MonitorsPublished on Feb 25, 2011
With the first-ever local council elections concluding without incidents, Maldives has completed the first phase of multi-party democracy introduced with the presidential polls of October-November 2011.
It's advantage MDP in Maldives now

< class="heading1">Analysis

With the first-ever local council elections concluding without incidents, Maldives has completed the first phase of multi-party democracy introduced with the presidential polls of October-November 2008. Considering that the nation had faced tumultuous tests to its infant democracy in the intervening period, the very conduct and the consequent completion of the local council elections itself is a great achievement, for which President Mohammed Nasheed and his ruling Maldivian Democracy Party (MDP) can claim credit.

In a way, the Government should share the laurels in this regard with the political Opposition, starting with the erstwhile ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). Despite facing internal divisions and dissensions, in which former President and party founder, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, played no mean part, the fact that the DRP and other sections of the Opposition participated in the local council elections and went through the motions without protest or much complaints against the ruling dispensation shows an inherent and possibly abiding interest in multi-party democracy. A poll boycott by the Opposition, citing usual reasons cited by the Opposition in Third World democracies such as abuse of Governmental power, and also money and muscle power by the ruling party, could have made any MDP victory sound hollow. In turn, it could have also rendered the democratic process farcical, at least for now.

The local council elections were important for more reasons than one. First, the creation of local councils, under a decentralisation plan promised by President Nasheed and executed with equal alacrity, meant that he had resisted temptations to review the process. As much political in nature as it was constitutional, the scheme remodelled the existing ’atoll-centric administrations’ into a Province-centric approach. Thus, there were both Provincial Councils and down the line, the Island Councils, including urban councils in those like the national capital of Male, the Southern Province capital of Addu, etc. The elections were held for both levels, and sought to replace the nominees of President Nasheed’s Government, through the democratic process. The Opposition, which had opposed the decentralisation scheme as also the nomination process, as they interfered with the traditional support base of the DRP, institutionalised when Gayoom was President for 30 long years, however participated in the polls. This, in turn, rendered as much credibility to the process, over and above the legitimacy that it enjoyed.

Two, and more important, the local council elections were the last in the three-phase election process, which had earlier included that for the presidency and later for Parliament - all three under the new Constitution. The presidential polls saw Candidate Nasheed of the combined Opposition of the day emerging sure-winner in the second, run-off round, after the losers in the first round gathered around him. By the time the parliamentary polls were held six months later, some of those whose crucial vote-share went to make his election possible had parted company and were seen drifting towards the DRP parent from which they had parted, either as individuals or in groups. This too may have contributed to the Opposition, led by the DRP but divided still, winning a comfortable majority, leading to ’cohabitation problem’ under the scheme of Executive Presidency, which might have been otherwise unsuited to a small nation like the Maldives, where exigencies of democracy had not been fully understood. Nor was it kind on the nation and its people, who had always been ruled by a single leader through a system of island representatives, to expect them to absorb aspects of western democracy that were anyway alien to their grain. Even when Maldives became a Republic, elections were centred on voting for or against a single-candidate, thus making the very process and consequent choice whimsical.

The third and most important aspect of the local council elections was its role as a referendum on the Nasheed administration after the new President assumed office, under a totally new scheme in November 2008. While democracy was the clarion call on which the MDP had based its presidential poll campaign, it soon became clear that most people who voted him in had voted for ’change’ rather than democracy, per se. This meant that going beyond aspects of democracy, the Nasheed leadership also had to usher in meaningful change into the lives of individuals and in the islands, cut off as they had been from the capital of Male and from one another, too. In a way, President Gayoom too had ushered in change when he took over as far back as 1978, but after a time, it all fell into a pattern, thus replacing development, particularly social development, with what came to be described by the urban, educated youth as ’despotic rule’. In fact, ’modern, English-based’ education, modelled on the British Cambridge scheme, for which examinations too were conducted by the UK institution, was a contribution of the Gayoom regime. So were the hospitals dotting the near-200 inhabited islands forming the archipelago. But they refused to grow with the people, leading to a stagnation and consequent restlessness in the new-generation beneficiaries who had been born into the new environment and wanted more in their time. Given to a model and method, the ageing regime had developed interest groups, which refused to see beyond its nose.

It is in this background that the Nasheed dispensation ushered in change to the lives of the average ’islander’, cut off from the Male-based civilisation and administration. Democracy, as understood by the new-generation in urban Male, did not make much difference to lives in the islands, where too, however, the advent of television had made a simultaneous change to the way people understood politics and governance. The Gayoom regime was unfamiliar with the undercurrent of these societal changes, whereas President Nasheed, 42, when he assumed office, and his new-generation MDP, were alive to the concerns, consequences and hence possibilities, too. Some of the social welfare schemes that the MDP and Candidate Nasheed thus promised in the presidential poll campaign were as much imaginative when made - as they became effective afterward. Among them was/is the Rf 2000 p.m. pension to the ’Senior Citizens’, men and women, above the age of 65. In effect, it meant a substantial additional income to the families, and benefited the rural folk even more - considering that they had two individuals now in the ’non-productive’ age-group to feed. It meant a lot more in terms of the urban-based migration, where the migrant families were becoming increasingly nuclear, citing the real space-crunch for which Male is famous even outside the country.

Unlike understood outside the country, modern education has been a key focus of societal interest across Maldives. The existing system having frozen at the O-Level, the Nasheed leadership promised institutions of higher learning that went beyond diploma courses in tourism and such other industries with a limited interest and scope. The President has since followed up on this promise with the nation’s first university but even when the local council elections became due, the news was out in the open. But on hand, the Government had already extended Rf 1000 pm scholarship for students from smaller islands who had to settle down in relatively larger ones to pursue high school education, up to O-Level or A-Level. This was a boon to families that had to trans-locate almost lock, stock and barrel, as in the absence of inter-island ferry services, mobility of the school children on a daily basis was almost impossible.

It is here that the imaginative scheme of the Nasheed Government in providing atoll-centric, cyclic ferry services among all major islands in the group has made a huge impact. The two-way ferry service that takes almost a day to travel in the opposite directions each day has made life simpler and easier for the island population, whose numbers are often in three-digits and at times in two-digits. Of course, much more needs to be done on this score but linking the operation of ferry service to the allotment of uninhabited islands for promoting resorts for foreign tourists has captured the imagination of all stake-holders and has outlived the Opposition criticism, since. So are the Government’s attempts at upgrading the facilities at Government-run hospitals all across the country, and the performance of other utilities like the generation and supply of electricity and potable water - both of which are a huge problem and a must, too, in a country surrounded by salt water sea on all sides. Otherwise, too, the people, particularly the urban voters seem willing to wait for President Nasheed and the MDP dispensation time to deliver on their pledges on the development front, starting with the expansion of the Male International Airport, where the Indian infrastructure major, GMR Group, was caught in a political controversy almost since inception - rather than prejudge issues, based on the half-truths ferreted out by the Opposition, whose credibility had been stake as all its leaders had links with the Gayoom past of the nation’s political administration, one way or the other.

In a way, the present vote that has helped the MDP stabilise itself is a vote for hope that the Nasheed leadership should be encouraged to deliver on the promises. That way, the local council elections have shifted the focus on to President Nasheed and away from predecessor Gayoom. With presidential polls due in October 2013, the Government would be evaluated on the promises that it had made and against the promises that it had kept. The negative campaign on democracy-related issues, focussing on President Gayoom too would have to end, that too after the Government employees, constituting nearly 10 per cent of the 350,000-population had felt overcome their reservations at the IMF-induced job and salary-cuts after they were restored ahead of the local government elections and way ahead of the presidential polls, as only had been promised and/or hoped for. The party has now got the breather that it sorely lacked for keeping up on the promises before the presidential elections two years hence, but then it would then be judged on performance, and not just promises - and not certainly on issues such as ’transitional justice’ that the leadership was often talking about in handling President Gayoom on the one hand, and as a diversionary tactic to save face against emerging odd of the day.

With the official polling figures under compilations, there are reasons to believe those put out by the MDP. The party’s claims that it had polled 44 per cent of the popular vote, up from the 25 per cent that Candidate Nasheed had registered in the first round of presidential polls in 2008 may need independent verification but even critics do not contest the claims as wholly out of turn. Though DRP claimed early on that the party had polled 10,000 votes more than the MDP across the country, the claims need to be matched against a system in which the ’island population’ cast multiple votes against the urban voters, like those in Male and Addu, where the MDP has almost swept the local council polls single-handedly. That way, the re-entry of President Gayoom into the poll campaign, and the purported challenge that he threw at his chosen political successor, Thasmeen Ali, by ploughing a lone electoral burrow, ended up in post-poll violence targeting the supporters of the latter. In the coming days, the DRP would be busy patching up its internal differences or widening the emerging chasm, with not much time left for following up on its existing and emerging allegations against the MDP Government.

Adding to the chagrin of the DRP, Gayoom’s half-brother and one-time top aide, Abdullah Yameen, has openly announced his intention to contest for the party nomination for the 2013 presidential polls. How he would be able to do it when Yameen is heading a political party of his own, named the People’s Alliance (PA) is anybody’s guess. With Gayoom’s voter-level acceptance remaining suspect beyond select islands at the end of the local council elections, it is anybody’s guess if he would be able to push the presidential nomination of Yameen or anyone else of his choosing - or would even want to enter the fray himself, after announcing his retirement from active politics at the end of the history-making presidential polls that he lost in 2008. At the same time, Thasmeen Ali, whom the party had nominated as the presidential candidate even when electing him party leader (with Gayoom elevated as sinecure ’Supreme Leader’) as far back as 2009 is still groping for cadre-support. Wily-nily, it is going to create an internal situation that the DRP is going to find it difficult to handle. The ball is in Gayoom’s court and depending on how he handles the situation would also depend the future of the party that he had founded.

Post-poll, President Nasheed gave a clarion call for all elected councillors across the nation, to work together in nation-building. Evidently, his idea of Province-centric decentralised power-sharing has been accepted, but it has also created more ’jobs’ in the Government sector against his commitment to the IMF of chopping of many, as the elected councillors are entitled to a salary and perks. The decentralisation effort would also lead to avoidable duplication, which could add to the Government’s fiscal woes. In political terms, there could be favourites of the Government in Male, and in this, it could cause confrontation between Opposition councillors and those from the MDP, at all levels. The success of the promises that he has been making to the people at larger would hence depend on how President Nasheed co-opts Opposition councillors.

Already, the MDP leadership is known to have tried and encouraged defection by parliamentarians belonging to the Opposition, to facilitate a majority for the Government in the People’s Majlis. This process could get a new lease, and the results could not be as ’depressing’ for the MDP as it used to be the case earlier. Given the internal squabbling in the DRP in particular and the extended Opposition otherwise, the Government’s efforts could meet with an element of success. But then, this would also cut at the root of democracy and political plurality, on which the party had won the presidential polls last time - and could thus upset the ’traditional voters’ of the MDP, who as pro-democracy, anti-Establishment street-fighters might look up to other, less modern and less democratic Islamic States elsewhere, may have their own causes for concern.

At the end of the day, the MDP having improved its electoral standing substantially would still have to add another 10 per cent or less for President Nasheed to win a re-election in 2013, by obtaining the mandated 50-per cent vote. Indications are that shorn of the ’multiple votes’ cast by the islanders, the party may already be there. The Constitution does not provide for the President to resign his job and seek re-election. The mantle automatically falls on Vice-President Waheed Hassan, who has not been seeing eye-to-eye with his principal over the past years. But here again, the local council polls may have had a message of its own. The fact still remains that the DRP too has been able to retain much of its 45 per cent support-base from the presidential polls of 2008, when it contested almost alone. Yet, it is way below that figure at present, and a clearer picture will emerge on this score only in the coming weeks and months. That could mean a tie at best, with the voter-mood favouring the incumbent as yet - but the MDP’s apple-cart could be upset by a wave of ’anti-incumbency’ that is not unknown to other democracies. Yet, that is also on which politics and policies will revolve in Maldives in the coming days, with the demoralised Opposition waiting for a straw to clutch on, and try and climb out of the muddy waters, which the DRP is making muddier through its internal squabble.

(N. Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President meets Indian officials

In New Delhi to participate in an international conference on sustainable South Asia, President Mohamed Nasheed met with Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and held discussions on issues of bilateral interest. The President also met with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon apart from Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

Discussions at the meetings were generally focused on further fortifying the close friendly relations that exist between the Maldives and India. At the meeting with Minister Krishna, the President thanked the Indian Government for its close relationship and continued assistance to the Maldives.

Discussions at the meeting with the National Security Advisor were focused on working together on combating piracy in the Indian Ocean. The two discussed the SAARC Summit to be held in the Maldives later this year, and the President updated him on the preparations being made for the Summit. With Rao, President Nasheed held discussions on the situation in the Middle East, especially in Libya as a result of pro-democracy movement in the country.

President Nasheed invited Chairperson of the UPA Sonia Gandhi to visit the Maldives. President Nasheed also met with Chairman of the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, Shyam Saran.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Haveeru News Service, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Councillors urged to cooperate with Govt

President Mohamed Nasheed has urged all the newly elected councillors to give their full cooperation to the Government and work with the best national interest in mind, for the development of the people and the country. In his weekly address while on a visit to India, the President said that the councillors were part of the country’s Executive branch and therefore, urged them to work closely with the Government to achieve the policy targets set out by the Government.

The President assured the councillors of the Government’s assistance to and cooperation with all the councillors. Acknowledging the possibility of major challenges following the introduction of an unprecedented transformation in the country’s administration, he expressed confidence of overcoming these challenges with the help and cooperation of all political parties, elected councillors and state institutions.

The President further said that the first-ever batch of councillors to be elected in the Maldives officially taking their oaths of office was a historic step towards consolidating decentralisation. He also urged the whole nation to participate in the events to be held across the country, to mark the occasion.
< class="text11verdana">Source: HNS, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kingfisher to launch Male-Mumbai flights

The Civil Aviation Department of the Maldives has licensed India’s private sector Kingfisher Airlines to operate scheduled flight between Male and Mumbai, commencing from March 21. Director of Air Transport at the department Abdulla Rasheed said the airline would operate daily flights with an A-320 aircraft, which has a passenger capacity of 174.

"The department has licensed Kingfisher to operate schedule flights between Male-Mumbai-Male on a daily basis. Maldivians will also be able to purchase tickets when the airline opens its ticket office in Male," he said.

Kingfisher earlier operated flights from Gan International Airport in Addu City to Mumbai. The Kingfisher flight will arrive in Male International Airport at 3.10pm and will leave to Mumbai at 4.20pm.

Air India flies five days a week to Bengaluru and also runs a daily flight to Thiruvananthapuram. Budget carrier SpiceJet previously received permission to fly to the Maldives. However, it has not made use of this so far.
< class="text11verdana">Source: HNS, February 24, 2011

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">CPN-UML tilts towards PM

The seven-point deal signed between the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) and the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) continues to create a ruckus in government-formation as the issue of who will be handling the Home and Defence ministries is still unresolved. Besides, there are differences over the creation of a separate security force for the Maoist cadres and over a rotational system for prime minister.

The Central Committee (CC) of the CPN-UML has decided to abide by the spirit of the deal but with certain re-interpretations of some new provisions. The most contentious issue in the seven-point agreement, relating to a choice between full integration of the Maoist cadres into the armed forces of the State, and the creation of a separate force -- has been scrapped by the UML CC. The party has concluded that the seven-point agreement does not supersede any previous agreements and the army integration among other tasks of the peace process would be completed duly by following previously agreed formal processes. The party has agreed to take the leadership of the government turn by turn, but not limit such system to only two parties.

The UML deliberations created more confusion in the camp of Prime Minister Jhalnath Kahnal when Maoists’ Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ’Prachanda’ asked the former to come clean on the seven-point deal and clarify his stand on the deal’s reinterpretation by his party. While Prime Minister Khanal has assured Prachanda that the deal will be respected in letter and spirit, the ruling UML and the Opposition Nepali Congress have expressed dissatisfaction over its contents. The Nepali Congress has even stated its willingness to participate in the government if the Prime Minister scrapped the deal.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.nepalnews.com, February 23, 2011

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PML-PPP ties break in Punjab

After months of uncertainty over the future of the alliance between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the latter has finally decided to sever ties. Consequently, the Province Government, headed by PML-N ousted the PPP Ministers already on board.

Earlier in the week, the creation of the PML-Q ’Unification group’, comprising former politicians of the PML-Q, gave the Nawaz faction the opportunity to finally cut its ties with PPP, by aligning with the political faction.

Since the 2008 elections, PPP and PML-N, who are traditional rivals, entered into a working alliance in order to safeguard the return of democratic rule. The partnership saw the Nawaz Sharief-led PMLN support the PPP Government at the Centre, while the PPP supported the Government of Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab. Since then, relations between the two have nose-dived over several issues.

Severing of ties between the two major political parties of Pakistan will add to the current instability. Analysts believe that the PML-N-led Opposition will now renew attempts to call for mid-term elections over populist issues such as corruption, price rise and drone strikes.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, February 21, 23, 24, 2011; The News International, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deadlock over Davis’ case continues

The diplomatic deadlock over the detention of Raymond Davis became more complicated with the revelation that he was not a US diplomat but worked for the CIA as a contractor. Davis, the American Consulate employee charged with the murder of two Pakistani nationals, was posted in Lahore as a ’protective officer’ by the CIA to provide security to consular officers and visiting dignitaries.

In the backdrop of the damning disclosure, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gialani told the National Assembly that Davis’s fate will be determined by the judiciary. Addressing Parliament, he said, "I wish to categorically assure this august House and the nation, the Government’s firm resolve to adopt a course that fully accords with dictates of justice and the rule of law."

In spite of heightened tensions owing to the Davis’ case, American and Pakistani military commanders met in Muscat, Oman, to discuss the ongoing campaign against the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line. The meeting was attended by Gen Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan army chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen David Petraeus, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, February 14, 2011; The News International, February 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Security Forces conduct operations across tribal areas

Security forces carried out three different operations against Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas over the week. Twenty militants were killed in the Mohmand Agency on February 20 as a group of 100 insurgents attacked a military checkpoint. In a separate incident, troops shelled suspected rebel camps in the Orakzai Agency and killed eight militants as part of a month-long operation. On Wednesday, the third raid of the week targeted another rebel camp in the Kurram Agency, in which the armed forces deployed helicopter gunships and killed ten insurgents.

Each of the three Agencies, a synonym for district in the tribal areas, witnessed sustained military operations in 2010 and was declared ’Taliban-free’ by the army. The ability of the Taliban to regain its presence in previously sanitised regions highlights gaps in Pakistan’s counter-insurgency strategy and also brings to focus the ability of the Taliban to regain lost ground in spite of sustaining loses.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, February 21, 2011; The News International, February 24, 2011

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ban Ki-moon meets Sri Lankan envoys

The Ministry of External Affairs in Colombo has confirmed that Attorney-General Mohan Peiris and Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon despite denials by the Government only a day earlier that no such meeting had taken place. Secretary Jayasinghe and the Attorney-General were in New York for "legal consultations".

"He (Jayasinghe) had taken this opportunity to call on the Secretary General along with Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona and Deputy Permanent Representative, Maj-Gen (Retd), Shavendra Silva," an MEA official said.

Deputy Minister of External Affairs Neomal Perera yesterday denied reports that such a meeting was to take place. Inner City press reports that when questioned on this denial in New York Kohona stated that "the deputy doesn’t know anything, just ask him".
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, February 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt says "no, thanks" for GSP+

The Government has said it had no intention of re-applying for the GSP+ facility as it is a ’closed book’ for them, the visiting European Parliamentary delegation told the media in Colombo. "The Government indicated to us that the GSP+ was now a closed issue and that it had no interest in pursuing any further or re-applying for the concession. The Government now hopes to look toward small and medium enterprise development with the EU- move on from the GSP+ issue and develop a better relationship," European Parliamentary Delegation for Relations with South Asia Head Jean Lambert said.

The Delegation also praised the Government’s plans for development in the North and said members of the delegation were "impressed" by the development especially in the areas of education and healthcare. Nevertheless they called for "local participation" in the development process and showed optimism that the local elections would eventually ensure this participation. "We also welcome the Government’s open dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance, while identifying that naturally there are political issues that are yet to be resolved," she said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, February 24, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jaffna, Killinochchi polls put off

The Court of Appeal has issued an Interim Order restraining the Elections Commissioner and the Returning Officers from taking any further steps in terms of the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance for the purpose of the conduct of the elections to 19 local government bodies in Jaffna and Killinochchi districts. The Bench comprising Justices Sathya Hettige and Upaly Abeyrathne also issued another Interim Order staying the conduct or holding of the elections for these local government bodies to be held by the Elections Commissioner and the Returning Officers.

The court made these Interim Orders operative till the final determination on the Writ application filed by ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Respondents are directed to file objections on or before March 1.

The ruling UPFA has challenged the rejection of its nomination papers in the North. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) as well as the United National Party (UNP) had, on February 15, raised preliminary objections on the maintainability of all applications and the issuance of notices as well as granting any relief or interim relief.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror, February 26, 2011

Afghanistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Civilian casualties strain relations

Relations between the Government and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soured following a military operation in the eastern Province of Kunar which is believed to have killed 65 civilians last week. Bothe ISAF and Government conducted independent investigations and arrived at differing accounts of the five-hour assault that involved fighter aircraft and helicopters.

Tensions arose after NATO officers hinted that ’pro-Taliban’ village elders had deliberately burnt the hands and feet of children to pressure the Government to halt the operation prematurely. The accusation caused a severe rebuke from Afghan officials, prompting President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson to term it "outrageous, insulting and racist".
< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, February 20, 2011; BBC, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Post-withdrawal help sought from US

The Government has asked the US for security assistance beyond 2014, when Washington is set to withdraw troops from the war-torn country. In a meeting in the Pentagon with US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said, "We do strongly believe that for Afghanistan to be able to survive in that very volatile region, it will need your help beyond 2014."

Afghanistan has witnessed an increase in military and development resources since President Barack Obama came to power in 2009. However, the counter-insurgency campaign, which aims to reach a ’whole of the government’ solution by increasing security, revamping the government and increasing accountability has come at the cost of a sharp increase in American casualties. At the same time, lack of measurable success against the Taliban has led to domestic resentment in the US against the war. In this back-drop, Afghan and regional players remain skeptical about the future of the Karzai Government.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP), February 23, 2011; Tolo News, February 23, 2011

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Investment rebounds

Businesses are fuelling with optimism thanks to the rise in export orders for readymade garments (RMG). As a result, demand for import of capital machinery and industrial raw materials have increased. Also, the Government’s plan of setting up of new power plants also added to this enthusiasm since the demand for equipment to set up power plants have fuelled the import splurge. The business community feels that the prospects are bright for the country.

Interestingly, according to Bangladesh Bank the letters of credit (LCs) settled for capital machinery import were worth $975 million during the first half of the current fiscal year, up by 35 per cent from $722 million for the same period a year ago. The import of industrial raw materials grew by 45.61 percent to $5.84 billion during the period under review, compared to $4 billion in the same period of the pervious year.

However, the demand (LC opening) for machinery and raw materials was much higher than the rate of settlement. During the July-December period of the current fiscal year, the LCs opened for capital machinery import was up by over 85 percent to $1.6 billion from $864 million in the previous year.

Media reports claimed that entrepreneurs now hope for better opportunities. To members of the business community imports of power plant equipment and raw materials for the garment factories are fuelling the spending. They claim that garment industry is attracting a lot of investment.

The manufacturing sector saw a declining trend since early 2007 after the military backed caretaker government took over the power. However, after the elected government was formed in 2009, businesses could not recover due to power crisis. The country’s overall imports grew by nearly 40 percent to $15 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year, mainly because of a jump in import of food grains (over 91 percent).
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, February 21, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deep-sea port project on track

Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan has said that the proposed deep-sea port project was on the right track and the Government has hired consultants, to turn the dream into reality. The Minister claimed that the project will be launched within the tenure of the present Awami League Government and significant progress has been made in this regard.

The Minister also said that talks were under way with bilateral aid agencies and encouraging responses were coming from them. He was hopeful that the country will soon hear some ’good’ news on deep-sea port.
< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deal with Russia for 2,000-MWe project

Russia and Bangladesh have signed a preliminary agreement for installing a 2,000 MWe nuclear power plant at Rooppur in Pabna. With this deal, Bangladesh launched its first nuclear power plant project, which is expected to be completed by 2017-18 at a cost of $1.5-2 billions. Abdur Rob Howlader, Secretary of the Ministry of Science, and Nickolay Spasskiy, Deputy Director-General of the Russian Atomic Energy Corporation, signed the deal on behalf of their respective countries.

According to the agreement, two numbers of third-generation reactors, each with 1,000- MWe capacity will be installed in Bangladesh. The final deal is likely to be signed in April this year during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Russia.

It can be recalled that Bangladesh has also signed MoUs with China, Russia, the US, France and India for cooperation in the area of peaceful use of nuclear energy. It also initiated talks with South Korea.
< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, February 25, 2011

Bhutan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Militants strike

Even as Bhutan has been refuting that its territory is being used by militants from India’s North-East, the recent attack on Bhutanese security personnel inside that country’s territory by suspected NDFB (anti-talks) militants brought to the fore the fact that the Himalayan kingdom is still not immune to the activities of the outlawed armed group. On February 18, at least four Bhutanese personnel were injured when suspected NDFB militants ambushed a police party on the Sarpang-Gelephu Road in Bhutan’s Sarpang district, bordering Kokrajhar district of Assam.

The attack came barely four days after suspected anti-talks NDFB released three volunteers of WWF-India at Balajan Tinali, about 7 km north of Kokrajhar town. Altogether, six volunteers, including three girls, were abducted on February 6 from Ultapani area of Manas National Park. The kidnapped volunteers were held hostage at a mobile camp of NDFB (anti-talk) inside Bhutan territory.

Last year, a Bhutanese army man was shot dead by suspected NDFB (anti-talk) militants at Gabrukanda, west of Manas River inside Bhutan. In July last year, four SSB personnel, including an assistant commander, were ambushed and gunned down by the anti-talk NDFB faction in a forested area near Bhutan border in Chirang district. Sources said that after the killing of the SSB personnel, the militants sneaked into Bhutanese territory.

The activities of anti-talks NDFB militants significantly increased after Bangladesh ceased to be a safe haven for northeast militant groups after Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister. In 2003, all NDFB camps along with those of ULFA and KLO were dismantled during the operation ’All Clear’ by the Royal Bhutan Army.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, February 20, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Reliance Big FM to start operations soon

Entering into a strategic alliance with Bhutan’s High 92.7 FM radio channel, Reliance Broadcast Network’s radio arm 92.7 BIG FM has become the first-ever Indian radio station to enter Bhutan. Boasting a 45-city network in India, BIG FM has now extended its reach to Siliguri town of West Bengal and Bhutan.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, February 18, 2011

India
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rail Minister spares passengers, freight

Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee has spared passenger fares and freight while presenting the Railway Budget for 2011-12 to Parliament. With the highest-ever Plan outlay of Rs. 57,630 crores the budget provides Rs. 9,583 crores for the laying of new lines for 1300 km, 867 km of doubling of lines and 1017 km of gauge-conversion . It is also proposed to introduce 56 new express trains, three new Shatabdis and nine Duronto trains

Other schemes include the introduction of a Pan-India multi-purpose smart card "Go India", an Anti-Collision Device (ACD) sanctioned to cover eight zonal Rrailways and hike in senior citizens’ concession from 30 per cent to 40. The year will be the ’Year of Green Energy’ for Railways. Freight loading and passenger growth estimates for 2011-12 are 993 MT and 6.4 per cent respectively.

With Assembly polls scheduled for the year in native West Bengal and also Tamil Nadu, ruled by the DMK partner in the UPA, Minister Mamata Banerjee has been careful not to hurt public sentiments, that too when the Centre seemed to have been losing its popularity of the 2009 parliamentary polls, owing to hike prices of essentials and salary-hikes not compensating enough for the steep rise in prices of essentials.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Press Information Bureau, Govt of India, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Death sentence for Kasab upheld

The Bombay High Court upheld the death sentence awarded by the trial court to the lone surviving Pakistani gunman Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, who has been held guilty of perpetrating the 26/11 ’Mumbai terror attack’ which claimed 166 lives and left 238 injured. Kasab has decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The court also upheld the acquittal of co-accused Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed for want of corroborative evidence.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 22, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">31 convicted, 63 acquitted in ’Godhra train arson case’

A special fast-track court appointed by the Gujarat High Court on the orders of the Supreme Court has convicted 31 accused and acquitted 63 others in the ’Godhra train burning case’. All the 31 accused were held guilty on two major counts, Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.

The verdict related to the burning of the coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 at the Godhra station which led to the death of 59 people, mostly ’kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya. This was followed by one of the worst communal riots in recent Indian history.

The court accepted the "conspiracy" theory on the basis of scientific, oral and circumstantial evidence. Special court judge P.R. Patel, in his judgment held that the "conspiracy" was hatched on the night of February 26, 2002 at the Aman Guest House in the Gujarat town.

Even while accepting the "conspiracy" theory, the court acquitted at least two of the accused whom the police had all along maintained were among the "main conspirators" on grounds of lack of evidence.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 23, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Naxals free abducted Collector

The Naxalite militants have freed Malkangiri Collector R V Krishna after nine days in captivity, bringing to an end the tense hostage crisis in the eastern State of Orissa. The hostage crisis had a new twist when the Maoists came up with a fresh set of demands, for the immediate release of five Naxal leaders after the State Government had already accepted all their 14 demands. The issue however was resolved through negotiations.

Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Mahji were abducted at Janta Pai village in Malkangiri district by armed cadres of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on the evening of February 16. The terms for his release were decided after a week of hectic negotiations between the Maoists and the Orissa government.

On return from captivity, Krishna said he had spent his days in frequent conversation with the Maoists, who discussed mining and tribal development issues. Asked if the ordeal had changed his perspective on development, Krishna acknowledged the importance of a debate on the nature of development, adding that tribals should benefit from development.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 25, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM announces JPC on 2-G scam

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the Government’s decision to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the 2-G spectrum allocation scam. Announcing the decision in the Lok Sabha as soon as it met for the first working day of the budget session, he said that a formal motion for the constitution of a JPC would be moved soon.

He further added that the Government could ill afford a situation, where the Parliament was not allowed to function during the crucial Budget session and added that it was in the special circumstances that it had agreed to the setting up of a JPC. The government also agreed to expand the committee to 30 members to ensure political representation across the spectrum.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 23, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">60 p.c. rise in poll expenses

The Centre has raised the election expenditure limit for both parliamentary and Assembly constituencies by 60 per cent, with immediate effect. The spending limit for a parliamentary constituency in major States, now stands at Rs. 40 lakhs as against Rs. 25 lakhs earlier. The limit for Assembly constituencies in the major States moves from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 16 lakhs.

The upward revision is understood to have been made on the recommendation of the Election Commission of India taking into consideration the demands of the political parties and inflation of costs since 2007 when the last changes were made. These will be the new limits to be observed in all States going to the polls this April-May: Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 25, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NAC pushes for its version of Food Security Bill

The National Advisory Council (NAC) has been pushing the new Union Food Minister, K V Thomas, to accept its recommendations rather than the watered down version of the Rangarajan Committee, which was set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singht, to examine the NAC’s recommendations.

Government sources said that the Union Food Ministry was hoping to convene a consultation of its officials with representatives of the NAC and the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council to try and harmonise the recommendations of the two on the proposed Food Security Bill.

Thomas, the Government sources said, was of the view that since the ruling United Progressive Alliance had made a commitment on food security, it would have to look for ways to honour it, despite the Rangarajan panel rejecting the idea of legal guarantees for the general category (otherwise described as the Above Poverty Line or APL), pointing to constraints of resources and availability of food grains.

The Minister also indicated that issues such as involvement of the private sector and increase in budget outlay for warehousing infrastructure would be important in the context of the NAC bill.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 20, 2011

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Civil servants to get incentives on performance

Civil servants in Central ministries and departments that signed on to the Results Framework Document (RFD), initiated by the Cabinet Secretariat, will, for the first time, begin receiving performance-related incentives, in the coming financial year. However, the payments will not require any additional financial allocations as they will come out of the savings made by the ministry or department itself.

Officials of some key ministries will be excluded from the possible benefits, because they have not yet signed the RFD. These include the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministries of Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs, among others.

The RFD’s objective is to improve governance, increase efficiency, transparency and accountability.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, February 20, 2011.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Green India Mission approved

The Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change approved the Green India Mission, an ambitious Rs 46,000-crore programme aimed at increasing India’s forest cover by five million hectares over next 10 years.

The mission will focus on improvement of ecosystem services, including biodiversity, hydrological services and carbon sequestration while also aiming to increase forest-based livelihood incomes for three million families. The mission, to be executed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, will ensure that by 2020, India’s forests would be able to capture 50 to 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, offsetting about six per cent of India’s total emissions.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express, February 24, 2011.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan & Pakistan: Kaustav Dhar Chakraborti;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India: Akhilesh Variar;
Nepal & Bhutan: Anjali Sharma;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N SathiyaMoorthy;

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Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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