21-27 July 2017 #868

Manchurian candidates

Damakant Jayshi
ATLANTA -- Nepalis are all too familiar with the frequent rise and fall of governments: we have had 24 of them in the 26 years since the restoration of democracy in 1991.  

Sometimes coalition partners switch so dizzyingly fast even veteran political analysts are left befuddled. And there are some political leaders (Kamal Thapa of the RPP and Bijay Kumar Gachchhedar of the MPRF-D spring to mind) who seem to somehow become ministers no matter which coalition is ruling. 

Many in Kathmandu see an Indian hand in the creation or the collapse of successive governments in Singha Darbar. The Indians definitely have preferences but it doesn’t always go according to plan, as we saw with the so-called ‘covert and overt’ attempts to prevent the UML’s KP Oli from becoming prime minister in 2015. 

Helping install or perpetuate a government that is perceived to be ‘friendly’ to a country’s interest is not unique to India in Nepal. The United States has done that globally and for a long time. Indeed, US governments have installed war criminals in power because they are anti-communists, opening Washington to accusations of hypocrisy: that it purports to uphold human rights and democracy in its own land, but turns a blind eye to dictatorships around the world if they happen to suit their economic, strategic and security interests.

The Soviets did the same thing, and after a brief pause following the collapse of the USSR, the meddling has resumed again with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president isn’t just trying to influence who gets to govern Ukraine or Georgia anymore, but seems to want to have a say in who doesn’t get to be US president. To many Americans, perhaps with the exception of white supremacists, this has come as a shock. Former KGB operative Putin must be satisfied that he has taken revenge on a Cold War enemy and an adversarial power for the national humiliation created by the disintegration of the once mighty Soviet Union.

American democracy has a lot of flaws, some of them silly — like its electoral college — others more serious, like allowing partisan gerrymandering after every 10-year census. But its elections were thought to be safe from foreign meddling. That it was Russia that burst that bubble is galling to many Americans. Leaders of the Republican Party, which prides itself in matters related to national security and global dominance, however, have only mumbled some unintelligible remarks. Trump, for his part, has never hidden his admiration for Putin and has dismissed the accusations of Russian attempts to influence the elections outright despite credible and mounting evidence. The last episode of Russian revelations ensnares both his eldest son and son-in-law.

Trump’s victory owes in no small part to Russia’s covert meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It weaponised misinformation, fake news and systematic trolling from a building in St. Petersburg. Russia-backed hackers got into the email server of the Democratic National Committee as well as that of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. The hackers stole information and passed it to Wikileaks, which then leaked it drip by drip, always casting a shadow over Clinton. She had to contend with that even as she was embroiled in a controversy over her own private email server as Secretary of State. The dominant word of the campaign, according to a credible post-election survey, was ‘email’, and the focus on it appears to have affected the outcome.

Of course, there were other factors, but Russia did play a role in helping install a friendly government in America. Whether Putin will be rewarded by Trump – by, for example, allowing Russia total and unchallenged sway in eastern Europe and Syria, lifting or at least easing sanctions imposed on Russia, and returning its two seized diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland — will depend on Congress, though Trump is moving to act on these

Russia has succeeded in helping install a friendly government in a once-enemy country.

Read also:

22 governments in 26 years, Manish Jha

A Trump World, Om Astha Rai and Smriti Basnet

Putin's dangerous game, Strobe Talbott

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