A House in disarrayParliament cannot be allowed to stagnate any longer.
As the federal Parliament enters the final days of the current legislative session, it has become especially clear how weak and incompetent it really is. In fact, this bill session, when the Upper and Lower Houses are not even encumbered by budgetary discussions, the Lower House has failed to endorse or pass numerous essential bills and decisions. It has been mired in the ruling party’s factionalism and the main opposition’s incompetence.
But it cannot be allowed to stagnate any longer. Particularly given the current scenario—with a pandemic causing havoc—and the importance of timely parliamentary action on some issues, the House needs to be a stabilising force, and a check on the government’s manoeuvres. What it definitely must not be allowed to become is a rubber stamp Parliament for controversial executive decisions.
Yet, in most of Nepal’s democratic history, Parliament has been just that. However, even by historical standards, the current Parliament has been especially lacking. The problem stems from the ruling party itself. The last elections afforded the Nepal Communist Party, then a coalition of two communist parties, an exceptionally large mandate to bring about political stability and economic development. The near two-thirds majority affords the NCP and the government exceptional control over parliamentary affairs.
Had the ruling party and the KP Oli-led administration used this for socially and economically responsible decisions, no one would complain. Instead, the government has tried repeatedly to push authoritarian and repressive laws into place. Recent attempts at this, thankfully thwarted or pushed off after popular dissent, include the Guthi Bill, IT Management Bill and Media Council Bill. Even now, during this crucial time, the one bill that is close to being endorsed by the Legislation Management Committee, and put up for a vote within the current session, is the Nepal Special Service Bill. This piece of legislation is highly controversial, as it potentially gives the state apparatus sweeping mass surveillance and privacy-encroaching powers.
Another major problem is the deep factionalism that continues to exist within the ruling party. Prime Minister Oli, with his penchant for absolute control, has been finding NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal a formidable rival. The dance between Oli and Dahal has severely restricted the functioning of both houses. The Lower House was without a speaker for nearly four months, following the incumbent Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s resignation in early October. It remains without a deputy speaker since January 20. Similarly, a tussle between Oli and Dahal for Yuba Raj Khatiwada’s National Assembly seat remains unresolved, leaving it empty.
In all of this, the lack of a strong opposition cannot be overstated. In a parliamentary system, the opposition’s role is to question the policies of the government. In times where one party has a large majority, the need to put up questions and formal notes of disagreement becomes particularly necessary. Instead, Nepali Congress has been found to have disrupted House proceedings on numerous occasions. It has been found to be extending patronage to crooks and not effectively using the system to challenge the government.
The current session is about to come to a close in 10 days or so. And, with the Covid-19 scare, it may even be cut shorter. Already, last Sunday’s meeting was postponed due to concerns over the disease. At such a time, lawmakers should be especially focused on endorsing and/or passing serious policy issues. But this seems unlikely. Hope remains that the lawmakers, especially those of the ruling party, will get serious in fulfilling their duties. Otherwise, the voting public may not give them another chance, come the next federal elections.
What do you think?
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