Call for House session lost in the din of ruling party war of wordsCovid-19 may be the excuse for not holding the winter session anytime soon, but analysts say the issue is on the back burner now given the ongoing conflict in the Nepal Communist Party.
When the government on July 2 recommended to the President the prorogation of the House session, the move came amid intense pressure on KP Sharma Oli from within his own party to resign both as prime minister and party chair. It was apparent that Oli’s decision was largely guided by the intra-party conflict.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari swiftly approved the Cabinet’s recommendation. With the end of the budget session, crucial bills–including around half a dozen of them related to the implementation of federalism–are pending.
It has been four months since Parliament has been in recess and there are no signs of the winter session commencing anytime soon.
“We are yet to discuss on the date for the winter session,” Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, told the Post. “The budget session had to be ended early due to the Covid-19 threats and the situation hasn’t improved yet.”
According to Tumbahangphe, the likelihood of calling the winter session anytime soon is low amid the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
Though there is no constitutional obligation to call the winter session at least until January 2, as Article 93 of the constitution says the interval between two House sessions shall not exceed six months, analysts and even lawmakers, from both the ruling and opposition parties, say the government should try to find a way to commence the House session for various reasons.
“Parliament is the place where the government can be held to account. It looks like the government does not want the House session at this time,” said Ram Kumari Jhankri, a lawmaker from the ruling Nepal Communist Party. “We have been saying that the winter session should be called without any delay. But I wonder if our voice is reaching the prime minister and party chair.”
According to Jhankri, her party’s Parliamentary Party meeting has not been held for the last two years. Oli is the leader of the Parliamentary Party while Subash Nembang is the deputy leader.
Analysts say Oli may not be keen to call the House session also because of rising tensions in his party.
Though the party had managed to settle the months-long row on September 11 after a Standing Committee meeting took a 15-point decision, asking the party leadership to take decisions related to the government and the party on the basis of consultation and consensus, conflict has resurfaced.
On Sunday, Dahal revealed that Oli even warned of “a big action” if the party committees went ahead with decisions against him.
According to Secretariat members who attended Dahal’s briefing on his Saturday meeting with Oli, the latter even proposed to split the party.
The Nepal Communist Party was born out of a merger between the Oli-led CPN-UML and the Dahal-led Maoist Centre back in May 2018. Before their merger, the two parties had fought the 2017 elections by forging an alliance. A massive mandate to the two parties, however, resulted in their unification, installing the strongest government the country had ever seen in its recent history.
The Nepal Communist Party hence had the opportunity not only to lead a government for the full five-year term but also to implement the constitution and strengthen federalism. However, two and a half years later, the country is struggling to even have a Parliament session, just as it faces multiple crises in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Oli government also faces charges of failing on various fronts.
Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator for the Post’s sister paper, Kantipur daily, said there certainly is a reason the government does not want the House session now, as internal rift within the party has resurfaced.
“Starting the House session means giving a floor for criticism against the Oli government which has failed miserably on different fronts,” Maharjan told the Post. “Commencement of the House session could also open the possibility of registration of a no-confidence motion against Oli. Therefore, Oli will make every attempt to defer the winter session.”
According to Maharjan, Oli abruptly decided to end the budget session [back in July], without even consulting the Speaker, just to scuttle a possible plan of his opposing faction of removing him through Parliament.
The internal conflict in the ruling party then had reached a tipping point, with as many as 31 Standing Committee members demanding that the Oli resign both as prime minister and party chair.
Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties though say a Parliament session is a must at this time, given the spectacular bungling the government has made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, none has strongly called for the winter session.
The Covid-19 Monitoring Committee of the Nepali Congress in mid-October demanded the resumption of the House session and recommended that the party leadership raise the issue. The main opposition, however, hasn’t taken any step to pressure the government for an early resumption of the House session.
Prakash Sharan Mahat, deputy general secretary of the Congress party, said the issue would be discussed at the office-bearers’ meeting called for Monday and that the Central Working Committee meeting scheduled for Friday could take some decision to this effect. “We may register a petition for a special session if the government continues to ignore our demand,” Mahat told the Post.
Article 93 (3) of the constitution says if during the prorogation or recess of a session of the House of Representatives, one-fourth of the total number of its members can demand a session.
Political analysts, however, say the main opposition's demand appears to be more ritualistic than a genuine call.
Chandra Dev Bhatta, a columnist for Kantipur daily, the Post’s sister paper, said if the main opposition really wants a House session, it can do so. “If it is really serious, its lawmakers can demand a special session,” he told the Post. “It has to act rather than make rhetoric.”
The Congress party, however, lacks the numbers and it needs support from other parties if it really wants to file a petition for a special session.
Jhankri, the ruling party lawmaker, said if there is a genuine intent, the House session can be called even during the pandemic, just as it was called back in May.
As per the constitutional provision, the government must present its annual budget on May 29. Hence the budget session was called in the first week of May. Coronavirus cases had already been reported at that time and the country was already into lockdown, starting March 24.
The Parliament Secretariat had conducted polymerase chain reaction tests of all the lawmakers, its employees and security officials before the budget session commenced on May 8. Similarly, seating arrangements were made ensuring at least three-feet gaps between two lawmakers.
Lawmakers say the House meeting is necessary not just to hold the government accountable but also to endorse crucial bills.
The budget session that was abruptly ended in July had some crucial bills related to citizenship and the federal civil service to endorse.
The sixth session, which lasted 58 days, endorsed just six bills in addition to the budget and second amendment to the constitution. There are over 50 bills pending in the federal parliament.
Analysts say democracy also means smooth functioning of Parliament and ‘undemocratic’ government, no matter how democratically they are elected, appointed, want not to face the House and that the Oli government is no exception.
“Oli has made every effort to close every avenue where he could face criticism,” said Bhatta, the political commentator. “Parliament is a place where the government’s performance is assessed. The House where the government is held to account.”