By Prabasi Nepali
RPP Statute: Anti-Constitutional or Anti-National ?
In an unusual and highly controversial decision, the Election Commission (EC) saw fit to remove the portion that advocates ‘Hindu State’ and ‘Monarchy’ from the RashtriyaPrajatantra Party’s (RPP/National Democratic Party) statute before endorsing it. The EC was of the learned opinion that ‘Hindu state’ and ‘monarchy’ contradicted constitutional provisions of republican order and secularism. In addition, the EC opined that political parties were prohibited by the law from advocating politics that espoused “hatred” or from advocating anything that could adversely impact the country’s security. The EC reasoning was completely spurious, and had no legal or constitutional basis.
From a historical standpoint, the country was based on Hinduism or rather the ‘Sanatan Dharma’ and monarchy from ancient times. These were illegally and unconstitutionally abolished from the strata of society without recourse to the sovereign people. Such important subjects pertaining to the very fabric of society should have been a matter of a referendum. The constitution is not eternal and sacrosanct; it can be amended, as have the American and Indian constitutions many times. Currently, Nepal is a pseudo-secular state; in everything but name, it is in fact a functioning Hindu-majority state with great toleration for all other religions.And the monarchy as such — not connected per se with any individual — lives on in the hearts and minds of the people. If it were not so, why does the president of the so-called republic continue to participate in state functions in a quasi-religious and quasi-monarchical capacity?
Dutch Elections: Defeat of Narrow Nationalism & Populism
European leaders breathed a sigh of relief last week as the pragmatic Dutch settled for the status quo, voting Liberal-Conservative PM Mark Rutte back into power even though the far-right (‘Freedom Party’)shot up into second place. He defied polls that suggested a close race with anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. The EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker tweeted: “A vote for Europe, a vote against extremists.” The negotiations for a coalition government will take weeks, if not months because of a lot of issues, but eventually a centre-right government is expected to emerge, according to an analyst at Leiden University.
One of the popular images of the Dutch is that of a hardy people who have built sturdy dikes in a low-lying country against the ravages of the seas. In a manner of speaking, Brexit, the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union (EU) and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States broke the ‘political’ dikes’ in the imagination of the Dutch. They were left very disturbed at the political upsurge of the far right in their own country, as well as in France and Germany. According to analysts, the Dutch ultimately decided last Wednesday not to support the rising far right led by Geert Wilders, also a noted Islamophobe like Trump. According to Professor Janka Stoker at the University of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands: “In Europe we all see the developments in the United Stats, and that’s not where we want to go because we see it as chaos.” Furthermore, she added: “We’re a coalition country; we don’t like coalitions, but we know it gives stability, and people know here that we have to work together.”
However, it is not at all certain that Dutch aspirations will be followed in France and Germany (and possibly Italy). At the same time there are factors peculiar to all these countries that do not allow a common analysis. Wilders himself was all praise for Trump and was, in fact, known as the ‘Dutch Trump’ and one of the few European leaders supporting the Muslim ban. The French populist Ms. Marine Le Pen was much shrewder and knowing the chaotic start of the Trump administration, kept her distance. The ‘Trump effect’ did not take place.
Even the Dutch experience shows that populism and nascent nationalism have not gone away. Although Wilders’ party did not take the pole position, it did ascend from third to second position and improved its standing in parliament from 15 to 20 seats. The Dutch also supported centre-right parties that imitated Wilders’ positions. They gained 7 seats in the Dutch parliament, giving them 57 percent of the seats in the 150-member legislature in this electionin contrast to 52.6 percent in the last election (2012) when they had 79 seats. At the same time, the mainstream center-left Labour Party was nearly wiped out (from 35 reduced to 9 seats).
‘Angie’ visits ‘The Donald’
The first official meeting of German chancellor Angela Merkel (popularly known to her countrymen and –women as ‘Angie’) with controversial US president Donald Trump brought no breakthrough in the troubled relationship instigated by ‘The Donald’. The chasm remains and the media in both countries were critical. The New York Times (NYT) wrote that the chancellor made the impression that she was determined not to be involved in the petty dramas regularly initiated by the American president. The meeting was very closely observed by the media, and appeared both surreal and uncomfortable — ‘the Great Destroyer’ opposite the last Defender of the liberal World Order’ (NYT). Both tried to demonstrate that they were working together, but the major differences in trade, immigration and other critical agendas could not be bridged. In the end Trump showed the kind of bumbling bumpkin he really is in diplomacy by pointedly refusing to shake hands with the respected European.
The meeting also laid bare that Trump has no inkling of statecraft and basic diplomacy. And it is most unfortunate — for America and the world — that he is unwilling to learn (perhaps he doesn’t have the capacity to do so). The very next day he had the gall to tweet that Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive defense it provides to Germany.” He was immediately contradicted by Germany’s minister of defence, Ursula von der Leyen. She added that everyone wanted the burden to be shared fairly and for that to happen it was necessary to have a “modern security concept” that included a modern NATO but also a European defense union and investment in the United Nations.
U.S. & China to Cooperate in North Korean Nuclear Stalemate
Last Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated for the first time that the Trump administration was considering military action to ward off the nuclear threat (for Japan, South Korea and the US itself) by categorically underlining : “all options are on the table”. The situation in North-East Asia is quite tense with North Korea making progress on its goal of constructing a missile (fitted with nuclear warheads) capable of reaching mainland US, and China furious with America stationing an anti-missile system in South Korea. The discarding of diplomacy and the possibility of the military option has fueled anxiety in the whole region. At a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister, Tillerson made it quite clear that the policy of “strategic patience” favored by the previous Obama administration had ended. Threats would be met with an appropriate response.
Yun was not quite belligerent. He said that various policy methods were available, hinting at diplomatic, security and economic measures, and considering military deterrence as one of the pillars of imposing diplomatic pressure. The minister was likely to be removed from his post soon, as elections for a new government will be held in early May. A new, more progressive government is expected that will also favor a more conciliatory approach and away from the current hard-line position. The new government may also review the decision to install the US anti-missile battery called “Terminal High Altitude Area Defence” or THAAD. But the US feels that sanctions and diplomatic engagement so far have failed to persuade North Korea not to continue with its nuclear weapons programme. 20 years of diplomatic efforts had come to naught. Now, according to some experts, anescalation seems to be inevitable.
However, the Obama administration had rejected military action for a very good reason. North Korea has (conventional) artillery targeting the Seoul metropolitan area of more than 20 million people just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War, nearly 74 years ago — a place that former president Bill Clinton once famously described as “the scariest place on Earth.” It is a welcome development that US Secretary of State, Tillerson has met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi and China’s President Xi and agreed on cooperation to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. Joint efforts in diplomacy and sanctions are far better than a pre-emptive US military action of any sort or the counterproductive installation of a US anti-missile battery. To bring the region back from the abyss, the US can no longer act unilaterally; this option has long vanished as have the many ‘red lines’ to North Korea. The US and China owe it to themselves, the people of the region and the world to hammer out a ‘strategic partnership’ to avert a nuclear catastrophe.
Interplay of Domestic & External Factors across Continents
By Prabasi Nepali