Monday, July 25, 2016

Lessons in Defenestration from Nepal and Papua New Guinea

Prasad Sharma Oli falls out the window after losing his balance; meanwhile Peter O'Neill hangs on, but sour times are far from over

Before Oli resigns, Jainendra Jeevan on the writing on the wall:
It is not that the people of the country have not voted for a stable government. Twice after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the voters gave the Nepali Congress (NC) a comfortable majority. But owing to their in-house wrangling, both the time the NC government fell pre-maturely. Ever since, an era of hung parliaments has dawned upon this country. The proportional representation (PR) system of elections too, implemented since 2007, has been instrumental in producing hung parliaments. In a bid to make the legislative more inclusive, our na├»ve leaders could not foresee what a mess the arrangement would create. We are, therefore, cursed to live for a long time to come with this menace of hung parliaments, followed by frequent changes of coalition governments. Meanwhile, we should not give up our efforts to reform and rectify the shortcomings, both in our structures (PR system) and attitudes. Failure to do so will make our nation a failed state. 
Now let us come to the present crisis. Prachanda form the Maoist Centre and Sher Bahadur Deuba from the NC—protagonists of the no-confidence motion—are certainly not angels. Both are as power hungry as any other leaders. But Prime Minister Oli is not a hero either, nor a victim, as portrayed by his zealots, who are provoking him to cling to power even if the no-confidence motion is passed. Citing a constitutional lacuna, they are misguiding him that he cannot be unseated even if he is defeated in the motion. Their contention is that a new government can only be formed either if the constitution is amended accordingly, or if the President uses her discretionary and special power under article 305 to pave the way for a new government, or if a ‘political agreement’ is reached between the opposition and the ruling alliance. But this argument is not only unmerited but also ill-intended to remain in power as long as possible. 
Oli’s associates, of course upon his orders, have also been trying to obstruct the House proceedings on the motion. Their demand is that the Speaker should first give priority to the budget related bills. However, it is shameful on the part of the treasury bench to obstruct the proceedings of the House, especially when the agenda is none other than a no-trust motion against their government. Their demand is aimed at buying time to prolong their days in the office and meanwhile, if possible, to thwart the no-trust motion. Some of his cronies are also saying that Oli should dissolve the House and order snap polls. They forget that the full bench of the Supreme Court has, in its landmark 1995 verdict, ruled that a prime minister who is facing a no-confidence motion in the House has no right to order the dissolution of the same House. Oli, whose services may always be needed by the nation, should not be carried away by such incitements. Failure to do so will cause a backlash.

Sudhi Ranjan Sen on how a tilt to China at the expense of India and sectarian groups contributed to Oli's downfall:
One of the reasons for Mr Oli's waning popularity was his tilt towards Beijing, sending India-Nepal relations into a free-fall. The redrawing of the provinces in Nepal, marginalising the Madhesi community added to the bitterness and India was forced to step in. 
Mr Oli used India's support for the Madhesi community to justify his pro-China policy. But sourcing essential commodities through the Tibetan Plateau and reducing its dependence on India turned out to be difficult and impractical. Realising the futility, China, also advised Mr Oli to mend his relationship with India, sources have said. 
His failing to honour a power-sharing agreement with the Maoist party and his policies made his coalition partners uncomfortable. First to quit to the coalition, even before the vote of no-confidence was put to vote, was the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) which had a dozen seats in the Parliament. Following the RRP, the MJAF(D) led by Bijay Gachehedar switched sides and supported the no-confidence motion. These desertions open the flood gates. Others soon joined in. 
Key political figures like Prachanda, who led the charge against Mr Oli and is seen as the frontrunner the PM's chair, advocated a much more balanced and nuanced foreign policy where India had larger role to play. Besides the pro-China policy, Prachanda also pointed to Mr Oli provoking the Madhesi community as one of the main reasons for asking him to step down. In his intervention during the no-confidence vote, senior Nepali Congress leader Minendra Rizal said Mr Oli's description of the Madhesi as "foreigners" was misplaced nationalism.

Despite appearances, it's more than likely that any new regime in Nepal will restore the customary balance between China and India, as Ankit Panda from the Diplomat notes (audio).

Paul Flanagan on how Peter O'Neill has just managed to keep the lid on in PNG:
The most likely scenario is a reluctant compliance with the parliamentary vote and a focus on the 2017 election. Civil society will be determined to do what it can to ensure a free and fair election. For his part, O'Neill will be intent on maintaining his increasingly strong grip on the police and defence forces. It is likely he will try to corral the media, especially social media, which continues to be an irritant. 
If civil unrest continues, an emboldened PM may use instruments such as a state of emergency to stifle opposition (one was declared earlier this year to collect power bills). Recent developments in Turkey indicate how the power of the state can be used to suppress opposition. If he feels under threat, a state of emergency could even be used to justify deferring the election. However, the centralisation of power in the Prime Minister's office and selective application of constituency funds provides a huge incumbency advantage. O'Neill is a tough and canny politician. 
If re-elected, his tendency towards autocracy could entrench a pattern of slow decline in democracy and impair development – such as happened in Zimbabwe. And this creates opportunities for greater influence from countries with less democratic and market-oriented belief systems.

BUT, as Jamie Tahana and Johnny Blades write, pressure continues to build as the country heads towards a general strike:
Mr O'Neill's hold on power is unlikely to satisfy thousands of students and other public workers from across the country who have been protesting against his rule for weeks, creating a new level of instability in a country used to political crises. The protests came to a head in June when police opened fire on students who were trying to march on Parliament in support of the motion, seriously injuring a number of students. The academic year at the University of PNG has been cancelled, while the year at the other two main universities remains in peril after unrest at their campuses.
A strike by pilots and workers with the main airline Air Niugini has had a massive impact on transport links in a country dependent on air travel since last week, adding to the withdrawal of services by maritime workers, health and energy sector workers. 
And, as of Monday, members of PNG's National Doctors Association announced they were scaling down operations throughout the country.

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