View From The Neighbourhood: Democracy’s deficits

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Like in India and much of the world, the South Asian press as a whole has been pre-occupied with the coronavirus pandemic.

Like in India and much of the world, the South Asian press as a whole has been pre-occupied with the coronavirus pandemic. The articles and editorials read much the same, making similar points, across borders — take it seriously, don’t panic, don’t hoard masks and hand sanitiser, maintain social distance, the shock to the economy from the disease, etc. But there have also been opinion beyond corona.

The deal between the US and the Afghan Taliban has been the subject of discussion in the Pakistan press for some time now. While many in the strategic community seem to believe that it augurs well for the Pak security establishment, others have asserted that the Pakistan Taliban and other terrorist elements and warlords in the country may benefit from the deal. One of the main fears has been that the Taliban will destroy the Afghanistan government, and the nascent democracy will be nipped in the bud.

Imran Jan, in his column in The Express Tribune on March 12, makes a provocative point: “Democracy, it turns out, has its dark side and it is quite ugly. Just the recent events around the world drive the idea home.” He uses the examples of Israel (it has had three non-conclusive elections in the last year, and being PM might be the only way Benjamin Netanyahu escapes prison on corruption charges), the US and India to establish democracy’s waning appeal.

In India, he argues “Racism, murder, and bigotry have become the new face of the largest democracy. Religious discrimination is now the law of the land”. In the US, “Americans went to the polls in 2016 where the popular vote went to Hillary Clinton but the delegates voted Trump in, meaning he won by getting fewer votes. The indirect democracy in America is a check on democracy in itself”. And the 2020 contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is “between a con artist and a war criminal”. Jan also points out the problems in Putin’s Russia and in Afghanistan vis a vis elections and democracy.

Given this backdrop, and the recent diplomatic successes of the Taliban, there is only one conclusion Jan is able to draw: “Given the unproductive and unsatisfactory situation of the democratic world, the Taliban would wonder if this is what they would become by embracing the ballot. Perhaps their way is better. No succession issues. No infighting. No compromise on their cause. They will hate the West and the democratic world not for their freedoms and rights but for their dysfunction and corruption. Whether it’s the battlefield, talks or ideology, the Taliban win everywhere.”

Oli’s health

The numerically stable government led by the united communist party in Nepal is being shaken by the continuing issues with Prime Minister K P Oli’s health. After his latest surgeries and treatment, the reports suggest that he will need a long time to recover. “While the prime minister has every right to recover in peace and privacy after going through the same major surgery twice”, writes the Kathmandu Post on March 13, “his office — the executive head of the government — is such that it needs someone to fulfil the role at all times”. But Oli’s “penchant for control” seems to make this unlikely proposition.

In essence, the editorial seems to be suggesting someone like a vice president of the US — a prime minister in waiting of sorts: “…with the prime minister looking at a potential six months where his doctors advise a lower workload and lesser interactions, he and the ruling party must decide on an alternative who can complete the executive’s role—in case he cannot.”

The fact is that Oil appears to have concentrated much power in himself, and many individual ministers are not empowered to act without his clearance. Such a situation is particularly harmful at a time when the PM is not at a 100 per cent. Given the global economic crisis and Coronavirus scare, “Nepal’s government needs to be ready to face the challenges as a unit”.

Rescue politics

The March 9 editorial in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror points out a disturbing if unsurprising politics being played out after the coronavirus outbreak. On February 1, at the very beginning of the outbreak, “the Foreign Relations Ministry announced a special Sri Lankan Airlines charter flight (UL 1422) left Colombo to bring back the 33 Sri Lankan students who were stranded in Wuhan”, as it should have.

The editorial points out that there are over 5,000 Sri Lankan workers, over 95 per cent of whom are unskilled, currently stranded in South Korea, where the virus is spreading with the greatest speed after China. Why, it asks, hasn’t there been an attempt to rescue them. The editorial answers with a question: “Could it be that this is due to the fact, that the over 5,000 expatriate Sri Lankan workers in Korea are ‘unskilled workers’ from poor families of this country and that is why no effort is being made to look after their interests?”

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi