Monday, March 24

Bhutan's transition to democracy

Bhutan held its National Assembly elections this Monday completing the transition to democracy as announced in 2005. The secluded hermit kingdom with a very young king would now be a constitutional monarchy.

However, the transition has not been smooth with bomb blasts preceding the elections in January and February; and protests and demands for return by the refugees living in Nepal. Bhutan has consistently refused to take them back though it agreed that some of them had a right to return. These exiles are unwanted in Nepal, Bhutan and India. India is said have chased them away every time they tried to enter, probably due to their large numbers (approx. 105,000 in Nepal alone), and experience with the Bangladeshi refugees. However, Nepalis and Bhutanese are otherwise allowed unrestricted access into India.

While Bhutan has showed commitment to its transition to democracy it might be bumpy road ahead.
  1. It is a very small country almost sandwiched between China and India. The recent protests in Tibet, and the resulting Chinese reaction in the days to come could have a spill over effect into the country given its vulnerability, and Buddhist majority.
  2. The high levels of unemployment and poverty; proximity to Nepal, North-East India and the security tensions there; unrestricted movement of people between it and India; and poor security capability could turn it into a safe haven for terrorists.
  3. It could now come under greater scrutiny from human rights organizations, especially when dealing with the Nepali exiles. The issue would also have to be resolved in time to avoid further possibly violent protests and unrest.
  4. Being new to the system could provide ample opportunity for corruption along the way to institutionalizing democracy.
One can only hope that the promise shown by these elections will be delivered, and a peaceful democracy will flourish in the lap of the Himalayas.

Thursday, March 20

Of DST and Iran

Even the novelty of daylight saving time (DST) did not make me look it up the two times I lost an hour in Spring. I had come to accept it as just another of the US 'time' things like the many time zones, and I hardly thought of it beyond the time required to change my watch. However, when the term appeared in an article about Iran I was surprised and promptly looked it up. As one of his many erratic decisions, Ahmadinejad abolished the use of daylight saving in 2006. However, the Iranian parliament has voted to reintroduce the system that shall come into effect at the midnight of Thursday-Friday.

Today approximately 70 countries use DST. It was surprising to know that even we tried experimenting with it during war times. According to the MSN Encarta the idea was first introduced by Benjamin Franklin in an essay in 1784, and later seriously taken up by a British builder in 1907. The logic behind using this system during World War I was the need to conserve fuel needed to produce electricity. Taking advantage of the extra sunlight in the morning means there is lesser need for electric lightening in the evening, thereby saving energy. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 gives US its current system of daylight saving time.

Tuesday, March 18

Terrorism analysis and forecasting software

With terrorism always on our minds it might be of interest that UMD researchers have come up with a new "artificial intelligence software that uses data about past behavior of terror groups in order to learn rules about the probability of an organization, community, or person taking certain actions in different situations." Details and audio here.

Monday, March 10

Age old wisdom

Foreign Policy has an interesting list of the world's ten oldest leaders and our Prime Minister ranks 9th on that list. But the real interesting part of the list is where the countries stand on the Failed State Index published by FP. Half of the countries including India are termed as 'borderline', while three are 'in danger' and two 'critical'. While few would want to disagree with what we say of old people, 'a person of wisdom is the person of years', it surely adds to my doubts about their ability as leaders.