MonitorsPublished on May 18, 2012
It did not receive as much media attention as the one by predecessor Mohammed Nasheed a fortnight earlier in the host nation. Yet when President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik came calling at New Delhi he did make his points, loud and clear at corridors and quarters that mattered.
Maldives: Taking the political momentum forward
< class="heading1">Analysis

It did not receive as much media attention as the one by predecessor Mohammed Nasheed a fortnight earlier in the host nation. Yet when President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik came calling at New Delhi he did make his points, loud and clear at corridors and quarters that mattered. After a lull, the Indian media did wake up though not to the same extent. However, their Maldivian counterparts gave more and instant coverage for his than for President Nasheed’s visit ? an indicator this also of the better media management for President Waheed than his team is credited with in comparison.

Coming as they did in quick succession, the two visits reflected the personalities and politics of the respective leaders, their relative strengths and weaknesses. President Nasheed’s has been people-centric politics. It has often boiled down to cadre-centric protests. In New Delhi, he made one too many media appearances. His face and his charge of a mutiny that he said had forced him out of power were familiar themes in India. But his charge of collusion by Indian High Commissioner DnyaneshwarMulay as kind of a co-conspirator in the alleged coup was not. The issue, and not necessarily his accusations, thus caught the imagination. There were not many takers, however. The more he repeated his allegations on TV cameras, the more he might have ended up losing. Reportedly, his feeble protestations to the contrary did not cut much ice, afterward.

President Waheed’s was not a storm-trooper’s entry into politics. Not many in Maldives cared about his position as Vice-President under President Nasheed until he succeeded the latter on February 7. That too owed to the circumstances under which he became President. Under President Nasheed earlier, he seemed unsure about his role under the constitutional scheme. None bothered him with a clarification to his satisfaction. The situation only worsened after he had reportedly declined to resign as Vice-President when the rest of the Cabinet resigned en masse in mid-2010, purportedly over the ’scorched earth policy’ being adopted by Parliament against the Executive.

As a member of the Nasheed Cabinet, Vice-President Waheed would want specific responsibilities assigned to him. President Nasheed’s camp, on the other hand, would argue that as per the American scheme that Maldives had adopted in this respect, he was only the President-in-waiting, and eternally so. It was this camp however wanted Vice-President Waheed to quit when the rest of the Cabinet quit en masse, at the instance of President Nasheed in mid-2010. In this however, Vice-President Waheed did not see any shared responsibility, to quit. Which position between the two ? that he should have been assigned specific ministerial/departmental responsibilities, or he was only the President-in-waiting, scored in the end, is still a debatable question for future arrangements of the kind. Thereby hangs a tale.

It would remain an unanswered query of contemporary Maldivian history if Vice-President Waheed’s resignation in 2010 would have upstaged the 2012 political crisis, or advanced it by as many months. On card in 2010 was the possibility of President Nasheed putting in his papers, handing over the reign to Parliament Speaker Abdullah Shahid. The latter would have been in office for only two months, time enough for ordering and supervising fresh presidential polls under the Constitution. The inability of President Nasheed to carry his deputy with him in 2010 meant that Parliament would not clear all his Cabinet nominees, when appointed, and the Supreme Court would endorse the views of Parliament in the matter ? thus fuelling fresh crises, and reviving the existing ones too since his coming to power in November 2008. The rest, as they say, is history.

Questions would remain what if the Cabinet had not resigned with President Nasheed, when he did on February 7, and decided to continue under President Waheed, instead. This generally would have been the case, barring a few possible replacements, in the ordinary scheme of the circumstances in which the Constitution-makers had construed presidential succession. Clearly, the Constitution-makers, most of whom are still active in politics and also parliamentarians to boot, had definitely not thought about the contingency of the kind that the nation witnessed in February. A solution that was aimed at addressing a constitutional impasse under a different set of circumstances applied to an entirely new set of events and developments. However, the succession itself could not be challenged as illegal or unconstitutional for this reason.

Between the two, and compared to any other politician in the country, President Nasheed is considered media-savvy. Yet, on his overseas trips, his team had failed to take his message to home audiences, concentrating mostly on viewers and opinion-makers in host-nations. In contrast, President Waheed’s office seemed to have established a good understanding of the local constituency of the Government coalition. An extension of this was a better understanding of the local media needs, and feeding them, too, from distant Delhi. It may be too early to assess the relative benefits to the respective camps in Maldives, but having comparatively lesser media coverage in the host-nation seems to be better than more media, as the two leaders may have found out by now.

Going by media reports, while In India President Waheedtold his hosts, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, about his Government’s willingness to modify the terms of reference and expand the composition of the National Investigation Commission (NIC) into the ’mutiny charge’ held out by President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). With Indian Foreign Secretary RanjanMathai having visited Male twice in three weeks in February-March for the purpose, any progress in the ’Roadmap Talks’ that President Waheed had put in place, would have to await the findings of the NIC, the Indian interlocutors were reportedly told further. Translated, it would mean that the MDP and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) cannot complain about inevitable delays in the NIC coming out with its report, originally scheduled for end-May.

From the beginning, the Waheed Government had linked the MDP’s demand for early presidential polls at the end of the year to the findings of the NIC, which again was on President Nasheed’s agenda since quitting office. His camp had also argued that under the Constitution, presidential polls can happen not prior to July 2013. They are otherwise due by November 2013, when alone President Nasheed’s five-year elected term would have ended. Any advancement of elections prior to July 2013 would require a constitutional amendment, which was not possible under the current political climate.

The Government team is also said to have impressed upon the Indian leadership the inadvisability of President WaheedManik and his Vice-President WaheedDeen quitting simultaneously, to hand over power to Speaker Shahid. Rather than facilitating early polls, as the MDP would want, it could trigger more problems than solving any. Political instability and consequent troubles for and during early presidential polls could only be one of them ? but the most critical one, too. Or, so was it argued, as the Waheed camp has been telling visiting international interlocutors of whatever hue and purpose.

With the Waheed Government offering to amend the NIC mandate in ways that would satisfy the MDP and the CMAG, and also offering to include mutually-acceptable nominees of President Nasheed on the probe team, a clearer situation could emerge only after the report became available, hopefully around end-July. Whether the NIC would require more time would be known only after reconstituted probe revisits the work already done. On that would also hinge the Government’s position on the MDP’s demand for presidential polls before year-end. How the MDP would balance its two demands remains to be known. So would be the choice of the party’s nominees on the NIC, the Government not being comfortable with the aggressive politics of some already named but rejected with equal speed.

The CMAG has however clarified that the ’qualifications’ like past political linkages and other credentials that the Government expects in the MDP nominees should be applicable to all members of the NIC. As is known some members of the NIC, all named by the Government, have been identified with some of the ruling parties, particularly the PPM. Simultaneously, however, there seems to have been some agreement on accepting the All-Party Talks convenor Ahmed Mujthaba as the new chair of the NIC as the incumbent would be away on Haj pilgrimage. The Government has also conceded the CMAG demand for expanding the NIC to give it a non-partisan appeal, by including in it an expert from Singapore.

Doubts however remain in Government circles as to the political outcome of the exercise. On the one hand, the CMAG is seen as reflecting the sentiments andemands of the Nasheed camp. Yet, there is no guarantee that whatever was acceptable to the CMAG as the findings of the NIC would be readily acceptable to the other camp, too. More importantly and immediately, there are doubts about the possibility of the NIC process being derailed owing to internal differences that could be expected at every turn ? given the politicised composition of the probe team, since. How this would reflect in the working of the Roadmap Talks also remain to be seen. However, there are no short-cuts to make the NIC a non-partisan outlook and also make it to be seen as being one. Whatever charges that the Government parties could level against the MDP, the latter could and would return in a greater measure ? given in particular that the Nasheed leadership is seen as the aggrieved party in the whole episode.

In between, major partners in the Waheed Government are also saddled with internal problems of their own. Among them is former President MaummonGayoom’s second-find in the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), floated after he had split the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) that he had founded under the new Constitution. That came with the introduction of multi-party, multi-candidate presidential polls of 2008. As incumbent, President Gayoom lost it in the second, run-off round, after leading substantially in the first. Today, with his walking away from the DRP to found the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the latter is yet to hold organisational elections, to satisfy the rules under the Election Commission.

It is easier said than done, as there are at least three identifiable groups vying for the top slot. In the present-day context, he who is elected party chief could also aspire to become the PPM’s nominee for presidential polls ? for which separate primaries would however have to be held, under the party’s rules. Indications are that at least one or the other of the groups would stay away from presidential poll campaign if their leader is not named the PPM candidate. This inherent and initial weakening of the PPM’s electoral position can become a problem if the presidential polls move on to the second, run-off round, as is being anticipated.

The alternative could be to find a fourth candidate acceptable to the existing three, including President Gayoom, to varying degrees. President Waheed could fit the bill. If the hunt is for an ’outside candidate’ acceptable to the PPM factions and supported by other partners in the Waheed Government, the net could widen in good time. If allowed to fester, this by itself could contribute to avoidable speculation, and consequent political instability. Given the inevitable circumstances of coalition politics in the country since the inception of the Third Republican Constitution of 2008, speculation of the nature could cause more problems not only for the present Government but also for a post-poll political leadership in the country.

Today, the MDP too is riven with dissensions. The Nasheed camp, dominating the national council, voted out elected party president Ibrahim Didi and his deputy AllhanFahmylast fortnight. Didi contested his ouster in the Election Commission, which in its order indicated that it would not intervene in the matter, thus favouring the status quo on the ground. He has since declared his intention to move the Supreme Court.This could have consequences, both for and by the party. Anyway, the party split is complete. Given its long drawn-out open battles with the higher judiciary in the country, the Nasheed camp in particular cannot be expected to accept any court order not favouring its position. Otherwise, it could jeopardise the Nasheed camp’s political progression in the interim if the order were to go against it, and if they are called upon to create a new identity and popularise a new symbol, flag, etc.

A conclusive split in the MDP could mean that either of the factions would have to float a new party and conduct organisational elections in time for contesting the presidential polls. It could be a tall order for a new party. For the Nasheed camp, if it were at the receiving end, it could mean that organisational elections would have to take precedence over the current phase of party primaries, where President Nasheed is still the sole candidate. He is expected to win much more than the mandatory 10 per cent vote in a single-candidate primary, but the process would still have to be gone through, too.

For now, however, the Election Commission’s ruling may have helped revive the All-Party Roadmap talks, initiated at the instance of the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary RanjanMathai in March. Apart from other hiccups in its working, mostly based on reservations expressed by the MDP at the time, the last meeting on May 5 had to be abandoned after some non-MDP parties cited the party-split as reason enough for delaying the political negotiations until after a clearer picture emerged on that front. The talks are now scheduled for Monday, May 21, but how any order of the Supreme Court, or an interim order, could impact on the course will be known as and when the Didi camp moves the higher judiciary in this respect.

How, or how not to balance the internal exigencies of Government parties like the PPM and the forceful demands of the MDP, where Nasheed’s non-officious leadership has come under a cloud, are other factors that need to be counted in while debating any advancing of the presidential polls. On the one hand, parties would have to push through their organisational commitments under the law in time for the presidential polls, even if held only when it is otherwise due. On the other, they too would have to provide for exigencies, should the NIC finding cause a situation where the advancement of the poll became as much mandatory as politically inevitable.

The current political imbroglio has also triggered a national discourse of sorts on the role of multi-lateral agencies and organisations. The CMAG has been a hate-object for most parties in Government. In New Delhi, President Waheed clarified that he did not share the opinion of some of the Government parties that Maldives should quit the Commonwealth after the CMAG had repeatedly come down heavily on the Waheed Government on NIC-related issues, and the earlier pronouncements relating to the resignation of President Nasheed. However, Government party members who had moved a resolution for Maldives to quit the Commonwealth, remain unmoved. By keeping their resolution alive, whether they have linked it to future pronouncements of the CMAG too remains to be seen.

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



< class="heading1">Analysis

Bangladesh: A new beginning in ties with India

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

India and Bangladesh relations achieved a new milestone with the successful completion of the first meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) that took place earlier this month in New Delhi. The JCC was envisaged in the framework agreement on cooperation for development signed during the visit of Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in September 2011. In this meeting Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna led the Indian side while Dr DipuMoniForeign Minister of Bangladesh led the Bangladesh delegation. With this meeting one of the major provisions of the framework agreement has been fulfilled. Establishment of JCC is a positive development in the bilateral relationship as it will regularly review the progress in the bilateral relations between the two countries and will contribute in resolution of many of the long standing bilateral issues.

In this meeting the two sides reviewed progress in the bilateral relations since Dr.Manmohan Singh’s visit. During the meeting the two countries expressed deep satisfaction at the state of the India and Bangladesh relations and defined it to be marked by warmth cordiality and mutual respect. The immediate outcome of the visit was a joint statement which divided issued under six broad heads namely- political and security cooperation, trade and connectivity, development cooperation, bilateral cooperation in water resources and power sub-regional cooperation and people to people contact. The joint statement gave a detail exposition of what has been achieved and also stressed on the areas which the two countries should look into for future cooperation.

Analysis of the joint statement makes clear about the areas which the two countries are giving emphasis for cooperation. The areas are security and infrastructure on connectivity on road, rail and seaport development between two countries. It also talks about energy cooperation. The areas in focus for cooperation clearly highlights the intention of these two neighbouring countries to prosper together and to chart out a new future for the two countries that could be a model for other South Asian countries to imitate and contribute in development of the region as a whole, a step that demands appreciation.

Unfortunately this aspect of the relationship is hardly projected in the popular discourse on India and Bangladesh relations. Over emphasis on the delay on signing the Teesta agreement makes one overlook the positive developments that took place in the bilateral relationship in past few years, especially after Sheikh Hasina led Awami League government formed government in Bangladesh in 2009. Since then there have been many bilateral exchanges including reciprocation of visits by Prime Ministers of both the countries. Bangladesh Prime Minister visited India on January 2010 while Dr Manmohan Singh visited Bangladesh on September 2011.

The two countries have significantly benefited from this positive shift in the relationship. Some of the major areas which need mention are security and economic cooperation. Bangladesh took strong action against the forces inimical to India’s interest which were operating in its soil for a long time. A move greatly appreciated in India which greatly helped in bringing peace to India’s north-eastern states.

India also forwarded some major socio-economic measures which will significantly help in the overall development of Bangladesh. Some of the measures worth mentioning are- India’s $1 billion soft loan to Bangladesh for various infrastructure projects, a step crucial for economic development of any country. Interestingly, out of this $1 billion credit in May this year India declared to convert $200 million into grants in air for projects of priority to Bangladesh. India also granted zero-duty access of all Bangladeshi products (except 25 items on the negative list) into Indian market which has opened opportunities for expansion of Bangladeshi export to India. Speculation is that Bangladesh’s export to India will touch $1 billion in the year only. India is also encouraging private sector companies to invest in Bangladesh. Again, India has welcomed Bangladesh’s proposal to participate in power projects in India particularly in north-east India. Besides, India agreed to forward cooperation in areas of heath care and in scientific education two by providing training to human resources the two key areas crucial for development.

No doubt Teesta is an important issue which needs resolution but it will be unfair to judge the entire India-Bangladesh relations from the prism of success or failure in resolving the Teesta agreement. There is great need for the critics of India-Bangladesh relationship adopt a holistic approach in viewing this relationship.

The establishment of JCC is a pragmatic step. The need of the hour is to maintain regularity in frequency of the meeting and to implement the measures suggested by its so that the warmth is not lost and the two countries work ahead towards a path of peace and prosperity.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Bangladesh
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Opposition leaders arrested

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) acting secretary general MirzaFakhrul Islam Alamgir and 32 other high-profile opposition leaders were arrested in the week after a Dhaka court rejected their bail prayers in connection with their involvement an arson attack during a general strike last month. Other influential leaders arrested are BNP standing committee members KhandkerMosharrafHossain, MK Anwar, ASM Brig Gen (retd) Hannan Shah, Mirza Abbas, Goyeshwar Chandra and former Dhaka City Corporation mayor SadequeHossainKhoka.

The Opposition is claiming that the arson charge is politically motivated and the bail rejection is aimed at suppressing their movement. The BNP in protest observed a country wide general strike the on May 17. During day long strike several crude bombs were exploded in the streets of Dhaka, however, no injuries were reported. Schools and businesses were shut in the capital, and public life was disrupted in other major cities and towns during the shutdown.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, May 17-18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Jamaat leader charged for ’war crimes’

Veteran Jamaat-e-Islami leader GhulamAzam has been charged by a special tribunal with war crimes allegedly carried out during the country’s 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan. Azam is accused of committing crimes, including murder and torture, during the nine-month war. Azam denies the charges claiming that they are politically motivated.

He is the most high profile Jamaat leader to be charged by the tribunal since it was set up in 2010.

The International Crimes Tribunal was set up by the Awami League-led government to try those Bangladeshis accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces who were trying to stop East Pakistan from becoming an independent country.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.bbc.co.uk, May 13, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Probe into Grameen Bank units

Government has ordered a four-member commission to investigate 54 businesses linked to the pioneering microlenderGrameen Bank founded by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus.

The probe came weeks after Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith said the bank’s board had not authorized most of the affiliates. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Bangladesh’s government on a recent visit to Bangladesh to not to do anything that might undermine the effectiveness of the bank. Muhith later dismissed her remarks as unwarranted.

A Finance Ministry statement on Wednesday said the commission will suggest "future steps to be taken about Grameen Bank and its affiliates." It will be headed by a former government official and must submit a report in three months. The statement did not provide details of the tasks of the commission. Muhith said earlier it will be investigated how the businesses, including renewable energy, telecommunications and garments, could be regulated.

A Bangladesh government-appointed investigation last year found that Garmeen Bank violated its charter as a microlender by creating affiliates that did not benefit the bank’s shareholders, and recommended the government integrate those affiliates with the bank.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Associated Press, May 16, 2012.

Bhutan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PDP names new chief

The People’s Democratic Party has elected, YogeshTamang, 50, as the new Secretary-General of the party. YoheshTamang said the party can deliver its promises to the citizens.

Declaring that he would like to see the party win in the 2013 elections, he said that the party convention over the weekend would elect a president, vice-president and the executive members.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bbs.bt, May 12, 2012 .

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Vegetablesself-sufficiency in two years

Owing to the ongoingrupee crunch, the Government has now announced that it will work towards achieving self-sufficiency in vegetables within the next two years. At present the domestic production accounts for 60 per cent of all vegetable produce.

According to trade statistics, the total import of vegetables and vegetable products in 2009 was worth Nu 41.5 million where as a for 2012 it stood at Nu 1,523.3 million in 2010. In 2009, the total share of crop production to the agriculture sector stood at 50.8 percent. Out of this, the share of vegetable production accounted for only 0.94 percent. It decreased from 1.05 percent in 2005 to 1.04 percent in 2007 and then further down to 0.94 per cent in 2008 and 2009.

The main road-blocks that Bhutan faces on this count is the lack of availability of cultivable land, labour shortage, lack of irrigation, damage of crops by stray cattle and it is cheaper to import the same on large scale. At present only 2.93% of the total land is cultivable, and is predominantly used of rice cultivation.

Regarding the prices of local produce being high, she said that although the ministry would not regulate price, once the supply increases, the prices might come down. "We can only increase the production so that the supply in the market increases and then the supply and demand principle will work," she said.

However, she added that the department of agriculture would also consider the cost of production of vegetables. In fact, it has already calculated the cost of production. The department presumes that prices of vegetables should not go below the cost of production.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bhutanobserver.bt, May 12, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Grooming reporters for 2012 elections

At the approach of the second parliamentary election next year, the Bhutanese media houses are preparing for more professional election coverage. Fifteen reporters are being trained in election reporting by a veteran journalist and trainer from Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The five-day training also covered constitutional aspects of the electoral process, legal protection of journalists, and the role of new media in elections. It is expected to give the reporters a good grounding in ethical and legal issues in election coverage. They are expected to identify and understand legal and critical issues that arise during election coverage.

Three newspapers ? Kuensel, Bhutan Times, Bhutan Observer ? as also BBS TV and radio, and two FM radios covered the 2008 election. Some members of the public complained that the media were more divisive than helpful to the communities during the election.

According to the report of the European Union Election Observation Mission, in the 2008 election, BBS TV and BBS radio were the main source of information for the Bhutanese, reaching almost 80 percent of the population.
< class="text11verdana">Source: bhutanobserver.bt, May 18, 2012.

India
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US guns for $ 560 million cleared

The Defence Ministry has approved a proposal to buy 145 ultra-light howitzers from U.S.-based BAE Systems Inc. BA.LN-1.46% for about 30 billion rupees ($560 million), a senior Defence Ministry official said Saturday, as the South Asian country continues its efforts to modernise its armed forces.

The proposal to buy the M-777 artillery guns was cleared Friday by the Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by Defence Minister A. K. Antony, the official said. He added that the signing of a final contract could take some more months after completion of cost negotiations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.wsj.com, May 12, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rupee hits historic low

The rupee closed at a record low of 54.60 to a dollar on Thursday (May 17)-hammered by global economic concerns, rising domestic prices and fading expectations of interest rate cuts.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Air India strike drags on

The nation’s struggling flagship carrier Air India on Monday cancelled 16 international flights with hundreds of pilots staying away from work as a wildcat strike stretched into its second week.

A company spokesman said about 350 pilots had reported sick as part of a strategy to press the management to accept their demands in a dispute over training.

They are protesting against former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the two state-run companies merged in 2007, being trained for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.nydailynews.com, May 14, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Oil import from Iran to be cut

A week after the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged New Delhi to reduce its engagement with Iran, India said it would cut Iranian oil imports by 11 percent in the coming year.

The promised cut could constitute a significant step for India toward securing a waiver from US sanctions before a June deadline, although officials here denied that they were motivated by US pressure, and some analysts questioned whether the move would be enough to satisfy Washington.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.washingtonpost.com, May 15, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India joins TAPI project

India on Thursday gave its last and final assent to join the proposed four-nation Turkmenistan-Afghanistan, Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project with the rider that the leader of the builder-operator consortium be selected through a global bidding based on transport tariff.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Indian Express, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Trade grows with West Africa

India’s footprint is growing in West Africa, especially in two main players in the region, Nigeria and Ghana, with increased trade across sectors and cooperation in various other fields.

India is helping Nigeria revitalise its Defence Industries Corporation through a public-private partnership programme, according to Mahesh Sachdev, Indian High Commissioner in Abuja.

India is also assisting Nigeria in its fight against terror by sharing specialised training, equipment, strategy and intelligence. The cooperation is under a memorandum of understanding on defence that the two countries signed in 2007.
< class="text11verdana">Source: www.twocircles.net, May 18, 2012.

Maldives
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economic situation worsens

"Maldives is now in a dangerous economic situation never before seen in recent history," local media reported Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), Dr FazeelNajeeb, as saying. "The expenditure in the country has exceeded income, and as a result the budget deficit is increasing. From November 2010 inflation has also been going up," he said.

The country last year spent 63.1 percent of its GDP on state expenses, Dr Najeeb claimed, adding that only four countries had worse percentages, including Cuba and Zimbabwe.Parliament’s Finance Committee revealed earlier this month that expected revenue for 2012 had plunged 23 percent ? a shortfall of US$168.6 million, leaving the country with a budget deficit of 27 percent.

In New Delhi, a joint news releaseissued at the conclusion of President Mohammed Waheed’s first overseas visit after assuming office in February said that India had agreed to grant an additional $25-million from the stand-by credit facility to Maldives. A stand-by line of credit is normally forwarded to countries which have reached macroeconomic sustainability but experience short term financing issues.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 15, 17, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Ibrahim Didi turns to courts

Former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) President Dr Ibrahim Didi has said he will take concerns over the legitimacy of a no confidence motion taken against him last month to the country’s courts, after the Elections Commission (EC) dropped his complaint.

Dr Didi, along with former party Vice President AlhanFahmy, were both voted out of their respective positions by the MDP’s National Council in a vote held on April 30. Both were dismissed through a no-confidence motion approved by 69 out of 73 votes ? though Didi and Fahmy have been critical of the legality of the vote.

The MDP has contended that the dismissal case is "over" following the passing of the no-confidence motion against the president and vice president. However, Didi told Minivan News today that his lawyers were currently sending a case to the courts regarding his dismissal from the party’s presidency. He contends the no-confidence motion was not taken in line with the MDP’s approved regulations registered with the EC at the time.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, May 19, 2012.

Myanmar
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">From Vice-President to monkhood

Vice-President Tin AungMyintOo, whose resignation was speculated last week, has now become a monk with a local Buddhist monarchy. According to Government officials Oo had entered a monastery on May 3.

However the details pertaining to the Vice-President’s resignation is still unclear. He was considered to be one of the reactionary leaders within the ranks of the Government. His absence is believed to strengthen the hand of the country’s reformers.
< class="text11verdana">Source: straitstimes.com, May16, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Change in South Korean policy

President Lee MyungBak of South Korea made the first visit by a President of South Korean leader since an assassination attempt by North Korean commandos nearly 30 years ago.

The South Korean President is the latest dignitary to visit Myanmar as it transitions from a military dictatorship to a fledgling democracy and opens its massive investment potential to the eager international community. Mr Lee planned to discuss how to increase economic ties and cooperation in energy, development of natural resources and other sectors.

The visiting President held discussions with President TheinSein, Home Minister, ministers of commerce, energy and national planning and other Cabinet members.

On the side lines of Lee’s visit the Myanmar government has decided that it will abide by the United Nations (UN) resolutions targeting North Korea’s weapons programmes. At the same time Myanmar will also cease to procure weapons from North Korea, while conceding it had done so to some extent over the past 20 years.

During the meeting between the South Korean President Lee MyungBak, Myanmar President TheinSein said his country never had nuclear cooperation with North Korea but did have deals with Pyongyang for conventional weapons.
< class="text11verdana">Source: channelnewsasia.com, May 15, 2012.

Nepal
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">13 Indians die in plane crash

Two Indian children aged nine and six were pulled out alive along with their father and three others from the wreckage of a small plane that crashed near Jomsom airport, which is around 2,600m above sea level in northern Nepal, on May 14 killing 15 of the 21 people on board. The other survivors included two Danish tourists and a Nepali air hostess.

Of the dead, 13 were Indians, including the mother of the two children. Seven of the deceased were from Mumbai. Child actor TaruniSachdev, who starred in numerous commercials and was last seen with Amitabh Bachchan in the film Paa, was among those killed in the crash.

Officials said the pilot aborted landing at Jomsom airport at the last moment and tried to return to Pokhara, 60km away, due to a technical problem. The Agni Air Dornier 9N AIG ploughed into the ground while it was trying to ascend.

Reports said the aircraft broke into pieces, but did not catch fire and that rescuers managed to reach the scene swiftly due to proximity to an army camp.

The crash was the second deadly air disaster involving the airline in less than two years and the fifth in Nepal in less than two years. It comes about eight months after 10 Indians were killed in another crash near Kathmandu. Jomsom Airport is among one of the world’s most dangerous airfields due to the mountainous terrain on the approach.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Embassy Kathamndu press release, May 15, 2012; The Times of India, May 15, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parties agree on 11-province model

The three major political parties and the United Democratic Madhesi Front have resolved contentious issues in constitution writing, thereby increasing the prospects of completing the drafting of the constitution by May 27.

The parties have agreed to federalise the country into 11 provinces but have refrained from naming them. As per the agreement, the provinces will have the power to take the final decision on names.

The parties have also agreed to a mixed model of governance with a directly elected president and a parliament-elected prime minister, with powers being shared between them. There will be supremacy of parliament that can question the actions of the president.

On judiciary, they have agreed to a separate constitutional court which will have jurisdiction to settle disputes between the centre and the provinces, between one province and another, and between provinces and local bodies. Such a court will have a five-member bench.

The leaders have also gathered consensus on a bicameral legislature. There will be 376-member bicameral parliament at the centre with 311 members in the House of Representative. Among them, 171 members (55 per cent) will be elected through the first past the post system while 140 will be elected through proportional election system. The upper house will have five members each representing 11 states while ten members will be nominated by the president on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers.

Similarly, there will be an assembly in each province. The number of members in assembly will be double the number of lawmakers elected from each province to the House of Representatives.
< class="text11verdana">Source: myrepublica.com, ekantipur.com, May 16, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More factions call for strikes

Nationwide strikes called by various ethnic groups since the declaration of 11 province model has hard hit the country and the commoners. While the far-western region has remained closed for over a week now, the continuous bandhs have affected the daily commuters and tourists even in the capital city.

More dissatisfied factions are calling for such agitations and closure of factories, educational institutions and even hospitals. The demonstrators are demanding federalism on the basis of ethnicity. Some of the groups, especially led by the far-right parties, are against federal model itself. There are also reports of rallies being organised against the ongoing strikes.

The RastriyaPrajatantra Party of former Panchayat leaders, Bahun-ChettriSamaj, some disgruntled Madhesi factions and some ethnic groups from the Hills are leading the demonstrations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: nagariknews.com, nepalnews.com, The Indian Express, May 17-18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian diplomat’s remark raises hackles

An Indian diplomat’s remark to bring a "storm in the Madhes before May 27" has raised hackles among the major three political parties. They have expressed serious objection to the statements of S. D. Mehta, consular of Indian Consulate, Birgunj, saying that his opinions were interference in Nepal’s internal affairs and against diplomatic norms.

A meeting of the major parties ? UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN-UML ?strongly condemned the statement that urged the Madhesis to take to the streets for the sake of Madhes. The leaders have urged the government to talk with Indian government to recall Mehta.

Deputy Prime Minister and Maoist Vice-Chairman Narayan KajiShrestha said that Ministry of Foreign Affairs will initiate to draw the attention of Indian government towards Mehta’s statement.

Mehta, in a cocktail party at Hotel Vishuwa in Birgunj on May 16 evening, tried to persuade leaders of the NC, UML and the MadhesiJanadhikar Forum Nepal representing Parsa and Bara districts to take to the streets and ’bring storm’ before May 27 for the sake of Madhes.

The Indian embassy in Kathmandu, however, said in a statement on May 18 that the media reports were "misleading and factually incorrect." It added that India remains committed to supporting the constitution making process for the establishment of a stable, democratic and prosperous Nepal.
< class="text11verdana">Source: ekantipur.com, May 18, 2012; Hindu, May 19, 2012.

Pakistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pipeline will need cooperation with India

On Thursday, the Indian state-run gas firm GAIL was authorised by the local cabinet to sign the gas purchase agreement for the supplies from the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline, still at the planning stage. This pipeline project, backed by the United States, should be operational in 2018. One of the main challenges will be the security of the pipeline which will cross unsecure areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, this pipeline project will need a close cooperation between India and Pakistan: the two countries will have to agree on various topics, particularly on the price of gas. The impact of this necessary rapprochement can be beneficial as well as extremely risky for the establishment of peace. Indeed, the peaceful scenario would see the increasing economic relations between India in Pakistan strengthening the political ties, a process which is at the basis of the European Union (its first treaty, the European Coal and Steel Community, created a common market for coal and steel). On the other hand, this pipeline could also focus the tensions on the sensitive issue of energy and quickly trigger major diplomatic crises like the recurrent disputes between Russia and Ukraine, unable to find an agreement on the issues caused by the common pipeline.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Times, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Mixed feelings about NATO supply routes

The US House of Representatives voted an amendment that could block $650 million in proposed payments to Pakistan if the NATO supply routes do not reopen. Nevertheless, the delivering of an invitation to the 25th NATO summit on May 20 and 21 to President Asif Ali Zardari and his positive response can be seen as a common will to find a solution; as well as the US official announcement on Thursday stating that the two countries are about to resolve the issue.

However, the core of the problem is not addressed yet. Indeed, the status of the United States in Pakistan and the impunity of the drones attacks are the original trigger of the blockade; since this question is not sorted out, similar dissensions are likely to reoccur. Moreover, Pakistani religious parties and particularly the Jamaat-e-Islami are strongly opposed to the reopening of the supply routes and plan to occupy them if the government unlocks the situation.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, Daily Times, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Political deadlock worsens

The election of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is in a dead end. Indeed, even if the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee has been elected thanks to the vote of the JamiatUlema-i-Islam (JUI-F), the election of the CEC requires two thirds of the 12 votes, which are now equally divided between the Government and the Opposition. The three names proposed by the ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been denounced as controversial and related to the PPP; the Opposition has now to put forward its own suggestion of names. Moreover, the leader of the Opposition, ChaudhryNisar Ali Khan, refuses to hold a consultation with Prime Minister Yusuf RazaGilani as he considers his presence at this position illegitimate after his conviction by the Supreme Court.

Thus, the political system is in a dead end as the Constitution does not specify if a Prime Minister accused of contempt of Court should resign or not. This blockade is now extending to the CEC position and the political crisis is taking root.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, May 15, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">ISI accused of supporting Haqqani

The US Congress introduced a bill that aims to reduce $50 million of the aid to Pakistan for each American killed by terrorists in Pakistan. The Congressman at the origin of this proposition added that these killings, as well as the Haqqani network, are supported by the ISI.

The everlasting terrorist issue plays a major role in the worsening of the foreign perception of Pakistan. Indeed, the recent BBC poll published Thursday ranks Pakistan in the lasts countries in terms of reputation; it is also the only country to rate its own influence as negative. The Pakistani foreign policy is also quoted as a cause of this bad reputation.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express TribuneMay 10, 17, 2012.

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US praises reconciliation plan

The United States said Sri Lanka had put forward "a very serious" plan Friday for reconciliation after decades of war, and urged the island to move forward on protecting human rights.Sri Lankan Minister for External AffairsGaminiLakshmanPeiris met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the wake of a US-backed UN resolution ? that provoked fury in Colombo ? urging accountability over alleged war crimes.

Peiris "presented a very serious and comprehensive approach" to implementing a reconciliation panel’s work and his Government’s "plans to make it more public and accessible," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.Clinton "encouraged a really transparent, open, public process" not only on implementing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations but also in tackling allegations of war crimes, Nuland told reporters.

"She said, ’Good plan, now you really need to make it public. Now you really need to show your people, the world, the concrete implementation steps going forward,’" Nuland said.

Peiris, addressing reporters, said that Sri Lanka gave its most "comprehensive" account of its post-war efforts but did not indicate whether the island committed to new actions."There was no document which we handed over with regard to an action plan. But what we explained to them did constitute a comprehensive account of what have we done, what is now being done, and our thoughts relating to the trajectory for the future," he said.

Peiris said that the US was given "realistic expectations" on how quickly to expect action, considering the length of the civil war."Officials in the State Department had a far clearer idea than they did at the beginning about how this process would work on the ground," the foreign minister added.

Peirisreiterated Sri Lanka’s objections to any international probe. "A reconciliation process, if it is to be successful, it must reflect sensitivity to the aspirations of our people," Peiris said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, Colombo, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Will implement what is necessary: MR

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the Victory Day pared at the Galle Face Green said that only agreeable recommendations in the LLRC Report will be implemented and that too not due to influence by anyone. He also ejected international calls to withdraw troops from the country’s former war zones, warning that the LTTE diaspora had not given up separatism.

"Some are shouting remove military camps from the north and east," Mr Rajapaksa said at a ceremony to mark ’victory day’ on the third anniversary of crushing of the Tamil Tigers. Claiming that "the LTTE diaspora had not given up their separatist ideas, " the President said, "We cannot jeopardise national security by removing camps."

His remarks came hours after US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said Colombo should demilitarise the Tamil dominated embattled north and do more to protect human rights.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online, May 19, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Two Diaspora groups to continue ’struggle’

The Sri Lankan government yesterday celebrated third-year anniversary of its triumph over the LTTE with an impressive combined security forces and police parade in Colombo as the two LTTE front organizations, the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) announced a common strategy to bring President MahindaRajapaksa’s government in to its knees.

The joint action plan was announced following a two-day summit in San Francisco attended by senior representatives of the GTF and TGTE. Former LTTE negotiator, VisvanathanRudrakumaran on behalf of the TGTE and GTF President Rev Dr S J Emanuel reached agreement on the common action plan on May 14, before Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris left Colombo for a crucial May 18 meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Tamil Diaspora made its move as President Rajapaksa reached an understanding with GenSarathFonseka to pave the way for his release, thereby silencing some of its critics. The government expects the unexpected release would lessen pressure on the political front.
< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, May 18, 2012.

Afghanistan
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tripartite meet ends

The 35th meeting of the tripartite commission between the military establishments of Pakistan,Afghanistan and ISAF recently concluded in Rawalpindi. The commission provides a forum to raise and hold deliberations on contentious issues and facilitates settlement.According to an ISPR statement, talks elaborated on border control measures, and to put in place mechanisms to avoid untoward incidents on both sides of Pak-Afghan Border.

Pakistan Army contingent was led by GenAshfaqParvezKayani,General John Allen, Commander ISAF and General Sher Muhammad Karimi, Chief of General Staff Afghan National Army headed their respective delegations.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Asian Defence News,May 15, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NATO hunts down eight militants

At least eight militants were killed along with their commander following NATO airstrike at Syedabad district while they were planting roadside improvised explosive device, according to local authorities in central MaidanWardak province.

"The militants were killed in two separate operations at Kaj Kala and AftabSiaareas," officials said.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 18, 2012.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Obama to meet Karzai in Chicago Summit

US President Barack Obama will meet his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai during the NATO summit due to be held in Chicago on Sunday, a White House official said.

The last rendezvousbetween the two heads of state was at Kabul when Obama paid a surprise visit to his Afghan counterpart and this concluded with the inking of THE Strategic Partnership Act that cemented the 10-year availability of US aid for Afghanistan upon the departure of NATO combatants in 2014.
< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, May 18, 2012.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

Afghanistan: Pankhuri Mehndiratta;
Bangladesh: JoyeetaBhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
India: Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Yann Cres;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;

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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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