Newsnotes 2008 05

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

Nepal votes ‘red’

Italy votes ‘blue’

‘Feed the Rich’ – bad debts and hungry people

Chinese bloggers scorn Western values

 

Nepal votes ‘red’

Western journalists in Third World countries must find it easiest to talk to existing English-speakers, which means mostly the prosperous and highly Westernised. That explains their surprise at the landslide in favour of Nepal’s Maoists.

The final figures look like being 32% Maoist, 22% for the Nepali Congress and 21% for the UML, a more moderate Communist Party. The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, a regional party claiming to speak for the people of the Madhesh or flat southern region of Nepal, ended up with less than 6% of the votes. Since the Madhesh has nearly half the population, it seems that regionalism is not yet a strong force.

Fifth and with less than 3% of the votes came the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (National Democratic Party), right-wing and monarchist. Below that are a lot of smaller parties, including at least three other small Communist Parties. (Nepal currently has nine parties calling themselves Communist, the result of various splits and mergers.)

Nepal’s system is a mix of first-past-the-post and proportional representation. It looks likely that the Maoists, who originally insisted on proportional representation, will end up limited by it. They have 120 out of 240 first-past-the-post seats. If they get about a third of the 335 seats based on proportional representation, that will make them the dominant party but without an absolute majority.

The Maoist’s likely strategy will be to work with the Nepali Congress to root out feudalism and also undercut the moderate Communists of the UML. The Nepali Congress would be wise to go along with this, given that the Maoists show no signs of trying to seize complete power, anyway very difficult in landlocked Nepal. There is an interesting interview with Dr Baburam Bhattarai, one of the Maoist’s leaders:

“Dr Bhattarai, a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, is not surprised by the results of the CA election. He argues that the CPN (Maoist) has changed the country’s ground realities.

“‘ Our intention is to establish a presidential system. But we can’t be sure as we have to discuss the matter with other political forces too. We must reach a political consensus because the constitution would need to be amended to set up a presidential system. Unless we have a political consensus, we can’t amend the constitution…

“‘There are other political commitments such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, rehabilitation of displaced persons and revamping and integration of the security forces. I think there will be several challenges and questions. We have to review four things immediately – security, political structure, the economy and international relation. Such issues require a national consensus.'”[B]

A ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ establishes what actually happened, rather than having the victors punish the vanquished. It applied successfully in South Africa – in part because the losers were still under US protection, but also the country needed to reassure the white minority. In Nepal, it is educated people who are vitally needed.

At the time of writing, we don’t know what sort of government will be formed. The Maoists may try to squeeze out the rival Communists of the UML:

“Until recently, there were three political forces – royalists, social democrats (who represent the bourgeoisie) and leftists. I think there will be only two forces in the future – the Nepali Congress, which represents the rich, and the left, which represents the poor. The NC has its own political stand. It’s not going to lose its identity as it has a clear vision and policy.

“But the CPN-UML does not have any political position. It neither represents the rich nor the masses. It is a eunuch though it continues to be identified as a communist party. It has lost its identity. It can’t stand any longer. Now the CPN (Maoist) has established itself as a communist party. We welcome committed communist cadres of the CPN-UML to our party.” (Ibid.)

[Apart from getting rid of the monarchy, this Constituent Assembly has achieved nothing much, with everyone deadlocking everyone else. Fresh elections to the Constituent Assembly in 2013 saw the Maoists lose a lot of votes and seats. The Nepali Congress and the Moderate Communists have a clear majority between them, but seem to be going nowhere.]

 

Italy votes ‘blue’

With hindsight, we can see that Italy’s Christian Democrats gave a unique period of strong but tolerate government in a society that has mostly been governed badly. The natural evolution of the system would have been partnership with the Italian Communists. This was thwarted by the kidnap and murder in 1978 of Aldo Moro, a piece of extreme foolishness by the short-lived ‘Red Brigades’. (Or perhaps a piece of great cunning by right-wing forces using the Far Left, this has been alleged but never proved.)

In any event, the chance was missed. The Hard Left prided itself on sabotaging every feasible advance – this also applied to Workers Control, popular at the time in many countries. Since the Hard Left were also mostly incompetent, the way was opened up for the New Right.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, bad things started happening to a whole range of independent-minded US allies, people who had maybe been protected while they were useful and were now targeted. A series of scandals destroyed the Italian Christian Democrats and damaged the standing of the Christian Democrats of Germany. Autocrats like Mobutu in Zaire and Suharto in Indonesia also ran into trouble, as did Ceausescu in Romania. The violent fragmentation of Yugoslavia began. Saddam Hussein may have invaded Kuwait because he thought he too was on the list.

In none of those countries was the new politics much better than the old, often it was worse. That’s been true in Italy, with a run of bad governments and Berlusconi recently elected for a third term as prime minister. Worse, the ‘Refounded Communists’ won no seats at all, the vanishing for the time being of what was once a very powerful social force.

To be exact, the grouping that lost was something called the ‘Rainbow Left’, which tried to mix Communism and Green politics. There is some logic in ‘Greens’ and ‘Reds” forming governing alliances, since they want some of the same policies. None at all in a common electoral campaign, since they obviously represent different things at root. The separate parties won 10% of the vote in 2006 and this time 3%.

Il Manifesto, the leftwing daily, said the Communists, in two years of coalition rule under Romano Prodi, had failed to deliver anything to their traditional supporters whose living standards were falling.

“Many deserted the Communists to back the reformist Democrats, but in the north large numbers of workers voted for the rough talking, protectionist Umberto Bossi and his populist Northern League.” [C]

Ordinary people do indeed need protection from rampaging globalisation. A phoney globalisation in which the USA dominates and breaks the rules when it likes. It’s not the idealistic globalisation that once seemed possible. Left-wingers should be ready to say ‘protect you own people until we have something better to offer globally.’

 

‘Feed the Rich’ – bad debts and hungry people

Billions can be spent saving financial institutions from bad debts they chose to take on. A bank that blunders should go under – protect ordinary depositors, but let the shareholders take a massive loss.

It’s not happening. Massive funds are found to bail out banks, replacing bad debts with good credit. There are no solid plans to re-impose the regulations that used to prevent the abuses that lost all the money.

Meantime world food prices are rising. This is a result of more demand from relatively poor people eating better, especially in China. The ‘miracle of the market’ is not in fact producing more food – at least some land has been moved from food to more profitable biofuels. That comes after many years of dismantling the social mechanisms set up after World War Two to ensure there would always be enough food in future.

 

Chinese bloggers scorn Western values

‘Human nature – that’s me’ could have been a slogan for the New Right in the West. China had a kind of New Right of its own, the post-Mao leadership that abolished vital things like free education and free public health-care, as well as successfully allowing elements of private enterprise

Rather that praising China as the only solid success for New Right ideas, they were criticised as not doing nearly enough to submit to superior Western values. Even if you believed this to be desirable – I do not, but I am sure the Western critics did think just that – anyone with any sense would be careful, be aware of Chinese resentment at past injustice and racism.

These were not people with any sense, or any modesty either. If it doesn’t work, do more of the same, on the grounds that the original ideas were definitely correct. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave a huge boost to their confidence, and also must have demoralised the people in the Labour Party who became New Labour. They seem not to have thought that the failure of one system does not prove that its rival is perfect.

They lost Russia.  Middle-Europe – the band of counties between Vienna and the Baltic that had been dominated by Russia since World War Two – returned to its natural place as part of the same cultural area as Western Europe. The European Union currently forms a natural group and should be wary of going any further east

The Tibet protests may have embarrassed China, but they have also outraged Chinese all round the world. Blatantly dishonest reporting in Western media including presenting Nepali police as Chinese police and cropping a picture from the Lhasa riot to avoid showing Tibetans throwing stones.[D] Worse, Paris City Council has chosen to insult the Chinese by making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen of Paris, even as President Sarkozy tries to make amends for the disgraceful attack on a small Chinese woman in a wheelchair that happened during the Paris protest.[E]

To date, the Olympic torch procession has had trouble in London, Paris and San Francisco, but not elsewhere. In Indonesia, where there were serious anti-Chinese riots in 1998, they sensibly dropped the planned procession and just had a rally in a stadium. I write on the 22nd, so I’ve no way of knowing what will happen in Australia and Japan. My guess is that both those countries will crack down on protestors, they need the trade.

What’s more significant is that the West has alienated just the people who might have been a vehicle for making China more Western. What they think they are doing is anyone’s guess.

 

References

[A] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nepalese_Constituent_Assembly_election%2C_2008#National_results

[B] [http://www.nepalelectionportal.org/EN/interaction/details.php?id=50]

[C] [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3db1f1f2-0ad9-11dd-8ccf-0000779fd2ac.html]

[D] [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90883/6394661.html]

[E] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7358695.stm]

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