Nepal constitutional reform an uphill battle

25 September 2015

Nepal is once again trying to change the nature of its political system. After the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006, it is drafting a new constitution. Due to numerous unfortunate political undercurrents, numerous interruptions meant the constitutional-building process was delayed for more than seven years. Finally, on 20 September 2015 Nepal has formally adopted a new constitution, the first to be drawn up by democratically elected representatives after centuries of autocratic rule.

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The 2015 Election Year in Sri Lanka: A clear statement for democracy

26 August 2015

Photo credit: Sri Lanka Guardian

On Monday, August 17, Sri Lanka’s 15 million strong electorate went to the national polls for the second time this year.[1] Among analysts, there is no doubt that this was not only a ‘popular vote’, which decided over the new composition of the country’s 225-seat-parliament, it was also a referendum regarding the basic nature of Sri Lanka’s political culture. [2] Continue reading “The 2015 Election Year in Sri Lanka: A clear statement for democracy”

Pakistan’s Political Stiffness: The ‘Social Agreement’ for FATA’s North Waziristan

14 July 2015; Siegfried O. Wolf

In witnessing the 2013 general election and the installation of a new government entrusted with a remarkable majority in vote, the people of Pakistan and many international observers thought that the time for major change had finally come. Especially the country’s neglected and repressed areas, like North Waziristan, which is part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), were hoping for significant improvement of their socio-political and economic conditions. However, after two years in power, it seems more and more obvious that the current administration of Nawaz Sharif did not intend to change the patterns of Islamabad’s decision-making in any significant policy area. Today, the country’s political arena is still determined by the unchallenged supreme role of the army, the lack of political will and capacities of civilians to implement any noteworthy reform measures, endemic corruption, and the ongoing dominance of the Punjab province and its establishment leading to the consequent side-lining of the smaller territorial entities. Continue reading “Pakistan’s Political Stiffness: The ‘Social Agreement’ for FATA’s North Waziristan”

Formal Institutionalization of Military Rule: The 21st Amendment in Pakistan

14 May 2015; by Siegfried O. Wolf

Source: Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU), Durham University, U.K.

Source: PRSU

The first ‘regular’ transfer of power between two civilian governments in Pakistan manifested itself in the aftermath of the 2013 general elections. Many celebrated this shift as a positive sign of democratic consolidation. However, the appreciation of this allegedly ‘new democratic wave’ ignores the resilience of decade-old authoritarian, and anti-democratic patterns. The military still dominates all significant political decision-making processes. Furthermore, with the 21st constitutional amendment the soldiers were able to further entrench their formal role in the political-institutional setup. This seriously challenges the notions of civilian supremacy, which is unfortunate, since civilian control of the armed forces is a necessary constituent for democracy and democratic consolidation. The first ‘regular’ transfer of power between two civilian governments in Pakistan manifested itself in the aftermath of the 2013 general elections. Many celebrated this shift as a positive sign of democratic consolidation. However, the appreciation of this allegedly ‘new democratic wave’ ignores the resilience of decade-old authoritarian, and anti-democratic patterns. The military still dominates all significant political decision-making processes. Furthermore, with the 21st constitutional amendment the soldiers were able to further entrench their formal role in the political-institutional setup. This seriously challenges the notions of civilian supremacy, which is unfortunate, since civilian control of the armed forces is a necessary constituent for democracy and democratic consolidation.

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India’s General Elections 2014 and the Role of Media: New Course or Entrenching Old Patterns?

24 April 2015; Siegfried O. Wolf

Source: Blue Chip, Issue 119, Vol. 2/4, pp. 59-61, Islamabad, Pakistan.

More than two centuries old, the media sector in India is intrinsically tied to the political trajectories of the country. Even before the country gained independence in 1947, the print media especially, being largely associated with the freedom struggle against the British colonial ruler, turned into a crucial actor in the political arenas of urban India. Quite from the beginning of the country’s state and nation­building, the press served as a platform for individuals as well as whole movements to articulate their ideas, protests, and/or demands for social, economic and political improvements. The media earned a high reputation for being a major element of resilience of India’s democracy. Continue reading “India’s General Elections 2014 and the Role of Media: New Course or Entrenching Old Patterns?”

2015 Senate Polls in Pakistan – Urgent need for Reforms and some Recommendations

March 2015; Siegfried O. Wolf

After having completed its 12th Parliamentary year on March 4th, Senate Polls took place in Pakistan the following day. The Senate is the Upper House of the bicameral Parliament of Pakistan, also known as Majlis-e-Shura. Pakistan’s political system consists of a President and the Parliament, which comprises two houses, the National Assembly (the Lower House) and the Senate. It came into existence on 6 August 1973 after the introduction of the 1973 Constitution (especially Article 50) which was adopted on 12 April of the same year. Before, the Pakistani Parliament had only one Chamber, the National Assembly. Basically, the Senate consists of 104 members elected indirectly by the members of the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies. Senate polls are held every three years for one half of the Senate and each Senator’s term lasts for 6 years. Continue reading “2015 Senate Polls in Pakistan – Urgent need for Reforms and some Recommendations”

Democracy and National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Towards a Peaceful Equation?

19 January 2015

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sri Lanka not only symbolizes the oldest and longest democratic tradition among post-colonial societies but also an authoritarian shift and one of Asia’s most traumatic civil wars. The armed conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), that mainly comprised of members of the Buddhist Sinhalese majority, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which claimed to represent the Island’s Hindu Tamil communities, was ended in May 2009 after almost three decades of fighting. Ultimately the puzzle that needs to be solved is why was Sri Lanka not able to avoid civil war and ‘quasi-dictatorship’ despite its long-lasting democratic institutions? For many years Sri Lanka was perceived as a classic example for a country in which democracy facilitated majority rule and the marginalization of minorities based on a vision of ethnic exclusiveness and authoritarianism. This was reducing rather than enhancing democratic stabilization and consolidation. Sri Lanka was never able or lacked the willingness to construct a democratic multi-ethnic society (approx. Sinhalese-/Buddhist 74%, Tamil-/Hindu 15%, and Muslims 8%) and fostered exclusion of its ethnic minorities since its independence in 1948. With reference to Donald Horowitz, in the case of Sri Lanka, democracy was interpreted as a pure majoritarian rule without sufficient minority protection. As such, the political decision making processes turned out to be a problem rather than a solution due to the fact that it perpetuated domination of one group over the other. In this context political observers traditionally point out that the dialectic between majority rule and ethnic outbidding is the major aberration in Sri Lanka’s political-institutional development, which produces ‘undemocratic results’. This phenomenon can be described as an ‘auction-like process’ in which certain politicians as a mean to attain and sustain power try to outbid one another by instrumentalizing the fears and ambitions of their majority community. In doing so, Sri Lanka’s minorities, especially the Hindu Tamils and Muslims, were systematically marginalized around political mobilization and ensuring of political interests during the time of elections. Furthermore, it led to an extraordinary institutional decay and portrayed how institutional structures can influence actors’ behavior. In addition it also shows how democratic institutions can create in a certain societal context (e.g. where ethnicity is a politically salient cleavage and utilized for outbidding) a political dynamic, which is able to unleash an armed conflict. In attempting to assess the recent as well as future trends, one has to be aware that although the war in Sri Lanka might be over militarily speaking, the deepest roots of the conflict – marginalization of minorities, i.e. how the political class (majority) and political system deal with them or protect their rights, as well as to ensure a distribution of national resources, remains intact.

Having this is mind, many observers state that ‘post-conflict Sri Lanka did not make much progress in addressing any of the above-mentioned questions. The major reason therefore was the Presidency of Mahindra Rajapaksa.

The then President did not seem to have the political will to initiate institutional change in form of sustainable and credible reform programs, which would reduce various forms of discrimination and exclusion of Sri Lanka’s minorities as well as strengthen democratic structures and processes. On the contrary, Rajapaksa increasingly adopted an authoritarian style of governance featured by endemic corruption, nepotism, and attempts to establish dynastic rule. His undermining of the constitutional basic structure by transforming Sri Lanka into an executive presidency turned the President into a ‘quasi-dictator’. Furthermore, on-going human rights violations, a persistent presence of armed forces in the war-torn north, lack of accountability for war crimes and the absence of a noteworthy power-sharing model with former combatants have spurred criticism. Not only the Tamils, but also the Muslims suffered from the incumbent’s hard-line approach on rapprochement towards the country’s minorities. Growing sectarian violence facilitated by Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists enjoying the goodwill of Rajapaksa’s administration further bolstered the alienation of Muslims, Hindus and Christians. In sum, Rajapakse truncated the democratic process and wasted the chance for national reconciliation. Additionally, his partly promising economic policy, which led to remarkable economic growth, focused on establishing ‘mega projects’ has failed to benefit the poor. Consequently, he not lost support among the minorities but also within his core constituency, the rural conservative Sinhala-majority who suffered from inflation and high living costs. The estrangement with the West and the failure to implement a constructive policy in the country’s foreign policy triangle with India and China further bolstered the nation-wide frustration about Rajapaksa’s ‘family regime’. Therefore, it was only partly a surprise that Rajapaksa was defeated in the last presidential elections on 8 January 2015 by his former political ally Maithripala Sirisena. After the farmer-turned-politician resigned from the former government, he was able to unite the fractured opposition and benefitted from the incumbent’s growing unpopularity among the Sinhalese majority as well as the minorities.

As such, the elections were more than just a symbol of hope; they were a clear statement of a vibrant civil society not willing to accept an authoritarian regime. Rajapaksa’s defeat was also an expression of the need for national reconciliation based on the political and social inclusion of ethnic minorities. Furthermore, it is a signal towards religious fundamentalists in the country that the common people are not anymore willing to tolerate the use of religion for ethnic outbidding. Thus, the election results were an unequivocal vote against Rajapakse and for the return towards parliamentary democracy. In order to fulfill this mandate, the new President Sirisena has to carry out far-reaching constitutional and economic reforms, end corruption and nepotism, ensure that the rule of law applies to everyone without any ethnic and religious discrimination, to work towards national reconciliation and integration which most likely will have to encompass the issue of federal mechanisms. Until now, he has given no remarkable sign that he will differ much from Rajapaksa on issues such as reconciliation or economic policy. In this context, it will be important to observe how far Sirisena has really departed from his ‘Marxist-communist-time’. This is significant in order to implement a more successful, integrated economic and foreign policy regarding China on the one side and New Delhi, Washington and Brussels on the other side. Nevertheless, the fact that Sirisena has already kept his first promise and made opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe the new prime minister -who has the reputation to be more inclusive-, the announcement of holding fresh parliamentary elections in the near future, and the high voter turn-out among the Tamil population can be seen as positive indicators for sustainable peace and democratic consolidation in Sri Lanka.

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Democracy and National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Towards a Peaceful Equation?

 

 

Pakistan: Ending the Semblance of Civil-Military Cordiality?

13 November 2014

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Pakistan, which has been ruled by military forces for around half of its existence, is considered to be a classic example of a praetorian state. The country’s military perceives itself as the sole guardian of national sovereignty and moral integrity, the chief initiator of the national agenda and the major arbiter of conflict between social and political forces. Over time, the armed forces became so deeply and widely entrenched in every sphere of the Pakistani state that, today, they do not depend on any formal prerogatives to exercise influence over the political decision-making process or to secure their corporate interests.  It can be stated that Pakistan has never experienced ‘civilian supremacy’ with regards to its civil-military relations. Continue reading “Pakistan: Ending the Semblance of Civil-Military Cordiality?”

India-Nepal relations and the Impact of Hindu-Nationalism

8 November 2014; by Siegfried O. Wolf

As a small, land-locked country positioned between two large and powerful neighbours, China and India, Nepal’s foreign policy has centred on the not always reconcilable task of maintaining friendly relations with both and safeguarding its national security and independence. The long, permeable border (around 1,800 km) with India has upheld a close yet sometimes acrimonious relationship between the two countries, with Nepal’s economy functioning as an appendage to that of India. Subsequently, relations between India and Nepal have not only been influenced by cultural and historical links but also by suspicion and resentment. Continue reading “India-Nepal relations and the Impact of Hindu-Nationalism”

Constitutional Assembly Elections in Nepal 2013: Some Pre-Poll Reflections

14 November 2013; by Siegfried O. Wolf

Source: South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), Brussels, Belgium.

Having witnessed decades of political imbroglio, Nepal is once again set to go to the polls on November 19. After 2008, it will be the second time that the electorate has to cast their ballots for a Constitutional Assembly (CA) – the country’s national parliament. However, instead of gleefully looking forward to what is meant to be a ‘feast of democracy’, sentiments of concern prevail among Nepalese and international observers. On the face of it this might seem odd because the call for an election is the logical next step now that a new constitution has been drafted. What is more, this constitution provides for higher empowerment of the people and a more stringent observance of the rule of law, which is a crucial prerequisite for national stability. However, as the polling day approaches the political situation in the country is turning increasingly murky.

Source: Deutsche Welle

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