The manifesto of a political party is a guidebook for voters to know ‘where a particular party stands' while also helping voters make a rational decision on who to vote for. The gist of the provincial and parliamentary election manifestos of Left-alliance and Nepali Congress (NC), basically assert the imperative of a ‘high degree of domestic coordination and consensus' on foreign relations. From the lens of foreign policy, the manifestos do not seem much different from one another. In contrast, the manifestos are full of allegations aimed at the opposing/competing parties, which have created plenty of room for doubt regarding their (paties) contribution to internal confidence-building measures to promote consensus-backed unifying foreign policy agendas..
Broadly, the manifestos of both major alliances stress ‘independent foreign policy based on the Charter of the United Nations, non-alignment, principles of Panchsheel, international law and the norms of world peace, taking into consideration the overall interest of the nation, while remaining active in safeguarding the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national interest of Nepal'..
On defence, peace and security issues, the parties have made similar commitments on revisiting all unequal treaties and agreements with India, including the highly contentious 1950 Treaty. It is also mentioned that in coordination with neighbouring countries, they will work to stop cross-border criminal activities and find diplomatic solution(s) to existing border dispute(s). .
The manifestos also slightly touch upon foreign policy approach in relation to labour destination countries and an assurance to address the issues of security and welfare of Nepali migrant workers and also promised domestic job creation. The NC has also committed to ensure voting right to Nepali citizens working aboard and to make it possible for them to participate in the voting in national election(s).
In the area of economic diplomacy, attracting foreign investment, promoting tourism, enhancing exports to reduce widening trade deficit are the major features. The NC pledges to make Nepal a respected middle-income country with a per capita income of $1,500 in the next five years, whereas the Left-alliance vows to make Nepal a developing nation in a period of five years while reaching a per capita income above $5,000 within 10 years. For this, both sides promise to create a friendly environment for internal and external investment..
Nepal is facing a huge trade deficit and the manifestos have incorporated policy prescriptions like tackling it by focusing on national production and exporting products with comparative advantage..
According to the report of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, 7,53,002 tourists visited Nepal (by air) in 2016, and the trend of the first six months shows that the number will increase in 2017. The NC and Left-alliance have asserted to reach 32,00,000 and 50,00,000 within 10 years, respectively. In order to meet the committed target, NC has to add 2,50,000 and the Left-alliance has to add 4,20,000 on an average annually. The special focus of the manifestos on infrastructure development and promotion of historical, cultural and religious sites like Pashupati, Lumbini, Janakapur, Muktinath, among others, demonstrate some priority to soft-power diplomacy..
The manifestos have also acknowledged the significance of north-south railway to fulfil Nepal's aspiration in becoming the bridge between India and China. Both sides claim they will construct a railway link like Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini and also talk about developing the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in cities near borders with India and China..
They have also pledged to build international airports in Nijgadh, Pokhara and Lumbini and to examine the possibility of developing waterways in the rivers like Koshi and Gandaki, and interlinking them with Indian rivers.
Domestic political development hugely affect the shaping of foreign relations. There is speculation that the Left-alliance will abandon free market economy. Though there is criticism about the neo-liberal economic order, prominent scholars claim that no significant difference has been observed till date between democratic right and socialist left. As far as domestic stability is concerned, which is a prerequisite to execute effective foreign policy and engaging in mutually-inclusive cooperation with other states, there is claim and counter-claim between the Left and democratic alliances by portraying the opposite alliance as a source of instability..
Reading the current election manifestos of our major political parties from foreign policy lens, they are not arbitrary per se, though they lack some clear agendas with convincing articulations. Plus consistent contradiction in conduct of foreign policy with little concrete deliveries in the past do not allow voters to trust them. Decision makers need to act as a rational actor in the process of foreign policy making. The imperative of evaluating all possible policy options and selecting the best to protect and promote national interests is crucial in an increasingly complex international political environment. On one hand, there is the dramatically shifting global economic power of balance, while on the other, our limited and unexploited tangible and intangible state power keeps us in a vulnerable position in terms of relative power dynamics..
Allegations and counter-allegations are the major impediments to desired economic prosperity of nations. As reflected in the manifestos, political parties should seriously engage in the highest possible domestic uniformity to demonstrate a unified stand in foreign policy related agendas through rational discourse - only ‘agreeing to disagree' will take us nowhere. It is also high time that the public, media, intellectuals and civil society observe and analyse the promises made by political parties on national and international issues. Timely monitoring of performance via ‘election promises tracker' should be done.
Both the makers and shapers of foreign policy increasingly understand Nepal's geo-political sensitivity and the changing international dynamics. It is now time to act in a coordinated manner with a high level of synergy to promote Nepal's national interests with the highest possible consensus.
This article was first appeared in The Himalayan Times.