South Asia Political Stability Concerns

Each country has its own peculiarities impacting stability. 

3 mins read
[ South Asia/ Reddit]

The surprise turnover of coalitions in Nepal for the second time in as many years has led to an alarm over political stability in countries in South Asia with the situation remaining somewhat similar though the vectors are different in other countries. India and Bhutan are the exceptions the circumstances for which would need a separate discourse.

As for other countries, a truism in the regional complex is that apart from the geographic extremities in the West that is Afghanistan and the East that is Myanmar [included given contiguity to the regional complex] others practice varied forms of democracy. While this may seem imperfect in some cases as in Pakistan, the fact is democracies also breed a degree of acceptable instability. However, concerns emerge when the challenge is in the long term, which is the case in the South Asian countries under discussion.]

Several factors contribute to the perception of political instability such as legitimacy of the elections, suppression of the opposition, controlling influence by unelected establishments, outcome of structural constitutional factors and in some cases the repeated abuse of the constitution by those in power to suit their sustenance. 

Each country has its own peculiarities impacting stability. 

Nepal

For instance, in Nepal the nature of the polity and relative influence of the parties implies that a coalition has been an outcome in elections in the Republic period so far. These coalitions have been repeatedly rocked by what former Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae ascribes to as, “..shifting alliances, elastic ideologies of political parties and personal ambitions of leaders…” Presently it is the proverbial tail wagging the coalition with the party which won the third largest seats being in government for the past year and a half or so. This situation is unlikely to change even when elections will be held as the two largest parties the Nepali Congress and the CPN UML are unlikely to muster enough seats to form a government on their own.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, the legitimacy of the elections held on February 08 is a significant concern as the party whose independent members won the largest number of seats as it had lost the election symbol and was not eligible namely the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf [PTI] was technically ruled out for government formation. This places the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz [PMLN ] which has emerged as the second largest party at the head of a Coalition whose strings at in the hands of the Pakistan Army which can pull the rug from under their feet so to say. Thus a country in what is famously called as a ‘poly crisis’ given multiple challenges from the economy to terrorism will remain on the brink over the next few years.

Sri Lanka

Down South Sri Lanka has yet to recover from the Rajapaksa episode, which led to the sudden departure of then President Gotabaya and the placing of Ranil Wickremesinghe on the Presidential throne. Now that he has been able to wean the country away from spiralling down the economic road of disaster, Ranil, who lacks the political heft, is pitching for the Presidency, elections for which are due later this year. Much will depend on who the Rajapaksa’s who still wield a powerful influence on the political scene in Colombo will support. This implies that the elected will be beholden to the Family in the future. 

Maldives

The Maldives has been through a convulsion of sorts with a new President, Dr Mohammad Muizzu, taking office, having been elected on the agenda of an “India Out,” campaign. Muizzu’s pursuit of the same agenda on taking office without realising the country’s geographic and other umbilical linkages to India is expected to lead to more stability for the atoll nation. The inability to distinguish between an election campaign and national interests closely linked with a sustained partnership with India by, the President is likely to cost the country dear. Much will now depend on the parliamentary elections scheduled for April.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh has seen incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League return to power in the polls held on January 07. While these have been accepted by the international community at large, with India following the lead, the legitimacy of the elections has been questioned. In the final report released recently, the European Union Election Expert Mission indicates, “Civil and political rights, including the freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and speech essential for inclusive and competitive elections, were restricted.” Another observation is that “seat-sharing agreements between participating political parties, as well as the Awami League engineering a system of internal competition between its official candidates and “independent candidates” affiliated with this party, did not offer voters genuine freedom of choice”. At the same time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to continue in power in the coming years; what beyond her will remain a question that provides no viable answers.

The Youth to the Fore

An essential political development in most countries in the region is a rising class of young parties and youth seeking a change from the established parties. This is evident in Nepal and Pakistan. The agenda of these parties may need to align with overall national interests. Still, there is a latent danger of rocking the overall political boat, which has been held hostage by the established parties, be it the Nepali Congress or the PML N in Pakistan. If the established parties transform and pitch the younger generation of leaders within to the fore, there could be some hope for them, or diverse forces with radical political agendas may rock the boat ahead.

Rahul K Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle, MSc, MPhil, MBA is an Indian army military veteran with 30 years active field experience in counter militancy and terrorism operations. He is presently Director of Sasia Security-Risks.com, a South Asian security risk and knowledge management consultancy which specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.

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