At the time of writing this article Imran Khan’s condition was reportedly stable and improving, but not rapidly enough to enable him to cast his vote on May 11. What an irony that a leader whose political fortunes depend on every vote will not be able to cast his own. Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) party had sustained serious head and back injuries in a terrible fall from a wobbly car-lifter, supporting one personal guard too many, as it tried to hoist him atop a container-cum-stage. This accident must have instilled a frightening sense of déjà vu in the people of Pakistan who had witnessed the shocking assassination of Benazir Bhutto just before the 2008 elections, who later succumbed to the suspected gun-shot wound in the head. In the ensuing sympathy wave the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came to power, making Asif Ali Zardari the President, in a yet another accident of history.
Pakistan’s transition to substantive democracy April 17, 2013Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , Comment
When Pakistan holds elections on 11 May 2013 it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government hands over power to another elected government.
Though this is a positive development, most Pakistani and international observers are not optimistic that the elections form part of a broader transition from procedural to substantive democracy — a system of government where civil and political liberties are protected.
There are many reasons for this lack of optimism. Ongoing attacks on the minority Shia population have significantly increased, with hundreds killed already this year. Political leaders and candidates are routinely targeted, and there have been regular attacks on development workers seen to be promoting ‘liberal values’. These political and social fault lines have been exacerbated by the worsening economic crisis. Economic growth has averaged just under 3 per cent over the last three years — a level that is insufficient to either substantially improve the population’s living standards or absorb the growing workforce. Prices are rising at around 11 per cent per year, and the price increases on fuel, together with severe electricity shortages, have prompted a growing number of mass protests across the country.
Politically, socially and economically, Pakistanis face deep insecurity.
Reviving local level democracy in India July 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , Comment
Vikas Kumar, Alok Tiwari and Ragupathy Venkatachalam
India is suffering from policy paralysis due to a crisis of credibility across the political system. The world’s largest democracy is threatened by a growing disconnect between the electorate and elected representatives, which is expressed as distrust and a general sense of a lack of accountability of the latter. Money and power are partly to blame for this disconnect, as is the first-past-the-post electoral system. This is evident at the local level where India’s democracy tends to degenerate into ethnocracies that disenfranchise smaller groups.
Nepal’s polity continues to fracture July 5, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Dowler, Amy, Nepal , 2comments
On 19 June 2012 the ‘hardline’ faction of the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) formally split to form a new party. The new party, confusingly called the Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist (CPN-M), is led by former UCPN-M Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya. (Note the People’s Front of Judea-level subtlety of the move from a dash to a comma, to avoid replicating the title of yet another party).
Since 28 May 2012 Nepal has been ruled by a self-styled transitional government with no constitutional basis. The government is led by the UPCN-M, which had the most seats in the now dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA), and its Vice-Chairman Baburam Bhattarai has continued in his role as Prime Minister.
The transitional government arose after the CA’s failure to promulgate a new constitution by the 28 May deadline, itself a product of parties’ failure to agree on a basis for forming states. Bhattarai has said his transitional government will remain in place until elections are held in November. Opposition parties have been calling for Bhattarai’s resignation and either the reinstatement of the CA, or formation of a consensus government to oversee the fresh elections.
The ideological rift between Baidya and the ‘establishment faction’ of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Vice-Chairman Bhattarai dates from 2005 when the Maoists embraced parliamentarianism. (The UPCN-M itself was formed in 1995 when then-considered radicals Prachanda and Bhattarai split from another Communist party in reaction to its participation in the parliamentary process.) Baidya was strongly opposed to the move, made while he sat in a jail in West Bengal, India (some say he blames Bhattarai for setting him up). (more…)
India’s churning democracy: future directions February 27, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Doron, Assa, India, Nelson, Barbara , Comment
Barbara Nelson and Assa Doron
This article appears in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from India‘.
Indian democracy continues to puzzle many foreign observers. But for most Indians, democracy — however imperfect — is a matter of practice, something they grow up with. Indian democracy may not be perfect — which democracy is? — but it would be safe to say that debates that raged until at least the 1980s about whether it will survive are now firmly in the rearview mirror. Millions are going to the polls this year as elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur begin this January. Most attention is focused on the Uttar Pradesh poll, India’s most populous state and the sixth largest in the world, a state so large that the logistics of ensuring security for voters affects the election; the poll must be conducted in seven distinct phases.
That India has survived as a democratic nation since independence in 1947 has, until recently, remained an anomaly to social scientists. According to the view that democracy requires economic development, a common culture and high levels of literacy, India’s claim to be democratic has rested largely on the fact that it holds elections, has universal suffrage, and transfer of power occurs without trouble. Rather than viewing India as an anomaly, democratic theory now accounts more comprehensively for the Indian case.
Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , Comment
Guest author: N. Sathiya Moorthy
First published in Future Directions International on 15 February 2012
A week after President Mohammed Nasheed resigned, to be succeeded by his Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives is limping back to normality. Hassan is to complete the residual part of Nasheed’s five-year term, ending November 2013. The deep political divisions remain, and the wounds of the previous week’s events have left a bad taste in the mouths of the people at large, and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cadres in particular. All now need to take stock of the recent developments with equanimity and arrive at solutions for the medium- and long-term good of the nation.
Nasheed’s sudden resignation had been preceded by a series of events, not just over the previous weeks, as is often being said now, in a reference to the ‘protect Islam’ call by the ‘December 23 Coalition’ launched by religious NGOs, to which desperate Opposition political groups, whose egos were matched only by the personal ambitions of their leaders, tagged along. It had commenced as early as mid-2010, when the parliamentary polls threw up a minority for the President’s party.
Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls February 16, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , Comment
State legislative assembly elections are being held in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state, over seven phases between 8 February and 3 March. UP elections are notoriously difficult to call because of the state’s size and the complex interplay of region, caste and religion. But what can be said with some certainty is that no party is likely to win a majority on its own, and this will lead to a scramble for post-poll alliances.
Given its size, with a population of around 200 million, the UP elections always assume greater significance than those in other states. This time it has taken on additional importance for two reasons. First, the two dominant national parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have fared poorly in the state in recent times, so the current elections will be a test of strength for both. Second, the Congress is desperately shopping for allies at the federal level, since its largest coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress, has been persistently blocking major policy initiatives and voting against it in parliament. The two main players in UP – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) – have both lent some ‘issue-based’ support to the government. Thus, in the likely event of a fractured mandate in UP, the Congress could ally itself with either the SP or the BSP – and in return bring either into the federal government, ensuring the marginalisation of the Trinamool Congress.
2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the future of UPA January 13, 2012Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 1 comment so far
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been paralyzed among other things due to the populist politics of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of All India Trinamool Congress (Trinamool). Dr Manmohan Singh’s historic Bangladesh visit was almost derailed, when mercurial Mamata vetoed the agreement on water sharing. The list of domestic legislations and policy initiatives that have been delayed or even mothballed to keep Mamata in good humour is long: Lokpal Bill, FDI in retail sector, disinvestment of public sector undertakings, and rail fare rationalization. To add insult to injury, Mamata now seems to be keen to get rid of Congress. There can be four reasons why Trinamool may want to change course. First, it does not make sense to contest the next local and parliamentary elections as an ally of a corruption-tainted party. Second, Trinamool is trying to monopolize the non-Left vote in West Bengal. Third, Trinamool now faces a weakened Left Front in West Bengal and is no longer critically dependent on the support of a national party. Fourth, Trinamool is trying to strike roots in other provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. But Trinamool may postpone its exit from UPA in order to get extra-financial support from the centre for West Bengal and even continue to ‘support’ UPA if an utterly humiliated Congress continues to tolerate Mamata’s populism at the expense of the central exchequer.
Ironically, Congress has no one to blame but itself. Mamata’s assembly election campaign should have alerted Congress long ago that Trinamool will out-left the Left Front. But to get rid of the Left Front, a key ally of UPA-I (2005–2009), Congress promoted Trinamool at the cost of national security. For instance, in the run-up to West Bengal assembly election (2011), the central government extended half-hearted support to the Left Front government’s police campaign against Maoist extremism, the biggest internal security threat according to Dr Singh. Dr Singh also overlooked the misuse of the Railway ministry by Trinamool’s campaign machinery. More importantly, as I have argued earlier, Congress has ignored its long term interests in its single-minded quest to weaken the Left.
2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election: Samajwadi Party’s Waterloo? November 29, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 4comments
The forthcoming assembly election in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the world’s most populous sub-national administrative unit, marks the beginning of the long campaign for India’s 2014 General Election. In an earlier post, I have argued that the outcome of UP’s election will influence the choice of prime ministerial candidates and the strategies of political parties for the next general election. In this post I will discuss the existential crisis facing Samajwadi Party (SP), an important regional party based in UP.
The rise of SP in the early 1990s was propelled by the insecurity and aspirations of the middle castes (also known as the Other Backward Castes, OBCs) and Muslims. This was the time when sections of upper castes were supporting Hindu nationalism and economic liberalization to rejuvenate their hegemony that was collapsing in the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, which encouraged radical Islamists, and the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendations, which empowered the lower and middle castes. In this atmosphere, SP’s secular socialist manifesto targeted lower and middle caste and Muslim voters with mixed success. On the one hand, its bitter clash with its ally Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) deprived SP of lower caste support. On the other, the decline of Congress in UP and rise of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allowed SP to consolidate Muslim votes. In the late 1990s marginalization of BJP’s OBC leader Kalyan Singh buttressed SP’s OBC credentials. As a result SP came to be identified with OBCs, particularly the Yadavs, and Muslims. The Yadav–Muslim combination worked electoral wonders in UP between 1993 and 2007, when SP secured between 17 and 26 per cent of the votes cast in elections and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav served as the chief minister for six years (1993–95, 2003–07). (The Yadav–Muslim alliance was more effective in neighbouring Bihar, where it helped Lalu Prasad Yadav stay in power for 15 years between 1990 and 2005.) SP also managed to leverage its position in UP to emerge as a national player. Mulayam Singh served as the defence minister (1996–98) in the Third Front government and was also considered for the position of prime minister.
The Fifteenth Prime Minister of India January 24, 2011Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , 2comments
The Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the only non-dynastic, national, and ideological competitors of the Indian National Congress, are struggling with leadership and ideological crises. BJP’s national defence credentials have been compromised due to allegations of Hindu terror whereas the pro-poor credentials of the Left have been compromised in Singur and Nandigram. Regional parties like Shiva Sena and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are in disarray due to succession struggles within reigning families headed by ageing patriarchs. In contrast, the Congress, with a transparent succession policy and a bland centrist agenda, seems to be a safe bet for voters. Also, in this age of Raja of Niligiris, no Raja of Manda can credibly leave the government. So, barring bizarre developments, Manmohan Singh will complete his second term, the Congress will return to power in 2014 with a clear majority, and Rahul Gandhi will become India’s fifteenth prime minister.
But is the next general election indeed going to be a cakewalk for the Congress? Not if a reasonable number of opposition parties join hands. I have argued earlier that in the next general election young, inexperienced leaders of provincial parties are likely to shy away from the uncertainty of coalition politics and play the son-of-the-soil card. However, the coordination problem can be surmounted if the opposition can choose its leader in advance. The prospective leader should have the right age and good governance credentials to challenge Rahul Gandhi. Otherwise, the leader of a coalition of provincial parties cannot afford to raise particularistic issues.
Let us have a look at the probable candidates. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (Left Front, West Bengal) is stuck in Singur and Nandigram. Narendra Modi (BJP, Gujarat) has mounted a tiger and is unable to dismount. Chandra Babu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party, Andhra Pradesh) is a spent force. B.S. Yediyurappa (BJP, Karnataka) is besieged in his own province. V. S. Achuthanandan (Left Front, Kerala), Parkash Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal, Punjab), Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP, Himachal Pradesh), M. Karunanidhi (DMK, Tamil Nadu), and Navin Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal, Orissa) will be more than 65 years old in 2014. Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland People’s Front, Nagaland) is constrained by his province’s cartographic rhetoric. Raman Singh (BJP, Chhattisgarh) is vulnerable due to his support for Salwa Judum. Ramesh Pokhriyal (BJP, Uttarakhand) and Omar Abdullah (National Conference, J&K) lack experience.
Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim Democratic Front, Sikkim), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (BJP, Madhya Pradesh), Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United, Bihar), Kumari Mayawati (Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Uttar Pradesh), and Manik Sarkar (Left Front, Tripura) are the only leaders who have the baseline qualifications: developmentalist credentials, optimal age, and substantial public experience. However, a prospective leader of the opposition alliance should have additional qualifications, listed below.
|National level experience||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Access to a national political network||No||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Large (primary) support base||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Acceptable to BJP as well as the Left||No||No||Yes||No||No|
At present, Chamling lacks additional qualifications, which leaves us with four contenders, belonging to four different parties.