South Asia underwent a political wave that overpowered the other strategic discourses of the entire region in 2013. As most countries experienced grave political shifts with elections doing the rounds; others witnessed roadblocks in the form of political violence, shutdowns, hartals, bandhs etc. Aspects of economic turmoil (such as the rupee crisis and credit crunch) or natural calamities (such as the Uttarakhand floods and the Savar building collapse) made international headlines. However, the highlight of the year 2013 was elections and the political landscape of South Asia.
Afghanistan and India
The question that has been buzzing in the international system today is what is likely to happen to Afghanistan post 2014. More importantly, what is going to be their political agenda for reconstruction and reconciliation? Afghanistan was in the limelight in 2013 with the final pullout of foreign troops in December 2014 and the much anticipated presidential elections due in April. The most effective move in 2013 was the passing of the ‘new law’ that encompassed educational criterions for the presidential candidates, reservation of seats for women and the Kuchi society.
India was among the other few South Asian countries that surprised with its Delhi Assembly elections in December, wherein the Aam Admi Party (AAP) came out victorious. The AAP ended the 15-year long rule of the Congress party by winning 28 seats in the 70-member house. While the BJP secured 31 seats (four short of a clear majority), the Congress won 8 seats. Delhi’s Chief Minister also lost her seat to Arvind Kejriwal, AAP’s leader.
The political backdrop of Nepal in 2013 was chiefly dominated by the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. Despite the disillusionment over the CA elections and the discord among the various political parties, the elections did unfold. The primary aim to end the prolonged deadlock and provide a conducive scenario for political stability in Nepal remained unfulfilled. The second round of CA polls was held in November, wherein the National Congress secured maximum votes followed by the CPM-UML. The astonishing factor was the Maoists performance in the year’s elections. They performed poorly due to Baburam Bhattarai’s breakaway from the party, the power struggle of the UCPN-M, and the faction led by Mohan Baidya.
Bangladesh drew international attention with the Shahbagh movement following the collapse of the Savar garment factory with a death toll of 1,130 and 2,520 injuries. The Shahbagh protests by the Bangladeshi youth demanded the death penalty for the criminals of the 1971 War. As a result, the national polls remained volatile. There was a lack of consensus between the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) over constitutional amendments, the credibility of deliverance, and the dissolution of the caretaker government. Thus, the November elections were characterised by political violence that sought attention and support from the international community.
Pakistan observed the completion of its first democratically elected civilian government last year. There was immense curiosity and debate as regards the new political leadership. There was competition between the PPP, PML and the PTI with each having an edge over the other in different areas. However, in the May national elections, Pakistan’s Muslim League (PML) leader Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister. While the PPP secured 70 out of 130 seats in the Sindh province, Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf beat the mainstream political parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Following the PML’s victory, Nawaz Sharif is charged with controlling the Taliban, the Army (with respect to the internal security situation of the country), resolving its energy woes, reviving its economic situation, and improving relations with its neighbours and the US.
Sri Lanka and Bhutan
Sri Lanka observed its first elections in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC); the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) swept 28 of the 36 elected seats in the 37 member Provincial Council. Bhutan in 2013 held elections for the second time after King Jigme announced the devolution of the powers of the monarch and the drafting of a new constitution. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won in the elections held in July with a close margin of 32-15 seats. Consequently, Tshering Tobgay became the new Prime Minister of Bhutan in August.
2014: A Rollercoaster Ahead?
The major concerns for South Asia remain its domestic/external relations, energy and environmental issues. Sri Lanka will undergo a heated discourse with the upcoming UNHRC meeting in March wherein it is expected to come up with a stronger motion on its ‘accountability issues’. Nepal foresees the promises of the new CA, in terms of drafting a new constitution and improving economic and political stability. With the regime change, India is expected to improve relations and its neighbourhood policies with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. If Bangladesh and Bhutan manage to control internal strife and the economic plunge in 2014, both countries should be able to observe substantial development.