BY SHASHI MALLA
New ‘People’s War’ in Nepal ?
The leader of the Maoist faction of the ‘unified’ Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), Pushpa Kamal Dahal who prefers to style himself as “Prachanda” [nome de guerre: the Fearful One] has warned that the government’s [ in which the ‘former’ Maoists are an integral part] failure to fully implement the Constitution of Nepal 2015 and the so-called “Comprehensive Peace Accord” (CPA) could result in a fresh round of domestic conflict. This new edition of the “People’s War” or 10-year-old Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) could be more dire.
It was not clear who Prachanda was actually threatening. However, it came against the backdrop of a simmering rift between the two co-chairmen of the CPN, Prachanda and the Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli over the standpoint(s) of the CPN and the Nepal government on the ongoing Venezuela crisis in far-off South America. PM Oli is under severe attack from the US government for taking the side of incumbent president Maduro, widely perceived as a socialist dictator.
It would be interesting to know what Prachanda thinks of Maduro’s military blocking the much-needed humanitarian aid on the border to Colombia. Is international aid interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation? Is there no humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela? What are the Socialist/Communist [or Communist-like] countries doing about brotherly solidarity?
By attacking the very government of which his party is an integral part, Prachanda has lain bare the fundamental Communist contradiction. In addition his threat is an empty one. He is now, as Mao Zedong would put it a ‘paper tiger’ without fangs and domestic support. Should he attempt a new insurrection, he would be crushed totally and mercilessly by the Nepal Army. The international constellation in South Asia is such that he could not even expect help from his former Indian masters. This time around, China, a resurgent world power would not tolerate a major disturbance in its own backyard!
Thailand: Election Storm in a Tea Cup
In a decisive move, HM the King of Thailand has effectively quashed an attempt to enroll his elder sister into politics.
In an unprecedented move Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, 67, first joined the race to be the country’s next prime minister in the parliamentary elections of March 24. She was co-opted by a political party allied to divisive ex-prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck (both convicted and living in exile to avoid arrest). Her decision to be the masthead/figurehead of a political party – and that too of an anti-establishment one – broke with the tradition of the Thai royal family to publicly stay out of politics.
Princess Ubolratana had reiterated that she had relinquished all her royal titles (after marrying an American) and now lived as a commoner. She now wanted to exercise her rights of an ordinary citizen and as a prime ministerial candidate to work with all sincerity and determination for the prosperity of the whole country.
The younger brother of the princess, HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn effectively doomed his sister’s bid to be used by an anti-establishment political party in a sharply worded statement that said bringing senior royal family members into politics was against tradition and ‘highly inappropriate’. The Thai Raksa Chart party responded swiftly, cancelling a campaign event and saying it “complies with the royal command”. Thailand has some of the most severe lese majeste laws in the world and the king’s word is seldom challenged.
Royalist Thais and establishment celebrities praised the royal intervention on social media after the powerful statement, writing “long live the king”! Others expressed distress with groups such as Thai Raksa Chart linked to the Shinawatra clan, led by Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, and both ousted in coups.
The recent dramatic developments – the supposedly bold move definitely backfired unexpectedly on Thaksin – will help the military consolidate power and calm domestic politics. In the forthcoming parliamentary elections, the odds will, therefore, tilt in favor of junta chief and incumbent PM General Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Prayut is the prime ministerial candidate of the Phalang Pracharat party, a group aligned with the ruling administration.
Trump’s State of the Union [SOTU] Address
In his second SOTU, President Trump called for unity amid now deep political divisions within Congress and the country at large. Midway through his tenure, Trump has contributed to a divided nation. Against a backdrop of extensive partisan differences, his administration is faced with major domestic and international challenges.
For all his talk about bridging “old divisions” and pursuing bipartisan initiatives, Trump highlighted the well-trodden themes that will power his 2020 re-election campaign. These include a hard line on immigration and border security, a deep suspicion of trade agreements, an “America First” foreign policy, and generally everything to do with “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). He was clearly signaling to his most loyal supporters that he was not going to compromise on the issues that matter most to them.
The dissonance between Trump’s words at the SOTU and the political reality was more discordant than ever. Trump regularly blasts Democrats on his Tweeter feed as unhelpful, obstructionist and unpatriotic. John Geer, an expert on public opinion at Vanderbilt University said succinctly: “There is no reason to think he wants unity. He thrives on disunity.”
Trump spoke of an “unprecedented economic boom” in the United States, touting low unemployment and rising wages as an immense success for American workers in the world’s “hottest economy”. He credited his signature tax cuts for driving economic growth and praised his administration with rolling back regulations.
Calling the US economy the “envy of the world”, Trump claimed “An economic miracle is happening in the United States and the only thing that can stop it is foolish wars or ridiculous partisan investigating.”
Professor Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan (writing in The New York Times) concedes that the US economy is in good shape, but is it sustainable? Unemployment is low, inflation is muted and growth has continued unabated for nearly 10 years. However, Trump controls economic policy, not the economy. According to Prof. Wolfers economists are nearly unanimous in concluding that Trump’s economic policies are destructive.
“Trump’s protectionist impulses place him squarely at odds with the economic wisdom that tariffs are harmful.” His trade policy has also damaged the competitiveness of American manufacturers. His tariffs will reduce economic growth and his trade deficit has already risen to a 10-year high. His trade policy has failed miserably, and Prof. Wolfers awards him only a dismal “F” [in the letter grading]!
Trump’s fiscal policy is also a colossal failure. His so-called signature achievement, the US $ Dollar 1.5 trillion tax cut provided stimulus when it was least needed. In addition, the much- promised investment boom did not materialize. His promise of infrastructure spending has languished. He was awarded only “D” for this sector.
Bottom line, the US economy has been on a steadily improving curve since around 2010, and Trump doesn’t deserve credit for this trajectory. Unfortunately, the downside of Trump’s economic policies will become evident only later.
Trump’s Border Wall
Trump reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico. He insisted: “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” saying, “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”
Trump’s demand for US $ Dollar 5.7 billion in funding for a border wall resulted in a partial government shutdown of 35 days – the longest in American history. Congress has only days to pass a federal budget to avoid another debilitating shutdown. The last shutdown damaged him politically.
Still he used a large portion of SOTU to make his case for “The Wall”, employing much of the same rhetoric he used during last year’s mid-term Congressional elections – warning of an ‘invasion’ of migrants from Central America, labeling the southern border “lawless” and declaring that “countless” Americans had been murdered by illegal immigrants – all of questionable veracity.
Trump made the outlandish claim that if he had not been elected president the United States would now likely be at war with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
He also announced that he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a second summit on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam. Trump had met with Kim in Singapore in June 2018. The meeting ended with a joint statement in which North Korea agreed to work towards “The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
West Asia/ Middle East
Trump said the US was holding “constructive talks” with the Islamist Taliban and other groups [he did not clarify] to end the war in Afghanistan. He did not give a timeline for the planned US withdrawal, only saying offhand: “As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism.”
On the “Islamic State” Trump professed “we have liberated virtually all of that territory [in Iraq and Syria] from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers” and it was time for US troops to come home.
Trump praised his unilateral decision to pull out of the multilateral 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and the re-imposition of US sanctions on Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying in the Middle East “US hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers and extremists, who’ve only brought ruin to our region.”
Trump praised increased US military spending under his administration while also “getting other nations to pay their fair share, finally.” He contended: “For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by friends of ours, by members of NATO, but now we have secured a US $ Dollar 100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies.”
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