BY SHASHI MALLA
Region South Asia
India’s Capital Assembly Election
BJP Again Headed for Defeat
Five exit polls have predicted a comfortable victory for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP/Common Man’s Party) in Saturday’s assembly election. It is expected to win anything between 47 to 68 seats in the legislature of 70 members of the capital city area (Hindustan Times).
After exit polls predicted the Aam Aadmi Party winning big in the Delhi assembly elections, several leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP/ruling at the centre), pointed out these predictions have failed in the past and one should wait until February 11 for the results to be declared.
The BJP, according to most polls, was seen as improving its performance from the last assembly elections, when it won just three seats. All exit polls suggested the Congress again come a distant third. It would fail to secure any seat, or at best, winning just three seats.
BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi expressed confidence her party will perform well and also claimed that Arvind Kejriwal will not retain his assembly seat.
Results of elections in India can be extremely hard to predict and there have been instances where pollsters have been spectacularly off the mark. This was the case with the 2019 Lok Sabha [lower house of parliament] election. Exit polls gave 220 seats to the National Democratic Alliance [NDA/election alliance led by the BJP], whereas the BJP alone finally won 303 seats.
It was a bitter election campaign and a BJP lawmaker was reprimanded twice by the Election Commission for his hate speeches. There was also a fall in voter turnout compared to the 2015 assembly polls when a record 67.47 percent voters cast their ballot. This time around, it was provisionally set at 61.7 percent.
The ongoing protests, sometimes violent, against PM Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law, may have influenced both voter turnout and the results.
Region West Asia/Middle East
Syria Regime Forces on the March
Since December 2019, Russia-backed regime forces have pressed a blistering assault against the Idlib region, retaking town after town despite warnings from rebel ally Turkey to back off.
The violence has killed more than 300 civilians and sent more than 580,000 people fleeing towards the Turkish border. Turkey has called on the Syrian regime to halt its campaign. It already hosts some 3.7 million refugees and fears a new influx.
Tensions flared up last week after a rare escalation between Syrian regime and regular Turkish forces in Idlib killed more than 20 combatants on both sides.
The latest offensive against Idlib, home to three million people, comes after several failed ceasefire deals. The most significant deal was signed by Moscow and Ankara in the Russian town of Sochi in 2018, aiming to avert an all-out government onslaught. This has apparently collapsed.
According to analysts, the Assad regime does not currently have the manpower or resources to capture all of Idlib in one operation. It will require Russian backing over the course of multiple operations with limited objectives.
Turkey has dispatched additional troops to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Syrian government forces are waging an offensive against the country’s last remaining enclaves. President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army has already recaptured towns of towns and villages – more than 230 square miles of territory. Turkey is prepared to “take action” in order to prevent hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees crossing its border.
Ireland voted in a general election last Saturday, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar hoping to secure a new term on the back of Brexit but voters judged him more on his domestic record (AFP/Agence France-Presse).
Varadkar is Ireland’s first mixed race [half Indian] and openly gay premier who has come to represent a more socially progressive Ireland after uninterrupted dominance by the Roman Catholic Church.
Some 3.3 million people were eligible to vote to elect 159 members of the Dail, the lower chamber of parliament in Dublin. Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has been in power since 2016 but polling suggests they are trailing centre-right rivals Fianna Fail and centre-left republicans Sinn Fein.
On Tuesday, the country was scrambling to adjust to a new reality, after an earth-shaking election that saw the left-wing nationalist party Sinn Fein winning the biggest share of votes (AP/Associated Press).
With votes still counting under the proportional-representation system, it is not clear what kind of ultimate government alliance will emerge, but upbeat party leader Mary Lou McDonald has demanded: “This vote for Sinn Fein is for Sinn Fein to be in government, for Sinn Fein to make a difference, for Sinn Fein to be tested, for Sinn Fein to deliver.”
After the end of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the Democrats are now concentrating on the primaries to choose the candidate to oppose Trump, who is now seeking re-election.
According to many political analysts, the Democrats have to choose with great discretion. James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist and mastermind of Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory opined earlier last week: “Do we want to be an ideological cult or do we want to have a majoritarian instinct to be a majority party?”
At the heart of Carville’s critique is the party’s embrace of extreme liberal positions like allowing jailed criminals to vote and de-criminalizing illegal immigration. More broadly, Carville believes his party is espousing extreme liberal standpoints and supporting policies on immigration and health care [‘Medicare for All’] that simply lack the support of a majority of the country.
This criticism is aimed above all at Senator Sanders, a Vermont independent [who allies with the Democratic faction] who, heading into this week’s New Hampshire primary [this past Tuesday], is one of the favorites to be the Democratic nominee.“Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat,” Carville said, “He’s never been a Democrat. He’s an ideologue.”
This sentiment fully echoes the critique of Sanders offered recently by 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
However, for supporters of Sanders, attacks from establishment figures further fuel their belief in the rightness of the senator’s cause, and the need to reject calls for moderation and pragmatism. These mostly young people think there’s a real yearning for a left-wing revolution in America, and that if they just appeal to the people who feel and think that way, they will grow and excite people and win in November 2020. (CNN’S Chris Cillizza). Unfortunately, they are blind to the fact that this is no path to victory.
There is little doubt that Democrats are at the crossroads, with very different paths before them. What path they choose could very well determine not only the outcome in November, but also the future of the country and the world at large!
Why Impeachment Didn’t Work
In a precise and succinct essay in Newsweek (February 8), Jennifer N. Victor, associate professor of political science at George Mason University, has argued that the impeachment trial against Donald Trump did not succeed because the American political system has become dysfunctional.
Professor Victor writes that the framers of the U.S. Constitution created a government designed to have just enough centralized power to make governance effective, without putting too much power in any one place. They created a delicate balance: too little power, and chaos reigns; too much, and rulers tend to get autocratic.
Impeachment was intended to be the ultimate shield against autocracy and used sparingly. Judged objectively, Trump has been a very divisive president. Even Republicans conceded that he abused the power of his office. He was impeached, but not removed from office, suggesting that the power structure was out of balance.
Furthermore, Ms. Victor establishes that the most successful governments around the world have two main characteristics that help them maintain their democratic stability: institutions and norms.
Democratic institutions include respect for the rule of law, an independent and functioning legislature, widespread voting rights, an impartial judiciary and regular elections to freely select representatives. In Nepal, the ‘rule of law’ is not fully established, the parliament is not very effective in controlling the executive, and the judiciary is very slow in imparting justice.
Democratic norms include mutual respect among political rivals and political parties, and self-restraint of those in power. In a healthy, free republic [like Germany] or constitutional monarchy [like the U.K.] political adversaries compete without threatening one another [unfortunately, like in India].
The political adversaries respect one another’s right to participate in the political arena and accept their rival’s leadership when their side loses. They do not strive to deprive their adversary of power when they are in power. These norms are critical to making the institutions of democracy. Unfortunately, these illiberal tendencies are in action in the East European states of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and also to some extent in the United States, in the functioning of the Republican Party [or the Grand Old Party/GOP, the very party of Abraham Lincoln!].
As Prof. Victor so aptly described the democratic process: “The institutions are the engine; the norms are the oil that allows the whole complicated machine to operate.”
She further elucidates that the U.S. Constitution established strong institutional features, including three separate but co-equal branches of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary. It is indeed a brilliant ‘self-monitoring’ design, but, at the same time, it is not a ‘self-executing’ system. It requires the essential democratic norms to make it function smoothly.
As can be observed daily, in U.S. politics, especially since the inauguration of the Trump presidency, the norms of respect and restraint have been seriously eroded. Even as a presidential candidate, Trump encouraged locking up his political rival, Hillary Clinton. He now routinely threatens opponents with violence and acts as if his political rivals have no right to make public statements.
Trump and the Republican Party which is completely under his thumb, participate actively in the degradation of the norms that act as the sentinels of democracy. Since these unrestrained acts persist, they become a barrier to institutions functioning properly as the founders had envisioned. Many Americans are unable and/or unwilling to grasp this degradation of the U.S. Constitution.
At a time of intense political polarization and defiance of democratic norms, Trump has clearly overstepped the boundaries of presidential power, and Congress which was designed to constrain executive power has failed/refused to apply the brakes.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]