MonitorsPublished on Mar 30, 2008
On the domestic front, Sri Lanka remained engaged in the forthcoming Provincial Council elections. On the eastern front, various electoral alignments are being worked out. Bargaining is taking place among political parties to woo winnable contenders to their side.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 12

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">A turn towards East

On the domestic front, Sri Lanka remained engaged in the forthcoming Provincial Council elections. On the eastern front, various electoral alignments are being worked out. Bargaining is taking place among political parties to woo winnable contenders to their side. None of the political parties have announced their chief ministerial candidates not to antagonize the sentiments of any of the three main communities—the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.
Sri Lanka’s growing ties with Iran, China and Russia drew ire from the United States. Sri Lanka, on its part, admitted that its traditional partners in the West have been replaced by the friends from the East not only because they were neighbours and rich but mainly because they don’t preach. Though India is equally concerned about Sri Lanka’s proximity to China and Pakistan, it is going ahead with a US $450 million mega undersea power transmission link with Sri Lanka. With an Indian company already finalising the details of the 500 MW coal fired plant in Sri Lanka, buying power from Sri Lanka could also become a possibility. To top it all, the Indian government confirmed that up to 53% of the external training of Sri Lankan Army was taking place in India.               

< class="maroontitle">Troubled Independence Day

Amidst concerns over rising food prices and a demand to try war criminals of 1971 Liberation War, Bangladesh celebrated its 37th Independence Day. Economists have raised serious concern over rising food prices and warned that high rate of inflation could have grave consequences and warranted immediate remedial measures. A leading research institute reported 67 per cent rise in the prices of rice in the last one year. A worried government has set up a committee headed by Chief Advisor to cushion the effects of soaring food prices as public discontent over the issue rose.

Another issue which took the centre-stage was that of war criminals. General Moeen Ahmed, Chief of Bangladesh Army, who is backing the present caretaker regime set the ball rolling by saying that the government was considering holding trials for the war criminals of 1971. This issue has kicked up a lot of controversy in the country. Last week, hundreds of veteran freedom fighters came to Dhaka to urge the present government to take action against the war criminals.  Another significant related event was the presence of 10 ex-Indian Army officers who fought the 1971 war along with Bangladesh’s freedom fighters, in the Independence Day celebrations. These retired officers were invited by the Bangladesh government in appreciation of India’s contribution to the country’s independence.   This is for the first time Bangladesh had invited Indian Army officers for the independence celebrations.

On the politics front,   unification of the two factions of Bangladesh National Party (BNP) was not on the cards as Saifur Rahman, leader of the reformist faction of BNP,  last week pledged to free the party from the bondage of any single individual and  make it democratic. In Awami League, pressure was mounting on the central committee to launch protests demanding the release of Sheikh Hasina Wajed.  The central leadership, however, was keen to launch a country-wide protest against the government on the issue of price rise.

< class="maroontitle">Maoists fear losing elections

The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) has warned of another phase of revolution if the party was not voted to power. While campaigning in the eastern part of the country, Maoist chairman Prachanda and other prominent leaders have strongly articulated that the party will not accept defeat in the coming Constituent Assembly elections of April 10. Prachanda said “the pro-palace elements, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), Nepali Congress and some foreign powers are conspiring against the elections``. The Maoists believe that anti-national elements in Nepal were making efforts to prevent them party from winning.

The Maoists have realised that the elections would not be a cake walk for them as their support base has reduced over the past few months. They are now getting restive and engaging in anti-election activities. The cadre has been defying the Election Commission’s directive to follow the election code of conduct. The Young Communist League affiliated to the Maoist party has been indulging in violence during the campaign. In remote areas, they are intimidating and preventing common people from attending political programmes of rival parties. In all, the Maoists seem to be in a desperate mood to win the elections and are likely to use any means to achieve their objective.

< class="maroontitle">Making of a historic move in Bhutan

Bhutan achieved a historic feat after holding the first general elections in the country. On March 24, the Bhutanese people, in large numbers, voted the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party to power and ended the century-old absolute rule of the monarchy. Nearly 70 percent Bhutanese voted in these elections. DPT, led by former Prime Minister Jigmi Kinley, and managed to secure 44 out of 47 seats in the Parliament; remaining three went to People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Bhutan’s transition towards democracy began after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred the power to the present King, Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck in 2006. The likely candidate as a Prime Minister, Jigmi Kinley has served twice as PM during the royal regime. Kinley is a staunch royalist and also supports the King’s vision of development in Bhutan and is expected to promote the King’s policy. By and large, the new transition is aimed to begin a new constitutional form of democracy in the country. Though the King will remain the head of the State, it is hoped that the newly elected government would function more democratically.

< class="maroontitle">Draft Constitution deadline missed

In a concerted bid to end the 30 year-long reign of the Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, several opposition party candidates have launched their presidential campaigns. Various strategies have been devised to counter the propaganda of the ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). However, there is no consensus yet on fielding a single or a multiple candidates against Gayoom. The leader of Social Liberal Party and the Chairman of the Drafting Committee Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) favours multiple candidates to contest elections so that the people would have ample choice in electing the candidates. Multiple candidates would mean less votes for Gayoom. Though, observers believe, Gayoom may face difficulties in the polls, it is not impossible for him to be re-elected as the President. Time, however, is running out for poll preparations as the deadline set for the completion of the Draft Constitution was once again missed in view of the uncompromising and stubborn tendencies of the political parties on certain issues. 

< class="maroontitle">New Prime Minister takes oath

Pakistan’s 25th Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani is, by all accounts, a suitable candidate for perhaps one of the most challenging political positions in south Asia-- to lead a civilian government in a country overshadowed by the military. Gillani has enough political pedigree, educational qualification, political acumen and experience, and party loyalty to keep the flock together. He might even play along with the Army and the former General in the Presidential chair, Mr Pervez Musharraf. Gillani can also be given the benefit of doubt about his ability to deal with problems such as economic downspiral, resurgent radicalism and the omnipresence of the United States of America. The problem lies in the political equation that awaits Gillani in Islamabad. It is dramatically different from the good old days of General Musharraf when there was the Army versus Everybody else. There are too many power centres for any premier to plough through, howsoever savvy and qualified he might be. Gillani’s decision to free the deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges on the eve of his oath-taking ceremony does give an indication that he might just pull the rabbit out of the bag, if his coalition supporters remain with him.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

    1. Anjali Sharma                  – Sri Lanka, Maldives
    2. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee  – Bangladesh
    3. Paul Soren                        – Nepal, Bhutan
    4. Wilson John                     – Pakistan


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