Government yet to respond to growing calls for winter session of federal parliamentRuling party internal feud is also besetting parliamentary processes, analysts say.
The clamour for a Parliament session is getting stronger by the day.
On Saturday, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party together decided to call for the winter session of the House after a meeting of their leaders.
“The two parties have decided to demand the winter session of the federal parliament immediately,” said Keshab Jha, a central working committee member of the Janata Samajadi Party.
On Wednesday, a day after the President issued an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act on the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Cabinet, two Standing Committee members of his Nepal Communisty Party (NCP) had gone to the Office of the President with signatures of 83 lawmakers with a petition for a special session of Parliament.
But two weeks before the government is constitutionally obliged to call the winter session, political parties resorting to calling for a special session is a reflection of the uncertain political climate in the country.
“The government seems reluctant to call the House though the constitutional deadline is close,” Jha told the Post.
Political analysts say that Oli is reluctant to call the winter session because he is afraid not only to face the music because of his incompetence in governance but also because he fears that he could lose his chair.
“Oli is making every attempt to delay the House because he is afraid of it,” Chandra Dev Bhatta, who writes commentaries for Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, told the Post. “Delaying the House session means stopping lawmakers from putting the concerns of the people before the country. This will only weaken democracy.”
The interval between the two House sessions cannot be more than six months, as per Article 93 of the Constitution of Nepal. As the budget session of Parliament was prorogued on July 2, it is mandatory that the winter session begins on January 2.
The Parliament Secretariat has already started preparations for the winter session.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Agni Sapkota and Chairperson of the National Assembly Ganesh Timilsina have both said they are ready to host the winter session ensuring necessary safety measures against Covid-19.
Similarly, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, addressing the 14th anniversary of the federal parliament on December 13, had said the winter session would commence very soon.
But her boss Oli has been trying to undermine Parliament, according to observers.
Hari Roka, a commentator on politics and the economy, says the federal parliament has become hostage to the Nepal Communist Party’s internal feud and Oli sees postponing the House session as a way to keep his chair safe.
“The very act to end the budget session in July without even consulting the Speaker had demeaned Parliament,” he told the Post. “Not calling the House session while there is less than two weeks for the constitutional deadline is its continuation.”
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat say preparations are underway for the winter session.
“We are making preparations on our part. However, we have no idea about the day [the session commences],” Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary at the House of Representatives, told the Post.
Before this Parliament was elected in 2017, there was a provision to call a new House session with a 15-day notice. Although there is no such provision at present, there was a practice to give at least 10 days’ notice. But the Oli government disregarded the practice even while calling the budget session earlier this year.
“The incumbent government broke the tradition by giving just five days in the budget session. We thought it was because of Covid-19,” a senior official at the secretariat told the Post on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
But then too there was pressure on Oli from within his own party to mend his working style. The budget session, however, was focussed on amending Schedule 3 of the constitution to incorporate Nepal’s new map in the national insignia.
But once the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 announced and perfunctory discussions on it took place, Oli suddenly, without taking the Speaker into confidence, recommended that the House session be prorogued.
In the past, political parties have used Parliament for their own purposes rather than to make it a place for making laws, the primary duty of the House, and to discuss issues that concern the country.
During the decade-long political transition, when there were frequent changes in government often in less than a year, Parliament was used to bring down and form new governments.
Of particular notoriety of this cycle was when Parliament voted unsuccessfully 17 times between July 2010 and February 2011 to choose a prime minister. Neither Pushpa Kamal Dahal, then leader of CPN (Maoist Centre), nor Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress, both prime minister aspirants after Madhav Kumar Nepal of then CPN-UML had resigned, could get a majority vote.
In the 18th vote, another CPN-UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal was elected prime minister with the support of Dahal’s Maoist party.
Political parties, observers and analysts at that time interpreted the incident as the bane of a hung parliament.
But Oli’s Nepal Communist Party has a handsome majority with 173 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives. Even then, the House has by and large remained dysfunctional.
Just as there is uncertainty over when the Oli government will make a recommendation to the President for the winter session, another parallel in Nepal’s parliamentary democracy more than 25 years ago comes to mind.
Then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala had dissolved the first parliament, after multi-party democracy was restored in 199o, and opted for mid-term polls in 1994 despite his Nepali Congress party having a majority in the House only because he lost the support of a section of his party.
In the general elections that followed, Nepali Congress lost its majority and Manmohan Adhikari of then CPN-UML formed a minority government. That government soon fell but when Adhikari called mid-term polls in 1995, the Supreme Court did not allow it saying that there were other options to form a government. The CPN-UML had taken to the streets to protest the court order. Oli was home minister in the Adhikari government.
The next majority government was following the 1999 general elections but due to internal wranglings Krishna Prasad Bhattarai did not complete the full term as he was replaced by Koirala once again.
Since then Oli has become the first leader to lead a majority government.
But now concerns are being raised by his opponents in his own party if Oli is planning a House dissolution, even though the constitution does not allow this.
According to Bhatta, Oli might have played every trick in the book to keep Parliament hostage but he cannot run away from the constitutional deadline of resuming the House on January 2.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say that the date for the House session should be announced immediately so that they get adequate time to be back to the Capital from their constituencies and the Parliament Secretariat to make necessary preparations.
“Parliament is not subordinate to the executive which can direct lawmakers to join or leave the House meeting whenever it wants,” Som Bahadur Thapa, former secretary at the Parliament secretaria told the Post. “Giving them adequate time is a gesture of respect to the House and lawmakers.”