Fortnightly Review & Analysis - Neighbourhood Studies (Vol 2 Issue XIV)

July 16-31, 2017

Nepal

Dahal for Alliance with the Madhes Based Parties

Former Prime Minister and Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist Centre CPN-(MC) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has proposed an electoral alliance with the Madhes based parties for the upcoming third phase of the local level polls scheduled to be held in Province 2 on September 18. Madhesi parties are of the view that CPN-(MC) Prachanda was seeking alliance only with the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N) which had earlier boycotted both the rounds of local level elections. The RJP-N is unrelenting in their decision of non-participation till their major demand for Constitutional amendment was addressed. Dahal wants his party to forge electoral alliance with the Madhes-based parties in the eight Tarai districts. He mooted the possibility of increasing the number of local federal units in Province 2 in order to bring the agitating RJP-N on the electoral platform. Nepali Congress (NC) leader Bimlendra Nidhitoo has hinted at the possibility of NC and CPN-(MC) forgoing an alliance for the District Coordination polls. Leaders of various other regional parties have endorsed the proposal. Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSF-N) Chairman Upendra Yadav has viewed Dahal’s proposal as positive. Another Madhes based party, Nepal Loktantrik Forum’s leader said that although Dahal’s approach was majorly in favour of the RJP-N, yet the Forum was ready to discuss the matter if the Maoist Centre came up with a more a meaningful proposal. Meanwhile, NC has started its campaign in Province 2.

Nepal Law Makers file Amendments to let Corruption Convicts Contest Polls

Law makers belonging to various political parties including ruling NC have proposed that the law does not bar convicts of corruption and other criminal cases from contesting elections. The Bill on Elections to the House of Representatives proposes that people convicted of corruption in human trafficking, drug trafficking, illegal trade, passport misuse and abduction or any other crime of moral improbity cannot contest election. But lawmakers have filed a number of amendments seeking removal of or amendment to the provision. The provision however is not new. Previously convicts were barred from two Constituent Assembly polls. A new law on the political parties has a provision that convicts cannot hold any position in political parties’ central committee. The proposers demand that the convicts be barred from polls only for a period of three years after completing the sentence.

CPN-(MC) for Directly Elected President and Proportionally Elected Parliament.

The CPN-MC has advocated Presidential system of government in which the President is elected by the people as the Chief Executive, assisted by Parliament elected under the Proportional Representation Electoral System. Party leader Prachanda said that since 1950 till date, Nepal has not yet attainted a government that could rule for five years. This has resulted in the political instability. The proposed system, if adopted, would not only bring stability but also reduce election expenses. Prachandaalso appealed to the breakaway factions of his party led by Baburam Bhattarai, Mohan Baidya and Netra Bikram Chand to unite in order to serve the people as a stronger party in Nepal.

Financial Irregularities Alleged in Distribution of Government Funds

It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had asked the government to develop proper guidelines for distribution of money from state funds under the scheme of medical treatment and financial assistance. This was also reiterated as a pre-requisite by the Parliamentary Committee. It has been on record that successive governments have been distributing funds to individuals for specific purposes. Sources at the Prime Minister’s office said that there is a long tradition of distribution of funds through a mutual understanding between the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. Although the original list of recipient is normally prepared by the Home Ministry, Prime Minister may add names to the list before getting it endorsed by the Cabinet. The Home Ministry spokesperson Dipak Kafle said that the financial assistance can be provided to the needy anytime even during the elections through a Cabinet decision. The primary responsibility of the Home Ministry is to protect the life and property of the citizen.

It has now emerged that in the Dahal-led Cabinet, on February 28, the then Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi had proposed distribution offinancial assistances ofmillions of rupees to 452 individuals through state ministers and parliamentarians, defying the election code of conduct that came into force after the Election Commission announced the date for local level polls. In a significant development on the eve of the third round of voting for the local bodies in Province 2, reports have appeared in the Nepali media accusing governments in Kathmandu of having distributed Rs. 167 million to party cadres over the last eleven years. It is alleged that a sum of Rs 4 billion was also doled out by political leaders to party workers. On June 2,Rs. 37.7 million were distributed to hundreds of NC and CPN-MC cadres among others. At least 485 recipients were provided Rs 50,000 each. Earlier before the second phase of local elections in June this year, government is accused of distributing over Rs. 167 million in a single day to CPN-(MC) party cadre and that of NC under the pretext of “financial assistance.” It is alleged that such disbursement of funds was carried out to influence the 2nd phase of local level elections.

Unusual Indian Security Checks hit Nepal’s Trade

An increased security check at the India-Nepal border point at Bhairahawaha opposite Western Nepal have severely hit Nepal’s trade. The security personnel from India have been carrying out vigorous inspection of cargo vehicles leading to traffic congestion and long delay in clearance of goods. Traders and truck operators allege the the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has increased its surveillance along the border point after the Indian government’s decision allowing the force to run an intelligence drive along the borders of Nepal and Bhutan primarily to keep a check on anti-India activities.

Bangladesh

Metro Rail Construction Work Begins

To meet intra-city connectivity requirements, construction work on the metro-rail project for Dhaka began on the 2nd of August. The project is aimed at easing the perennial traffic congestion in Dhaka metropolitan area by providing an improved, fast and an environment friendly means of public transportation. The estimated time to travel the 20 Km distance from the north-end of Uttara to Motijheel area would be only 35 minutes.

50,000 Bangladeshis may Return Home from Saudi Arabia.

More than 50,000 expatriate Bangladeshi workers, classified as ‘irregulars’ are likely to soon return home from Saudi Arabia taking advantage of an amnesty announced by the Saudi government to return home and reapply for entry following proper procedures. It is learnt that at least 20,000 expatriates have already left for Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia will recruit nearly 30,000 Bangladeshi workers in different capacity during the year. The Bangladesh Ambassador in Riyadh, Golam Moshi urged all “irregular” Bangladeshis living in the kingdom to return home and re-enter the country through legal channels only. He assured them of all assistance under the new procedure for returning back home.

Sri Lanka

Cabinet Finally Clears Hambantota Port Deal

Sri Lanka's cabinet cleared a revised/renegotiated agreement for its Chinese-built southern port of Hambantota after the earlier agreement sparked widespread public anger. While details of the new agreement have not yet been made public, according to parts of the document now in public domain (Reuters), two companies are being set up to split the operations of the port and allay concerns, in India, Japan and the United States, that the facilities at Hambantota won't be used for military purposes.

China Merchants Port holdings will take 85 percent stake in Hambantota International Port Group that will run the port and its terminals, with the rest held by Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The company's capital will be $794 million.A second firm, Hambantota International Port Group Services Co, with capital of $606 million, will be set up to oversee security operations, with the Sri Lanka holding a 50.7 percent stake and the Chinese 49.3 percent. As per the new agreement, Sri Lanka will have control over port activities including security; agreement clearly stating that no military ships will be allowed in the port.

Some analysts sense that Sri Lanka is limiting China’s role in Hambantota port to ease international concerns, while many other claim that this new repackaged deal is nothing but ‘old wine in a new bottle’, because effective holding of around 134.3 percent out of 200 percent (85 percent+ 49.3%) rests with China. In an interview to a TV channel after the deal was signed, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated that ties with China were not at the expense of India. However he remained not committal on issue of visit by Chinese ships or submarines to Sri Lanka. Any country that is investing so massively in a small country which occupies a strategic location, may have a large say in the security matters of that country.

A sizeable section of the influential monk’s community is still against the leasing out of the Port to China and is planning to launch renewed protest. Even the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party has said that it would get the workers attached to Sri Lanka Ports Authority to prevent the government from implementing the agreement. This cabinet approved deal now needs approval by the parliament.

Made-in-India Warship Largest in Sri Lankan Naval Fleet

The Sri Lankan Navy has commissioned its largest patrol vessel, which has been built in India under Rs 1,000-crore contract inked four years ago for two such vessels.The manufacturer, state-owned Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) delivered the first vessel to the Sri Lankan Navy at a ceremony on July 29, 86 days ahead of its schedule. It is a 105-metre long warship, with a displacement of around 2,400 tons. Capable of reaching a top speed of 25 knots, the vessel has been designed to accommodate a helicopter on their flight deck. Along with being the largest warship to be operated by the Sri Lankan Navy, it is also the largest warship to be exported by an Indian shipyard. Sri Lanka will get the second warship in February 2018, three months ahead of schedule.The patrol vessel can carry out several roles including fleet support operations, maritime surveillance, defence of offshore installations and escorting high value ships.

Sri Lanka to Extend India's Ramayana Circuit

Sri Lankan Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga said that the country is preparing to be part of the Ramayana circuit planned by India for tourists. As per an article in Deccan Herald, the Indian government is identifying places connected with the Ramayana, while Sri Lanka has already identified 71 locations across the island for inclusion in the circuit. The minister added that the government had entered into an agreement with the India to create a full circuit. Excavation is on for more places described in the Ramayana. Minister said that his country aims to complete the entire circuit by the end of this year. “Just like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we look at Sri Lanka and all south Indian states as one unique unit, housing the maximum Ramayana spots,” he said. This is in continuation of the Buddhist circuit project which the two governments are already working on.

Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Act Approved

President Maithripala Sirisena signed the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Act on July 20. The Under the Act, OMP will not only look at the civil war but also the periods of JVP insurrection. This office will come under the purview of the President himself. The Chairman of the Office would be chosen from the recommendations made by the Constitutional Council.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake clarified that “the general impression of the office is that it was set up to take action against the armed forces. This is a very open and independent commission and those in the armed forces who have done nothing wrong have nothing to worry about.” The new Bill would be brought before parliament in the near future and funds for the process had already been allocated. The reparation process is essentially a reconstruction and restoration process that will bring those displaced by the war to their places of origin. This marks another step forward in Sri Lanka's path to sustained peace. UN Secretary General António Guterres commended the Sri Lankan government for establishing the OMP.

US Terrorism Report Alerts Sri Lanka against Islamic State (IS)

The annual U S ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2016’ has stated that Sri Lankan security and intelligence agencies were on full alert against the possibility of ISIS or its affiliates emerging in the country. It referred to a January 2016 statement of then Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchit hat approximately 36 Sri Lankans who traveled to Syria, with some joining Daesh, but he had then asserted that IS and other terrorist groups were not physically present in Sri Lanka. This report stated that Sri Lanka’s counter terrorism cooperation and training with the United States in 2016 was limited, but the bilateral security and defense relationship continued to grow. It may be mentioned that in November, Minister of Justice Wijedayasa Rajapakshe had informed the parliament that approximately 32 well-educated Sri Lankan Muslims from four families had joined IS in Syria. His statement had sparked controversy within the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

Maldives

President Yameen’s Nephew Arrested

The Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen's nephew was arrested amid renewed political unrest in the country after members of the president's family turned against him, criticising authoritarian reversals under his rule. Faris Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was arrested in the capital Male on charges of bribery, according to court documents. Faris is a politician who defected to the opposition and has been leading efforts to unseat Yameen's ally, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh, who has been accused of ignoring allegations of corruption, mismanagement and rights abuses.

Faris arrived in Maldives just four days before the vote to remove the Speaker. Thus critics say that his arrests furthers the campaign to reduce opposition votes by arresting and jailing lawmakers. Senior Gayoom called his son's arrest "a grave injustice" in a Twitter post and said "All dictatorships are doomed to fail. That is the lesson of history." Former President Mohamed Nasheed said Yameen was "highlighting his desperation by going after his own nephew".

It may be recalled that an earlier attempt to remove Maseeh, the Majlis Speaker, in March this year had ended in chaos when Yameen ordered troops to eject several politicians from parliament. Then in April, the ruling party raised the number of signatures required for a no-confidence motion to 50 percent of the house, up from a third. Yameen's administration has arrested most of the opponents who might challenge him in 2018 Presidential election.

Nawaz Sharif Concludes Official Visit to the Maldives

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif paid a three day official visit to the Maldives to participate in the 52nd Independence Day function of the country on July 26. Official talks between the two leaders/delegations focused on strengthening bilateral cooperation in areas of economy, education, health, tourism, and youth and sports affairs. The two sides also highlighted ways to strengthen bonds between SAARC countries. Six important agreements were signed during this visit.

Pakistani Prime Minister was accompanied by his wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. Pakistan’s Foreign Office read out on the visit maintained that, “The visit of the Prime Minister will provide impetus to further strengthen our bilateral relations with the Maldives in all areas including political, trade, economic, defence, tourism, education and people to people contacts.” This was in tune with Pakistan’s pro-active policy of engagement with the countries of in the region.