The Road to Democracy

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Since it has been elected by the people, it cannot go against the will of the people, Myanmar President Thein Sein stated. The new government composed mainly of retired army generals does not consider itself bound to implement the controversial decisions of the former military dictatorship. Following protests staged by civil society, student groups, Buddhist monks and Aung San Suu Kyi, the President suspended works initiated by China for a huge dam in the north Araka region.

Protestors claim that the project will submerge dozens of villages, displace people and cause major environmental damages. Surprised and furious, the Chinese authorities are said to be trying to bypass the elected government’s decision by using their influence on the army. Civilian groups are also protesting against the exploitation of resources by Chinese oil and gas companies, the project of pipelines and railways running from Araka to Yunnan. These projects will only benefit Yunnan, civilians say.

After decades of dictatorship, the new government in Myanmar is giving due regard to public opinion including Buddhist monks. By contrast, in India, the world’s largest democracy, swamis’ protests against controversial projects are ridiculed by the so-called leftist secular press, while corrupt industrialists conniving with corrupt police forces, adopt criminal behaviour in response to villagers’ protests.

Turkey, a New Role Model

Democracy and human rights are as vital as bread and water in your daily life, was Prime Minister’ Erdogan’s message as he toured Arab countries from Tunisia, Egypt to Libya. In the changing contours of the Middle East, swept along by Arab Spring, the dramatic rise of Turkey is bound to follow the upward trend. Ruled by the AKP, a moderate Islamist party for Justice and Development, endowed with a secular Constitution and a strong military subservient to elected civilian authority, enjoying an expanding economy and a relationship with the West based on equality and partnership, Turkey is set to become a model for burgeoning Arab democracies.

It has won respect for its stance against Israel and its independence as regards the US as it ignored American sanctions against Iran. Hopefully, others in Egypt and in Libya and other Arab countries, who wish to participate actively in politics will follow in AKP’s footsteps and help to build a better future for their people in the Middle East. Iran, which is also keen to play an influential role in the region, is being sidelined by Sunni-dominated Turkey in the process. By the way, both of them are non-Arab countries.

PM Erdogan used to hold unpalatable views on politics and women. He also subscribed to futile anti-western rhetoric in the 90s. His liberal stance, today, would certainly hoist up Turkey as a viable role model for the new Arab societies that are yet to emerge.

A Thousand Splendid Suns in Afghanistan

Warring factions are set to complicate the peace process after the pullout of the NATO Alliance Forces in the near future. Iran, India and Pakistan are vying for influence in the war-torn country. On the other hand, China is being careful not to give the impression that it is taking sides in its dispute with the US on the question of action against the Haqqani network led by Pakistani taleban with elements of ISI, and which has recently assassinated former Afghan President, Rabbani, a Tadjik who headed negotiations for peace with Afghan taleban, and who is said to be pro-India. Haqqani is said to be the force that is impeding America’s Afghan plans and aiding those of Pakistan.

Angered by Pakistan’s inefficiency to fight terrorism and amid souring US-Pakistan relations, President Karzai is on a visit in New Delhi today, Tuesday 4, to discuss contracts for reconstruction plans of Afghanistan and mining companies. Ever since Soviet tanks rumbled into Afghanistan in the 80s and toppled the Shah till Al Qaeda set its grip on the country as part of its project of a great caliphate, the hapless people have gone through decades of sufferings as depicted in Khaled Hosseini’s novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, a title taken from an Afghan poem in Persian.

The sun is not set to shine on Kabul yet but the first great pop music concert held by groups of young musicians under close military protection may herald rays of sunlight at the end of the dark tunnel the people have been engulfed in. India-Afghan ties are likely to strengthen and bear positive results, as Indian PM Manmohan Singh pledges to assist its partner in the training, equipping and capacity building program for Afghan Security Forces and help the country to assume the responsibility for its governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.

Challenging the Power of the Financial System

The European Union may not, in the current circumstances, sustain for long all the dream of an anti-American model that France had carefully nurtured. The world economy is so built that when the superpower shows signs of weakening, it drags along with it other countries in its fall and that does not exclude a major bloc like the EU.

But the challenge may come from American protestors denouncing the financial power of banks over governments which are elected with the help of colossal amounts of money funding their electoral campaigns, and which, in turn, requite the donors by bending down to the policies dictated by the financial market.

Should the contagion of an American Spring which started in Wall Street last week spread out to Europe and other places, all the banking power over centuries together with the historical link of usurers lending gold to bail out bankrupt monarchs will be seriously challenged. The strong grip the financial lobby has held over governments, which are made to withdraw and let wildcat capitalism flourish, will certainly be brought to public notice by campaigners in that context. By the same token, societies across the world will be better enlightened on the economic and social model that are really desirable for future generations, with special focus on re-assessing priorities and values.

* Published in print edition on 7 October 2011

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