Lower taxes and, er, yogic flying

Californians will have the chance to vote NLP

As top US politicians begin jostling for the 1996 elections, few can claim the lofty ideals of the Natural Law Party - global prosperity, perfect health and, most incredible of all, conflict-free politics. This is not a party limited by internecine squabbling.

"You could call us the human-potential party," says NLP's Harvard-educated presidential candidate, Dr John Hagelin. "We seek to harness the full creativity and intelligence of the American workforce. We are very pragmatic - we are always looking at innovative, scientifically tested solutions designed to bring our national policy more into harmony with natural law," says vice-presidential candidate, Mike Tomkins.

While some NLP ideas might seem far fetched - Hagelin believes mass meditation at US bases could reduce political infighting in Congress - the party remains highly focused in its US campaign. Last week, on the same day as Ross Perot's Reform Party announced it had collected enough registrations to be placed on the California ballot, the NLP also announced it would be a golden state contender, having collected more than 100,000 party registrations.

The US branch of the NLP, formed in April 1992 - only months before the November election - managed to make its way on to ballots in 32 states that year. But while the party has raised $250,000 for its presidential bid thus far, it still has a long way to go to reach its goal of $40-$45 million by the time the US goes to the polls a year from now.

The NLP traces its roots to the transcendental meditation movement and the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - the Indian guru who gained worldwide fame after the Beatles made a pilgrimage to his Himalayan retreat in 1968. However, party officials like Hagelin, who meditates twice daily, are uneasy with the party's association with meditation and the Maharishi.

"We see transcendental meditation as important, but no more so than many other programmes we endorse," says Hagelin, who says that fewer than 5 per cent of supporters meditate regularly.

The party's other programmes include sustainable farming techniques discouraging farmers from using pesticides; preventative health care; lower taxation; tough environmental safeguards and, er, yogic flying. The party claims that mass meditation and yogic flying (where meditators bounce up to four feet in the air while in the lotus position) can lower crime rates by reducing stress.

In just three years the NLP has spread to more than 40 countries including virtually every European nation, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Thus far it has won only a single parliamentary seat - in Croatia - but it claims growing dissatisfaction with traditional parties will become the basis of support in years to come.

The US is a particularly difficult proving ground for new parties. The campaign process is lengthy and expensive. Major presidential candidates are expected to have a war-chest of at least $40m and presidential debates are controlled jointly by the Republicans and Democrats. Historically, few third parties have managed to make any long-term impact on the political scene.

The NLP's platform booklet is the thickest of any party - running to 176 pages and referring to scientific journals and treatises. For many supporters this is the party's greatest appeal. Says San Diego organiser Bill Harper: "We have to come back to that higher idealism and turn to great ideas again - the old ones don't seem to be working."

RICHARD KELLY HEFT

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