Bringing down the HouseWhen the obstruction of proceedings emerges as the preferred form of parliamentary expression over informed debates, legislative outputs decline.
Demanding a probe into the ‘extrajudicial killings’ of Biplab-led Communist Party of Nepal cadre Kumar Poudel and Sarlahi local Saroj Narayan Singh, the Nepali Congress and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal had been obstructing Parliament since July 9. However, the two main opposition forces in the federal House of Representatives ended the month-long obstruction on Monday after the ruling and opposition parties agreed to form a seven-member special parliamentary committee to recommend ways to prevent disruptions of House meetings in the future.
Dissent is a critical part of democracy, and expressing dissatisfaction by obstructing the House is part of an established democratic practice. But it becomes a cause for concern when these disruptions become a common feature in Parliament. This is the fourth session of the House of Representatives, and 43 meetings have been held so far. It was halted for five days in a row in July. Before that, in June, the House proceedings were cancelled over whether Oli or Deuba should get to speak first.
The political parties have a penchant for obstructing the House. This ‘dysfunctional pattern’ that has been evident over the years poses a serious threat to parliamentary democracy. But every time parties opt for House obstruction over informed debates, it is an opportunity they are wasting, and are hampering the productive business of Parliament. A constructive opposition creates a functioning shadow cabinet, and questions the provisions of bills that the government attempts to pass. But in Nepal’s case, cacophony and disruptive spectacles have become the House's defining characteristic. When the obstruction of proceedings emerges as the preferred form of parliamentary expression in place of informed debates, legislative outputs decline.
Be it the Nepali Congress or the Nepal Communist Party, parties have failed to act as a constructive opposition. Here, the role of the opposition seems limited to obstructing Parliament or giving speeches. Whose interests are best served by such disruptions and deadlocks? It is important to introspect about the role of the opposition and take stock. For every time any party decides to obstruct the House, the members would have betrayed the trust of the people.
Lawmakers need to ensure that they do not allow a further downslide in the coming sessions. But at the same time, the government needs to take responsibility, too. Repeated occurrences of obstruction means either the Speaker has been unable to remain resolute and manage the floor or has failed to create a functioning communication network across parties on policy issues. The House can be what its legislators want it to be—a functional one or a dysfunctional one. Parliamentarians and the Speaker alike need to seriously contemplate enhancing the quality of the debates, discussions and, most importantly, their behaviour. Debates and deliberations, not increasingly obstructing House proceedings, strengthen democracy.
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