MonitorsPublished on Mar 23, 2012
Are national parties on decline? Can a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition come to power in New Delhi after the next General Elections due in 2014? Or even before, if a political crisis or coalition-accident leads to mid-term elections?
India: Will Assembly polls herald early elections to Parliament?

< class="heading1">Analysis

Are national parties on decline? Can a non-Congress, non-BJP coalition come to power in New Delhi after the next General Elections due in 2014? Or even before, if a political crisis or coalition-accident leads to mid-term elections? These are some of the prominent questions in the public discourses these days in India, after the recent Assembly elections in five States produced a mixed bag of results, yet indicating that the two national parties have failed to regain the ground that they had lost to regional outfits over the past decades.

The Assembly election results from the biggest State of Uttar Pradesh have demonstrated the decline of the two national parties -- the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the Samajwadi Party (SP) emerged as the ruling party with an absolute majority of 226 seats in the 403-seat State Legislature. The SP secured 29.2 per cent of the popular vote while the next in the line, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the other regional party which was ousted from power, secured 25.9 per cent. Even in Punjab, the regional party in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which led a coalition with the BJP, retained power by enhancing its poll percentage and increasing the number of seats, dashing the hopes of the Opposition Congress Party. The Akali Dal’s BJP partner had to settle for a fewer number of seats as well as a lesser percentage of votes compared to the previous election.

Undoubtedly, the reach of the regional parties has been growing and the sway of the national parties has been reducing over the last couple of decades. The decline of the nation’s GoP began in the Nineties when the Congress lost the 1989 General Elections, making way for the Janata Dal Government led by Prime Minister VishwanathPratap Singh. The Congress had begun losing the Independence era charm even from the Sixties, when the party lost power in nine States and just managed to scrape through in at the national-level in 1967. Though the party bounced back in 1971, despite a vertical split in the national-level, it only led to slip-ups and the Congress being routed in the post-Emergency polls of 1977, with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi too losing her seat. What needs to be remembered in the 1989 context however was that the Janata Dal-led National Front Government was supported both by the centre-BJP as well as the Left parties since the number of seats won by the coalition-leader was not sufficient to stake claim for forming the Government even in the company of regional partners.

While the Janata Dal Government did not last long, as was only to be expected under the circumstances, one of its decisions created a conducive environment for the growth of regional parties in the caste-dominated Hindi heartland, particularly in the two big States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which jointly used to send 139 members to the 542-strong LokSabha, the Lower House of Parliament. Bifurcation of the two States has brought down this total to 120, a formidable figure yet, with Jharkhand taking 14 seats from Bihar’s 54 and Uttarkhand now accounting for five of the 85 seats from Uttar Pradesh.

The 1996 elections gave birth to an anti-BJP, non-Congress United Front (UF) Government, yet with the Congress acting as the critical ‘outside underwriter’. Though the Congress did not join the Government, the fate of the UF Government was dependent on the support of a national party. After the collapse of the short-lived UF experiment following internal contradictions that also involved the Congress supporter, it was concluded that the country by and large was settling to a bi-party system of coalitions. One was led by the BJP which identified itself as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the other, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress which is at present in power.

Even in the last General Elections in 2009, the Left parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), made an effort to forge a non-Congress, non-BJP third front but the electorate at large rejected the idea. Now with the victory of the SP in UP, political commentators, analysts and observers are engaged in speculative exercise whether a third or a fourth front can be forged to replace the bi-party domination on the national politics. Undoubtedly, there are 340 Lok Sabha seats in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, which can theoretically be won by regional parties. Bbut it is only in UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu that regional parties are occupying the majority of political space. In the other States in the list, there is a contest between two regional parties, or between a regional party and one of the two national parties. It is only in the western States of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, and also Delhi, that the two national parties can hope to take on each other directly, in the absence of any major regional party.

Though the regional parties seem to on the same page on the issue of Centre versus States but there are many contradictions among them. Moreover, it would be very difficult if not impossible for regional leaders to agree on any one of them to lead such a front in order to stake a claim for the prime minister’s job. Apart from the ego clashes that the regional leaders display, it would be a very complex task to agree on a common agenda of governance and policy issues. It seems more likely that a non-Congress or non-BJP front consisting of some of the regional parties may stake claim to form the next government but it would need the support of one of the national parties.

These contradictions also make the holding of a mid-term poll difficult at least in 2012. No political party and definitely not the elected Members of Parliament is keen to hold early general elections as their attention is going to be focused on getting the next President elected to replace the present incumbent Pratibha Devi Singh Patil. This is going to be an interesting tussle between different regional parties and the national parties. Yes, there are some regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, the BijjuJanata Dal, SAD, the TelenganaRashtriyaSamiti, YSR Congress, the SP which may like to see early polls to avoid the anti-incumbency factor but would they agree on join hands is doubtful.

By 2013, political dynamics may change and elections may be held a year earlier than scheduled but that would depend on many factors. Ground realities change very fast and six months is a long time in politics.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Myanmar: From fair elections to hazy by-polls

Sripathi Narayanan

The long drawn-out struggle by Aung San SuuKyi, the stalwart of the National League of Democracy (NLD), has finally paid off but not in the spirit in which she had led her followers for more than two decades. The political career of SuuKyi over the same period of time has transformed, from being the synonym of democracy in Myanmar to one that has become a shadow of its former self. This is not a cheerful transition of her public profile, which incidentally is a mirror image of the political fortunes of Myanmar.

The rise of SuuKyi and her subsequent portrayal as the beacon of democracy in the country have undergone significant change. This has primary been the result of the direction that Myanmar’s polity has taken over the years. From the dry and dull days of Ne Win to the failed or sabotaged days of the 1990 elections, politics as a whole is being determined not by any organic evolution but by managed chaos.

The 1990 election did sound out a clear verdict, which was anti-junta, and anyone who had championed the anti-military political cause would have made an electoral killing. The NLD and its leadership with their rich and all-appealing lineage had sealed a political arrangement with a section of the diverse ethnic groups, and went on to consolidate their position vis-à-vis the Tatmadaw (the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar). The landslide victory of the NLD-led Opposition was more than a reason enough for the Tatmadaw to question its own future as well as that of the State when the nation had been administered by an elected civilian government. This was so as the Ne Win era and the subsequent reorganisation of the leadership post-1988 carried the burden of the past, a baggage that haunts the country even today. At the same time, the State as an entity was defined by the military as an extension of itself, and the survival of the two were interconnected.

Thus under this light, the junta had announced its ‘Roadmap to democracy’ (officially known as the ‘Roadmap to Disciplined-flourishing Democracy’) in 2003, with the aim of guiding the political process of the otherwise reclusive nation. This roadmap was at best a clear adherence to guided political process which would be subservient to the military. This roadmap, as stated, was to steer the nation to its logical conclusion of a guided democracy under the tutelage of the Tatmadaw. Contrary to all the criticism that has rightly been placed at the doorstep of the junta, it has gone to fuel the success of the regime in implementing their stated (or implied) political position as well as making room for the re-entry of the NLD and its leadership into the so-called mainstream politics.

The political acumen of the junta is one that needs to be admired and may awe the world in the days to come. The junta as an entity has consolidated its position while gaining unspecified recognition from the outside world to its efforts. This is so, as the sham of an election under the existing system and the conspicuous absence of any meaningful Opposition had resulted in the military in civvies to securing the reins of power under a civilian system. At the same time, the admission of the NLD into the political arena at a later date had given the so-called civilian administration the room to mend the shattered fence called democracy.

This, when accompanied by the upcoming by-election to a total of 48 seats (40 for the Lower House of Parliament, six to the Upper House and the remaining two for provincial Assemblies) has provided the Government the required political mileage to legitimise its otherwise questionable existence. At the same time, the image of the NLD and all that has gone to invest in that image have made things rather easy in a number of ways. First and foremost is that the outcome of the by-election will not have any worthwhile impact on the state of affairs in the nation. Secondly, the participation of the NLD in the by-polls irrespective of the results will go on to dampen the negative illustration of Myanmar in the international community. Last and definitely the most momentous outcome is that the Opposition has acknowledged the supremacy of the Tatmadaw and would become a part of the political system on the terms set by the Government and not the other way.

Thus, for the foreseeable future the political landscape of the nation would not allow any room for repeat of either 1988 or 1990. At the same time, the by-election if held in a free and fair manner (or even a questionable process with a favourable result) would ease the sanctions regime of the past two decades. At the same time, it will also go on to change the goal-post from real democracy to one that’s acceptable to all (which includes the army, the NLD and the international community). In addition to this, the Government has played its cards well with respect to poll monitors. The acceptance of election observers from other South-East Asian countries, and not from other nations, serves two purposes. It gives the electoral process legitimacy if it’s is free and fair. At present there is limited room to be suspicious of the electoral process, since the regime has got more to lose than to gain from such tactics. With this, the Government might face little resistance from its regional neighbours. It is in the interest of other South-East Asian nations to nudge the calibrated efforts of Myanmar as the consequential spinoff effects outweigh the fallout of continuing criticism of Nay Pyi Daw.

Thus, to conclude, the by-election in totality is a reflection on the changing prospects of Myanmar, a nation which the international community awaits to embrace with open arms. The by-elections also reflect on the how the NLD and Aung San SuuKyi have matured politically in the light of the changing political fortunes in the country. For the NLD, this election is an exercise to find a meaningful role within the Myanmar of the future, even while striving to be relevant without losing out its principles to the developments of the past so many months.

The big question is not the final tally of the by-election but what awaits the nation in the near-term. Will the polity witness an organic evolution that paves the way for a vibrant and a dynamic polity within its current confines or will Myanmar fritter away its flirtatious courtship with political reforms? The weeks and months after the by-polls would hold the key to the answer, if not the answer itself.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Party makes Minister quit at Centre

Four days after he presented the Railway Budget and earned the ire of his party leadership for his proposal to hike passenger fares, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi resigned from the Union Cabinet on Sunday morning, hours before Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s arrival in New Delhi.

India’s already chaotic government was thrown into more disarray on Thursday after the rail minister was reprimanded by his own party after announcing a small fare hike.

The fighting exposes rifts inside the Trinamool Congress party, a powerful regional group that controls the rail ministry and heads the government in the state of West Bengal. The group has grown increasingly rebellious against the Congress-led government’s legislative agenda, leading to fears it could bolt the governing coalition and force an early election.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 19, 2012,, March 16, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget, towards tax code

It didn’t announce any bold reforms, nor hand out any big tax-cuts. Even so, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s budget for 2012-13 is good news because it is another baby step towards the Direct Taxes Code (DTC).

The crucial reform, which promises to overhaul the direct tax regime, has been delayed once again, but some provisions have found their way into the tax structure. Take the budget proposal that a life insurance policy must offer a cover of at least 10 times the annual premium for tax benefits.

This step is expected to control border killings. BGB chief claimed that instead of firing, BSF men now detain intruders and hand them over to the local police for further action.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, March 17, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC reaffirms Vodafone ruling

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier dismissal of a $2.2 billion tax claim on Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) after the government last month petitioned it to reconsider its decision.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar rejected a Government plea to review the court’s January decision to dismiss a tax claim on Newbury, England-based Vodafone’s 2007 purchase of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd’s India operations, the court master said citing the chief justice.

The dismissal comes after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the budget speech proposed an amendment in the law that will enable the Government to retrospectively tax cross-border transactions. Once the Government makes the change in the law, it could petition the nation’s top court again, Dinesh Kanabar, deputy chief executive officer at KPMG’s India operations, said.
< class="text11verdana">, March 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Work restarts at Koodamkulam n-plant

Work to start up a large nuclear power plant on the southern tip on India resumed on Tuesday after police arrested dozens of protesters who had blocked access to the site for months, in a breakthrough for the power-short emerging economy.

The Koodamkulam project will initially provide two gigawatts of electricity - enough to power 20 million Indian homes.

Twenty-four years in the making, the Russian-built plant was supposed to be switched on last year, but protesters surrounded it after the nuclear accident in Japan.
< class="text11verdana">, March 20, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Big-time graft in coal sector

The Government lost up to $210 billion in revenue by selling coal deposits too cheaply, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), renewing pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is already reeling from corruption scandals.

Opposition parties reacted with outrage in parliament on Thursday to the report, which was leaked to the Times of India. The session was adjourned and the government said it would respond once it had verified the facts.

"We are examining the news report and I have called for records. After that I will reply," Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal told reporters.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sugar exports to Iran

Indian traders have struck deals to export 60,000 tonnes of raw sugar to Iran March-April delivery, three trade sources said on Monday, marking their first sales of the sweetener to Tehran since western sanctions were tightened at the start of 2012.

The exports are within the ceiling of two million tons of sales already allowed by New Delhi under the open general license (OGL) scheme.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 19, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists abduct two Italian tourists

Maoist rebels abducted two Italian men in a poor eastern Indian state and demanded that the state government stop all anti-Maoist operations in return for their release, police and the rebels said Sunday.

The two men were seized late Saturday while they were on a trek in the popular tourist resort of Daringibadi in Kandamal, Orissa state official U.N. Behera said.

Police identified the men as Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, but did not give any other details.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 18, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nasheed seeks pension, immunity

The President’s Office has raised questions over former President Mohamed Nasheed’s eligibility for constitutionally-provided immunity and privileges.

Article 128 of the Constitution guarantees “the highest honour, dignity, protection, financial privileges and other privileges” to any person who has served in the office of the President and stepped down without committing any offences”.However, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said Nasheed’s eligibility was in question since he had not completed a full-five year term. Nasheed resigned in his fourth year of office, an act he later claimed was “under duress”.

Riza pointed to Article 3 (a) of the Former Presidents’ Immunity and Privileges Act, which affords a monthly allowance of RF 50,000 ($ 3243) for a president who has served one term, and Rf 75,000 for a president who has served two terms ($ 4864).Riza said the clause specifies that a President has to complete a five-year term in order to be eligible for financial benefits.

But Nasheed’s former Legal Affairs Secretary Hisaan Hussein said the Constitution overrides the Former Presidents’ Immunity and Privileges Act, and said Nasheed had a “right” to immunity and privileges. Further, Article 12 of the Immunity and Privileges Act, interprets former President to be one “who stepped down after completion of term or resigned from office” without committing an unlawful act, she noted.

Even if the government’s concerns were valid, a full term is specified only with regard to financial benefits, and not in clauses relating to accommodation allowances, health care coverage, security, and travel arrangements, she said. Yet, except for the provision of security, the Government had refused to extend any privileges to Nasheed, Hisaan said.

Riza said President Waheed had only arranged for Nasheed’s security “through special privileges afforded to the President.”

In separate development, the Ministry of Education has ordered schools to revise grade 7 Social Studies textbook, and add the following statement: “President Nasheed resigned on 7 February 2012 after three years and two months in office. Hence, according to the Constitution, Vice-President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik was sworn in as President.”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party condemned the move citing the party’s continued concerns over Waheed’s legitimacy.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Minivan News, March 23, 2012, Haveeru, March 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">There is no supreme leader in MDP: Didi

President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Dr. Ibrahim Didi has said that the charter of MDP does not mention any stipulation of the party to have a supreme leader and that the party has no supreme leader. In a 16-second long audio leaked on some social networks, MDP President Dr.Didi said that it is not his opinion but the apparent reality.

“This is not my idea. Isn’t it? This is the apparent reality as you have mentioned. That title is not even mentioned on the charter. The charter is available on our website. Last congress was held when MDP was the ruling party. So when the party is the ruling party and the President is our Presidential Candidate then he will be our highest authority. But not a Supreme Leader. A resolution was proposed to the congress. If you take a look at what was passed and what was not, you will see that this resolution wasn’t passed. You have understood me, right? It wasn’t passed. But despite it being rejected at the congress it was included in charter with the many amendments brought to it. Understood? So some people, especially those who worked at the President’s Office then promoted it, right? So if they promote a Supreme Leader. And the media also follows them. That is how it came to be,” he said.

Dr. Didi added, “Do you know what they proposed? In their resolution it was stated that if the President is from our party then the party’s highest authority will be him. Then the second in authority is the President of the party. And in the next article it clearly mentions that when the party is in the opposition the highest authority of the party will be the party’s President.”

“So what I am saying is even if it was passed in the congress who would be the highest authority in the party today? The party’s President. The elected President of the party,” he said.

In another audio of DrDidi which surfaced on the social networks, he is heard to be saying that the current Government was a ‘national unity government’ and the government shows no signs of it being a military dictatorship.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Haveeru, March 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to work with global partners

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah, has expressed his determination to work with the EU and other international partners in resolving the political tensions in the Maldives.

He said this responding to the statement by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of European Union with regard to the situation in the Maldives. In his response, the Foreign Minister thanked the EU for its continued engagement with the Maldives.

In a letter to Baroness Ashton, Minister Abdul Samad Abdullah reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to resolving the current political tensions and to reassert normal democratic processes and rule of law. He noted that the Government has already established an independent investigation mechanism to look into events of 7th February. That mechanism has requested international support for the completion of its mandate.

The Foreign Minister also wrote that in the interests of promoting national unity, President Dr Mohamed Waheed has given a commitment to discuss the possibility of holding early elections, provided that there is consensus to do so among political parties, and that the necessary amendments are made to the Constitution.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Miadhu, March 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">External monitors for by-polls

The Government has announced that it will be permitting election monitors from other nation to oversee the April 1 by-election. An official told the media that the poll monitors would be a joint team from ASEAN, the EU, the US and the UN, and it was up to these nations to decide it they want to send a team to monitor the by-elections. Myanmar has invited a five-member election delegation along with over two dozen parliamentarians and media representatives from the ASEAN.

On the other hand the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), a Bangkok-based organisation that monitors elections in the region, said that its coordinator was deported from Burma on Tuesday.

Australia too will be sending its team of election monitors along with the US and other nations. However the US has said that this was a ‘good first step but falls short of complete transparency’, since the monitoring of elections is a long to ensure that they are free and fair is a process that is time consuming and the current window of opportunity is a limited but symbolic one.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN chief plans post-poll visit

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed the hope that reforms in military-ruled Myanmar will help ensure transparent polls next month and is considering a visit to the nation after the polls.

Ban told reporters while in Malaysia that the UN was is in discussions with stake-holders to "ensure that elections will be held in a credible, democratic, open and transparent manner." While adding that he has been encouraged by Myanmar’s reforms and added that the military’s recently announced plan to allow some foreign election observers is welcome news and that the reforms have "given a greater sense of hope and expectations" to the international community.
< class="text11verdana">Source::, March 21, 22, 2012; March 21, 22, 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Suu Kyi seeks ethnic vote

Aung San Suu Kyi has reached out to ethnic Chinese and minority voters on the campaign trail in the north parts of the country ahead of April 1 by-elections.

Addressing an election rally in the town of Lashio, which is near the border with China, Suu Kyi said some people were trying to stir up the Chinese community against her National League for Democracy (NLD).

“I heard that Chinese businessmen and merchants were threatened. They were threatened that their business could be harmed if our NLD won as we have very close relations with Western countries,” she said.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 17, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Forced labour to go 2015

The Government has signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to end forced labour by 2015. Deputy Labour Minister MyintThein signed the memorandum of understanding with an ILO liaison officer in the capital, Naypyidaw. The government has signed MoUs with ILO and has been cooperating with ILO in combating the forced labour and is committed to eradicate it from the country by 2015.

In June last year (2011), the ILO’s branch in Yangon said it had received 506 complaints related to forced labour since the start of 2010 -- more than double the number seen during the previous three years. However, it said the increase was down to "awareness-raising activities" to ensure people knew their rights.

The ILO has said it had found a pattern of forced labour caused by a lack of proper funding for projects demanded from rural authorities. But the main problem involved adults and youngsters pressed into working for the army.
< class="text11verdana">Source:, March 17, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Baidya demands PM’s resignation

Vice-chairman of UCPN (Maoist) Mohan Baidya has instructed party cadres to be ready for revolt, saying a new Constitution was unlike to be promulgated by the May 27 deadline.

Clear signs have emerged of the growing rift within UCPN (Maoist). On March 17, the Baidya-led faction announced a series of protests to topple, what they call, "the anti-national government" and to draft "people´s constitution".

Addressing a meeting with leaders and cadres of Maoist-affiliated Mithila State Committee in Janakpur, Baidya stated that the party should go for revolt and it would be against dictators and anti-federalism forces in the country. Baidya, however, said that he is not in favour of splitting the party.

He has accused party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda and Vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai of being revisionist. Baidya has instructed cadres to keep intra-party struggle against revisionism and dictatorship within the party.
< class="text11verdana">,, March 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Row over funds for Prachanda’s son

In a move which invited immediate protests and media criticism, the Government decided to dole out NRs 20 million to a private group for a planned expedition to Mt. Everest. Maoist chairman Prachanda’s son, who was to play a key role in the expedition, has been mired in controversy since the grant was announced on March 16.

With a formal Government announcement on the rollback over the issue pending, Prakash Dahal, son of Prachanda, announced later he did not need any money for the expedition. He said he had “rejected” the Government’s offer. The expedition hoped to apply pressure on the Constituent Assembly to complete the Constitution-making process on time.

Protesters, mainly youth belonging to the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML burnt Bhattarai’s effigy to protest the grant.

Meanwhile, PM Bhattarai’s daughter, a university student, also declined to accept her nomination as a board member of the Cricket Association of Nepal. It was alleged that she got the prestigious membership through her father’s recommendation.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, March 19, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Halt to Gurkha recruitment

Indian and British armies may no longer be able to employ Gurkhas following a Nepalese Government decision to eventually stop their recruitment in foreign countries.

The Government has directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries concerned to implement recommendations of a report that seeks to ultimately halt Gurkha recruitment in foreign armies.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Council of Ministers sent letters to the ministries on March 9 directing them to initiate procedures for implementing recommendations of the report titled “Nepal’s Foreign Policy in Changed Context: 2012”, saying it was endorsed by a House panel.
< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI, March 19, 2012, The Hindustan Times, March 22, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fifth year for Zardari

It was a week of defining consolidations in democracy movement of Pakistan. First, Asif Ali Zardari became the first ever President to enter fifth year of presidency. In his fifth address to the annual joint session of Parliament, he described his achievement as a “march of democracy”

In a development that can have long-term bearing on Pakistan’s foreign policy, a joint sitting of Parliament deliberated upon the recommendation of the Raza Rabbani Committee set up to review US-Pak ties and its future. The committee unilaterally resolved to seek an unconditional apology from the US for the Salala incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in deadly air strikes in November following which ties were severed and NATO supplies were blocked.

Among other recommendations of the committee was a unanimous demand to end drone operations inside Pakistan and prior approval from Parliament to be required in case any territory or base of Pakistan is to be used in the war on terror.

The US has accepted to publicly apologise but has decided to not comment further until the deliberations are over on the National Security Committee’s recommendations. This is perhaps the first time a Parliament has exercised its legitimate space to direct the foreign policy of the nation without involving the army.
< class="text11verdana">Source: : The Dawn 20-21, 2012,The Express Tribune, March 20-21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India offers gas

The Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) has offered natural gas supply to Pakistan. The offer was made to a visiting delegation from across the border that was in New Delhi deliberating trade issues with the Petroleum Ministry.

GAIL, which currently operates a Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline from Dahej in Gujarat to Bhatinda in Punjab, has offered to extend the pipeline beyond the border. Bhatinda is at a distance of 25 km from the Pakistani border. Since Pakistan has not built any LNG import terminal so far, this venture would be more rationale for Pakistan to pursue.

Facing an acute shortage of energy resources, which is reflected in the protests against power outages this week; the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, announced a 21% hike in power tariffs.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Dawn; The Daily Times. March 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PAF raid in Orakzai claims 26

In continuing raids extending two weeks, the Pakistani Air Force killed 26 militants in Upper Orakzai and Kurram Agency. Orakzai is one of the most lawless areas in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, which is made up of seven districts near the Afghan border. Pakistan launched a major operation in Orakzai in March last year after militants fled a sweeping offensive in the nearby tribal district of South Waziristan. Late last year military officials said lower Orakzai had been cleared, but the militant threat persisted in some pockets of the upper part of the area.

The military operation was directed at terrorists belonging to the Taliban-linked Laskhar-e-Islam that is led by warlord MangalBagh. Mangal was later reported killed by the military.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Times. March 17 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PTI back in action

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf appointed veteran politician Javed Hashmi as its new President. Appearing after a lay-off, PTI chairman Imran Khan addressed two rallies on this occasion at Bahawalnagar and Hasilpur respectively.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Imran said that party’s countrywide membership campaign will begin from Sunday. Around 4 to 5 million party members will elect party officials, he added. Earlier, Pakistan Democratic Party of late NawaabzadaNasrullah Khan merged itself with the PTI further strengthening its cadre.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Express Tribune. March 20 2012.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UNHRC adopts anti-Sri Lanka resolution The US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UNHRC in Geneva was adopted short while ago with 24 countries voting for and 15 against. Eight abstained.

India voted in favour of a resolution sponsored by the US, among others, at the UNHRC session. Sri Lanka and its allies on the 47-member council had fiercely resisted the resolution saying it unduly interfered in the country’s domestic affairs and could hinder its reconciliation process.

But backers, such as the US, the European Union and India, say credible probes into alleged crimes committed by both sides are an important step for justice and equality in post-conflict Sri Lanka.

China, Russia, Cuba, and South Asian neighbours, Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan backed Sri Lanka and opposed the proposed UN resolution.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Daily Mirror Online, March 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Navi Pillay warns Sri Lanka

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay warned that there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in the aftermath of the UNHRC’s adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on Sri Lanka.

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville quoting Navi Pillay said that during the UNHRC session, there has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan government delegation. Intimidation and harassment of Sri Lankan civil society activists have also been reported in other locations around Geneva.

On the other hand, the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva received an anonymous threatening letter which is being followed up by the police and UN security.
< class="text11verdana">Source:Daily Mirror Online, March 23, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM asks India to reciprocate

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has India to conclude the Teesta river water-sharing treaty and include Bangladeshi experts in any study group on Tipaimukh Dam. She also urged India to reciprocate with the steps taken by Bangladesh for improving relations between the two neighbouring countries.

The Prime Minister made these comments during her meeting with newly-appointed Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran.

Sheikh Hasina also sought concrete steps from Indian government to stop the killing of Bangladeshi citizens along the border by Indian border guards and have the Land Boundary Agreement ratified by the Indian parliament. She also urged India to stop the construction of dams which are harmful to the environment and ecological balance.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Independent, March 19, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">BNP and ISI links

Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has claimed that ISI had funded Bangladesh Nationalist Party during the 1991 parliamentary elections. He made this confession during a Pakistan Supreme Court hearing on the spy agency’s mandate.

Recently, a UAE-based daily had alleged that ISI paid Rs 50 crore to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia ahead of the 1991 elections in which the party won and formed the Government.

This has legitimised the speculation about ISI’s links with the BNP. ShiekhHasina, Prime Minister and chief of BNP’s rival Awami League, in her reaction said that as days go by, the truth is coming to light. She also expressed hope that in the future it will also come in the light that how much money BNP had taken from ISI during 2001 election.

The BNP claimed that Durani in his confession did not mention anything about the intelligence organisation funding to the party.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 17, 2012,The Independent. March 19, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Khaleda’s son indicted

Tarique Rahman, senior vice-chairman Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and eldest son of party chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, and 29 others, including former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, were indicted by a Dhaka court, this week, for the grenade attack on an Awami League (AL) rally in the city on August 21, 2004.

Twenty-four people, including the AL’s then secretary for women’s affairs, Ivy Rahman, died in the grenade attack, but then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped it. The incident left 200 people injured.

The BNP, however, alleged that Tarique Rahman had been falsely implicated in the August 21 grenade attack cases only to keep him away from politics. The party claimed that the charge sheet against Tarique Rahman is politically motivated.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, March 19-20, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">‘No’ to night border curfew

While declining to impose night curfew along the international border to curb illegal migration and smuggling, Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) has instead offered to sensitise people against travelling without valid documents to India, warning them about the “serious legal consequences”. The BGB’s assurance to Border Security Force (BSF) followed at the end of the 35th Border Coordination Conference between the two border guarding forces held in New Delhi.

BGB Director-General, Maj-Gen Anwar Hussain, who led the 21-member Bangladeshi delegation, said that they do not believe in night curfew. India has for long has been insisting on night curfew on the Bangladeshi side. India imposes night curfew on its side to check illegal movement.

The two sides also agreed for additional vigilance particularly in the areas of earmarked sensitive Border out Posts (Post) and examine other possible measures that could be taken to restrict movement of smugglers and drug traffickers in bordering areas during hours of darkness.
< class="text11verdana">Source:The Assam Tribune, March 20, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese firms may shift to Bangladesh

Many Chinese companies are keen to shift to Bangladesh to cash in on low wages and availability of workers there, according to Li Jun, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh. The flow of Chinese investment in Bangladesh will increase, if the Government can supply adequate gas and power to industrial units, he said.

Many Chinese companies are relocating their factories to the neighbouring countries to remain competitive in the international market.

Since Bangladesh has plenty of cheap labour, the Chinese government is encouraging more qualified Chinese enterprises to invest in Bangladesh, said Jun.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 20, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Islamic micro-credit growing

Islamic microfinance has grown by more than sixteen times in Bangladesh in the last two years mainly due to an aggressive campaign by Islamic banks. The number of Islamic microfinance clients has also more than doubled to 4.48 lakh last year from 2.11 lakh two years ago informed Bangladesh Bank (BB) Governor AtiurRahman.

The disbursement of Islamic microfinance has reached to Taka 4,620 crore or 8.38 percent of the total Islamic financing till December 2011 from Taka 282.38 crore or 0.93 percent at the end of 2009, added the governor. This funding is growing due to avid participation of the Islamic banks in the financial inclusion campaign, observed Atiur.

He further said that BB has been encouraging the development of an Islamic money market in the country and the central bank has already approved a proposal by Islamic Development Bank to set up an Islamic microfinance institution in the country.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HC orders Facebook censorship

The High Court has directed the Government to immediately block all pages, and links on website, especially of the Facebook, that are sharing sensitive cartoons and pictures against Islam.

In response to a writ petition, the court also issued a rule upon the government to explain in four weeks why it should not be directed to punish those who are responsible for publishing such contents on the website.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, March 22, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Moratorium on bank withdrawals

The Government has issued a fresh set of guidelines to address the on-going rupee crunch. This includes limiting over-the-counter bank transaction to Nu 5,000 from, and to Nu 10,000 from the automatic teller machines. The move is to allow Indian traders to deposit whatever amount of Ngultrum they have with them in the Bhutanese banks in the border towns, so that they can be given Indian rupees later. The reason for limiting withdrawals for Bhutanese is to ensure that they do not offer cash to their Indian traders, so that they can have INR later.

The central bank closed the accounts of Indian traders, worth over more than Nu 3.5 billion in Bhutanese banks beginning this month. “By allowing the Indian traders to deposit whatever amount of Ngultrums they have, it will ensure the Ngultrum is circulated for exchange only within the country,” a banker said. “We’ll also know the exact amount of Ngultrums held by the Indian traders.”

In a bid to increase liquidity domestically the Royal Monitory Authority has upped the interest’s rates from a minimum of two per cent to a maximum of 8.5 per cent on all fixed deposit. The corresponding old rates were to the tune of 1.5 percent to four per cent.

While the run on the Indian Rupee continues, the Kingdom also witnessed a fetish for international credit cards. This is so as such cards allow Rupee withdrawals from ATMs in more than 100 countries. Bank of Bhutan’s Visa domestic debit card also has access to any of the ATMs in India and Nepal that will allow withdrawal of rupees.

Incidentally the Economic Affairs and the Finance Ministers have called upon the nation to look beyond the rupee crunch by adding value to their existing system which could result in a greater inflow of foreign exchange and attain economic self-reliance.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Power sale to meet rupee crunch?

The Government is contemplating as to whether it can sell hydro-electricity in the Indian energy market, to address the rupee crunch. The sale of such energy to India will result in the inflow of Rupee, thereby negating the existing problem.

The 60-megawatt (MW) Basochu project in Wangdue was built with Austrian assistance which was meant for domestic consumption is being tip for this purpose.
< class="text11verdana">Source: March 22-23, 2012;, March 17, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Power sale to India on cards

Bhutan could be earning yearly gross revenue of around Nu 62 billion from domestic sale and export of surplus power to India by 2020, a study by the department of energy projects. The study also suggests that Bhutan may not be able to harness 10,000 MW of power by the year.

In 2009, Bhutan and India agreed on a project to tap 10,000 MW from Bhutan’s snow fed rivers by 2020, to sell excess power to India. The earnings in the projections are from Punatsangchu I and II, Mangdechu, Kholongchu, Amochu, Chamkharchu, Wangchu, Bunakha, Dagachu and Nikachu.

These projects have a combined capacity of 5,176 MW. Added to existing generation from four existing projects, the total capacity in 2020 would be 6,664MW. While calculating the Nu 62 billion revenue projection, projected earnings from Sunkosh and Kurigongri were not included.
< class="text11verdana">Source: March 21, 2012

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Eligibility for State-funding

Political parties interested in contesting the upcoming general election should secure at least 10 percent of the total votes cast in the primaries, to stay eligible for the public election fund in the next election.

“In case we have a primary next year, the parties, whether they make it to general round or not, should have at least 10 percent of the total valid vote cast, to be entitled for the 2018 election fund,” an Election Commission official said.

The rule is highlighted in the Public Election Fund Act, but not many took notice, since the country has seen only one National Assembly election so far, that too a general round. But with at least three “interested groups” surfacing to form political parties, and the two existing ones declaring intentions to stay on, a primary is highly likely, which means the rule will apply.

In 2008, that did not see a primary, the election commission provided Nu 100,000 as campaign fund to each candidate in each constituency of the two political parties. TshewangPenjor also said that parties unable to secure the required percentage of votes in the primaries to receive the election fund would still be allowed to contest the next election.

According to the election Act a party which fails to secure at least 10 percent of the total valid votes cast, in two successive primaries will be totally removed from the register of political parties. But the law is unclear on how parties disqualified from receiving fund could function during the next election. “They could probably use their own fund, because the rule doesn’t say they can’t,” he said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: March 23, 2012

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
Bangladesh:Dr.Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Dr. Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Pakistan-Abhishek Dadhich;

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.