BY SHASHI MALLA
• Mt. Everest “Traffic Jam”: Himalayan Blunder by Tourism Ministry
A very narrow window of standard climbing weather has led to deadly overcrowding from the Everest Base Camp to the summit itself. This “overcrowding” was the star attraction on the front page of the International New York Times (May 28, 2019). Most of the deaths this season happened after summiteers spent too much time in the “death zone’. If not ‘overcrowding’, then perhaps the climbers themselves were at fault by much too much treading on each other’s toes!
This state of affairs occurred because the inexperienced bureaucrats in the Ministry of Tourism issued far too many permits (381) for scaling the world’s highest mountain peak. Their whole tourism policy is guided by colossal Himalayan greed and ‘quantity over quality & safety’. Just earning tourism dollars is just not enough. In fact, the whole tourism policy must be revamped, extensive investments must be made, and a more competent and knowledgeable minister installed.
But this is asking too much from Maoist-oriented apparatchiks [to designate them as Communist/Socialist would be completely aspirational and praiseworthy]. The great German philosopher Karl Marx had enunciated the ultimate goal of Communism thus: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. This lofty but utopian goal has been out of reach of all so-called ‘Communist’ regimes. In fact, to call them ‘Communist’ is not only patently false and misleading, but deceptive. Nepal’s own so-called “Communist Party” may be more correctly designated as “Maoist-Leninist’. If they so prefer, the epithet “Stalinist” could also be added on. After all, the current government receives inspiration from Cuba, Venezuela and Cambodia – all authoritarian regimes led by so-called “strongmen”, doing little for their countrymen.
The government as a whole – as is their wont – will deny any responsibility and the ministry of tourism of any wrong doing. But faulty planning and a massive rapacity for tourism dollars is putting this climbing season to be one of the deadliest. Climbers have expressed great concerns of hopeless overcrowding on the world’s highest mountain after a long exhausting queue to reach the summit. Mountaineering as such has been degraded!
• Austria’s Right-Wing Ideology Exposed
In a well-planned sting operation in 2017 just weeks before the parliamentary elections in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) were made the victims, but not immediately. The denouement came nearly two years later.
In a video footage, released two weeks ago by leading German media (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich and Der Spiegel), far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache can be seen relaxing and drinking for hours at a posh villa in the top-notch Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Also in the picture are FPO parliamentary group leader Johann Gudenus and a glamourous woman, who professed to be the millionaire niece of a Russian oligarch.
During the course of the tete-a-tete, an ingenious [but treasonous] bargain was struck. Strache offers the svelte lady lucrative public contracts, including a large stake in Austria’s leading daily newspaper “Kronen Zeitung”, which would then support the Freedom Party. Strache comments that, of course, some journalists would have to be ‘pushed out’, and that he wanted to “build a media landscape like [Viktor] Orban” – referring to Hungary’s far-right nationalist and anti-immigrant leader, who had suppressed the independent media.
In the elections, both the Freedom Party and Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) performed very well riding the wave of anti-immigration, and then formed a coalition government. Strache became the vice-chancellor (deputy prime minister) and four others from his party received ministerial posts. Nothing happened for quite a long time.
Then with shades of a crafty crime-thriller, the perpetrators struck just a week before European Parliament elections across the EU by releasing the damning video. Strache resigned hours after the video emerged. Austria’s president Van der Bellen dismissed the interior minister Herbert Kickl, and then the remaining Freedom Party ministers also resigned en masse.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz replaced the far-right ministers with technocrats after his coalition government collapsed amid the political scandal. Kurz himself faced a no-confidence vote in parliament this Monday, brought by leftist parties, including the Socialists (SPOe). Since his People’s Party has only 62 seats in the 183-seat parliament, his survival was questionable. Even his former colleagues from the far-right voted against him [the far-right can never be trusted!] and he was booted out. This was the [provisional] ignominious end of Kurz’s Faustian bargain and the “Ibiza-Gate” scandal.
• European Union Elections
In last week’s European Union (EU) elections, EU citizens decided the composition of the supra-national organization’s parliament (based in Strasbourg, France) for the next five years. It was the world’s second largest democratic exercise – after India and before Indonesia’s general elections. Populist, nationalist, far-right, and non-traditional parties have made major gains, which could complicate matters within and outside the EU.
The European Parliament is the bloc’s only directly elected body, and is one of the organization’s seven major institutions.
The European Commission is the administrative and policy body of the EU. Its Commissioners and President are appointed by member states after scrutiny from the European Parliament.
The Council of the European Union represents all member states. Voting is subject to qualified majorities. The votes given to each state are designed to both reflect population size, and give somewhat more weight to smaller states than population alone would warrant. Member states are represented by their relevant government ministers. It has the final say on legislation, after drafts are considered and amended by the European Parliament.
Not to be mistaken with the above is the European Council which gives direction to the EU. It convenes at least four times a year and comprises thePresident of the European Council (currently Donald Tusk of Poland), the President of the European Commission (presently Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, who is retiring), and one representative per member state (either its head of state or head of government. It has been described as the EU’s “supreme political authority” and is actively involved in the negotiation of treaty changes and defines the EU’s policy agendas and strategies.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ensures the uniform application of EU law and resolves disputes between EU institutions and member states, as well as, against EU institutions on behalf of individuals.
The European Central Bank (based in Frankfurt/Main, Germany) is responsible for monetary stability within member states.
The European Court of Auditors investigates the proper management of finances within both the EU entities and EU funding provided to member states.
The EU-parliament’s 751 seats are divided among the 28 member states according to population. EU’s biggest member, Germany has the most seats, with 96, followed by France (74 seats), Italy (73), UK (73), Spain (54), and Poland (51). The smallest countries – Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta – are represented with 6 seats each.
However, the EU-parliament does not initiate legislation, which is the prerogative of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body and its most powerful institution. The EU-parliament does have major legislative functions:
– To negotiate and approve all EU legislation
– To negotiate and approve the EU budget
– Endorse the EU’s international agreements, including trade deals
– Approve the members of the European Commission
– Supervision of the European Commission and other EU institutions.
Since the EU parliament plays a central role by approving the president and membership, the largest parties or groups in parliament regulate and calibrate the direction of EU policy making.
After the last elections in 2014, the biggest bloc was the European People’s Party (EPP), a group of centre-right parties from all over the EU, including Germany”s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union. The EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker was elected president of the Commission. Since no single grouping had a majority, Juncker governed with a coalition of centre-right and centre-left groups.
The big centre-right and centre-left blocs in the European Parliament have lost their combined majority amid an increase in support for Liberals, Greens and Far-Right Nationalists. The Liberals and Greens made substantive gains, while the far-right nationalists cruised to victory in France and Italy.
However, the centre-right “European People’s Party” (EPP) remains the largest bloc, and is expected to form a pro-EU ‘grand coalition’ with the Socialists and Democrats bloc, with support from the Liberals and Greens. The leader of the liberal bloc, Guy Verhofstadt said succinctly: [It] “is a historical moment, because there will be a new balance of power in the European Parliament” [BBC, May 27, 2019], but it will be an Europe that is increasingly polarized, and increasingly fragmented.
• India After the General Elections
PM Narendra Modi’s reelection has sent mixed messages for its regional rivals, China and Pakistan and also to the other countries of South Asia. Since Modi now has an even bigger mandate than in 2014, this can embolden him. He is inspired by Trump and ‘Trumpism’ and has his own vision of ‘Making India Great Again’ [MIGA).
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is hopeful that Modi’s reelection will enhance the peace trajectory between the two South Asian arch-rivals. The two countries nearly embarked on a full-fledged war this February, after militants with support from the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammadin Indian-administered Kashmir killed 40 paramilitary soldiers. Modi roundly blamed Pakistan and ordered an airstrike against a militant camp on Pakistan soil – nearly triggering an all-out war.
The terrorist attack was a godsend for Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He now elevated the security issue to the most pressing in the election campaign, and project himself as the strongman to keep India safe from Pakistani depredations.
Modi and the BJP can now be expected to take an even more stronger line on Kashmir – the bone of contention between India and Pakistan.
Indian and Pakistani interests are also discordant in neighbouring Afghanistan. Until recently, Pakistan was the major regional power in Afghanistan, and even today is helping the United States to forge a lasting peace with the militant Taliban. It views India’s engagement in the strife-torn country with distrust, and even as a threat. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in congratulating Modi said: “I think that ties between Afghanistan and India will be even stronger during Modi’s second term.”
Modi’s foreign policy trajectory is at odds with those of other South Asian nations. He has purposefully pushed SAARC into the doldrums and is single-mindedly promoting BIMSTEC. Thus, he has pointedly only invited the members of the latter to his swearing-in ceremony, and left out the Maldives, Afghanistan and Pakistan! If PM K.P. Sharma Oli had the guts [Nepal is after all the chair of SAARC, and its secretariat is based in Kathmandu], he would politely decline because of the budget. But that is asking too much, and Oli will pay is obeisance at the Delhi Durbar.
On the domestic front, as soon as the election euphoria settles, Modi’s government will have to find ways to boost investment and revive manufacturing to create new jobs. The ultra-nationalist BJP came to power in 2014, promising to create 10 million jobs a year. This was barely mentioned in Modi’s triumphant election campaign. The time to deliver is now!
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]