.
JOE BIDEN
Here, in America, after the spectacle of an ever-burgeoning army of potential wanna-be candidates for the 2020 presidential elections, there is now movement in the opposite direction: to wit, a bunch of such people opting out. This has prompted not a few political pundits to believe that, as a National Public Report (NPR) has it, “an even bigger candidate is close to running a campaign: former Vice-President Joe Biden.”
As per NPR, Biden has made no secret that he’s serious about a run at the White House, after bowing out four years ago following the death of his son, and his disinclination to enter the Democratic field against Hillary Clinton, President Barrack Obama’s former Secretary of State and his favored candidate in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes.
As the New York Times reported it, there was former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican and independent, announcing that he would not be in the 2020 running. Bloomberg’s advisers apparently saw Biden’s possible candidature a major hurdle. There is, then, former attorney general Eric Holder who had been testing the waters ultimately deciding against jumping in, not to mention Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown announcing he would not run though “he would have appealed to the same white popular base as Biden.”
Though it is way too early to make any firm predictions as to who the Democratic party’s nominee for the 2020 presidential race will turn out to be, if Biden does indeed throw his hat in the ring he would make a formidable candidate, despite his age and propensity for the embarrassing political gaffe.
Meanwhile, back at the Donald J. Trump ranch, there is the usual quota of controversies and political scandals, whirling Dervish-like, around the 45th American president, not to mention the frequent references to the possibility of his impeachment before the general election next year.
Additionally, even before President Trump’s heated claims vis-à-vis his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi last month had much time to simmer down, come sobering reports regarding North Korea.
In fact, as per a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story, “despite his vow to Trump to halt missile tests, Kim can continue to construct warheads”. Or, in other words, “North Korea is positioned to continue to work on its nuclear program, and has taken steps to restore a site it has dismantled at Tongchang-ri.”
PROLIFERATION TEMPLATE?
Those developments, among others, occasioned WSJ to mull over the history of nuclear proliferation in Asia, particular the case of Pakistan which initiated its nuclear-weapons programme in the 1970s.
[That, of course, was after the “liberation” of East Pakistan and its emergence as Bangladesh, due, among other things, to generous help from arch-rival, India, then locked in a 20-year military pact with the erstwhile Soviet Union.] Pakistan, it recalled, conducted its first nuclear test in 1998. The U.S. imposed sanctions but lifted them in 2001 when Islamabad cooperated in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Since then, WSJ further reminds, some Pakistani companies have been hit with sanctions over nuclear trade.
However, the outcome was eventual tolerance, if not acceptance, of Pakistan’s nuclear status by the international community. The country now has 140-150 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
WSJ asks rhetorically if a similar outcome, or Pakistan-like nuclear template, will eventually emerge for North Korea. A worrisome prospect for many nations – not just the United States, Japan or South Korea, methinks.
NEW DELHI, CARACAS
So, finally India has announced the dates for its next general elections, which kick off on April 11 and close on May 19, with results promised on May 23. It is to be conducted, as usual, in seven phases.
It is the world’s largest democratic exercise – at least, in a quantitative sense, if not otherwise – with 900 million potential voters casting their ballots. There is no question that it is generally considered – in India, in her neighbourhood as well as internationally – as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. Modi, as we know, is running for his second five-year term.
His first term began with high-voltage drama in 2014 with heady promises of ambitious economic reforms that won the first single-party majority in parliament in three decades for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It would be remiss if one fails to mention that, in great part, Modi’s stellar electoral performance then was facilitated by the shambles that the Indian National Congress, under Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, had been reduced to over the decades via the familiar highway of corruption, nepotism and lack of political imagination.
Among other things, Modi’s popularity has been steadily plummeting, dented by a series of mismanaged policies and exaggerated perceptions of Hindu domination.
The elections will be closely monitored by the Nepali elite and political class, if for no other reason than that Modi’s India caused Nepali people immense hardship through a five-month plus economic blockade, one of whose consequence was to shift Kathmandu closer to Beijing.
Finally, to Venezuela where opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to, but was not arrested by President Nicolas Maduro. Widespread anti-government demonstrations continue as this is being drafted, not to mention massive blackout of much of Venezuela.
While Maduro calls it the United States’ “electricity war”, others say it stems from a failure at the main hydro-electric plant which has suffered from years of underinvestment.
The tussle between the two sides continues with the outcome uncertain. Will it be settled by a new election or a bloody civil war?

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