Oli addresses the nation, but reads out what looks like policies and programmesIn his 46-minute address, he covered the entire pressing issues of the country entirely, including the fight against the pandemic, vaccine shortage, political confrontation, and dissolution of Parliament.
Caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli addressed the nation on Friday for a third time in a month and a half. This was his second in May.
At a time when the House of Representatives remains dissolved and the government is planning to bring the annual budget through an ordinance, for many people, Friday's address was reminiscent of the government’s ‘policies and programmes.’
Ahead of the budget, there is a practice of reading out the policies and programmes of the government by the head of the state at a joint session of Parliament. But this time, as there is no House of Representatives and the budget is going to be unveiled through an ordinance, President Bidya Devi Bhandari will not read out the policies and programmes.
Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel is going to unveil the annual budget on Saturday amid criticism from former finance ministers that a caretaker government does not have the authority to bring a full-fledged budget.
Experts and observers have objected to Oli addressing the nation on the eve of the budget day saying the content of the address was similar to the government’s policies and programmes. They alleged that the President and the prime minister have mixed-up their authorities delegated by the constitution and made a mockery of the system, constitution, and parliamentary values and norms.
“The prime minister has encroached upon the role of the President and this looks like an attempt to centralise the entire state powers in him,” former president of the Transparency International Nepal, Khemraj Regmi, said. “Oli has totally ruined the parliamentary system, its values and norms.”
“This action shows he has an authoritarian tendency. And since his election as prime minister, we have seen that the President has become his puppet. And, today he officially snatched the President’s power and assumed her role.”
On the government’s preparations to bring the annual budget through an ordinance on Saturday to meet the constitutional deadline, Regmi said there is no such need in the absence of Parliament.
“If a joint session of Parliament is not going to discuss the budget then what’s the point of meeting the May 29 deadline. What will be the status of Oli’s budget if the Supreme Court reinstates Parliament?” said Regmi.
In the 72-point address that the prime minister read out in 46 minutes, he covered the entire pressing issues of the country, including the fight against the pandemic, vaccine shortage, political confrontation, and dissolution of Parliament. He also listed out the foreign medical assistance received so far and promised that everyone will be vaccinated against Covid-19.
As experts were calling the address “the government’s policies and programmes”, a government secretary confirmed to the Post that the speech was in fact the policies and programmes document with a few changes.
“The Prime Minister’s Office made some changes to the text of the policies and programmes, which was prepared for the President,” the secretary said,
“The prime minister’s aide removed some content and added some political issues. In fact, about half of the speech was the policies and programme document,” the secretary added.
Indra Adhikari, who regularly writes on contemporary political and security issues in major dailies, told the Post that it has now become difficult to distinguish who is the President and who is the prime minister in Nepal.
“The constitution has clearly demarcated the rights and duties of the President and the prime minister, but we hardly see that in practice now,” Adhikari said.
In his speech, Prime Minister Oli tried to assure that the government will bring required doses of Covid-19 vaccines, and ensure the security of frontline workers like doctors, healthcare workers, security personnel and civil servants, among others. While defending his move to dissolve the House and declaring the midterm elections for November 12 and 19, he also urged the opposition parties to join his government.
“Seeking a fresh mandate is not a regressive move,” Oli said. “I am confident that the elections will be held in a free and fair manner.”
Oli also presented a progress report of his government. He said the country’s exports have crossed the Rs 1 billion mark this year, per capita income has increased by 25 percent in the last three years, and the overall human development indexes have improved by five points.
He also laid out the priorities of the government from modernisation of agriculture to government’s investment in infrastructure sectors like roads, railroads, waterways and digital connectivity.
Emphasis will be given to producing quality and trained manpower in the country, he said.
On international relations, Oli said, the government will promote its external relations based on national interest, mutual benefit and respect.
Reacting to the address, the main opposition Nepali Congress called it an exercise to set up an authoritarian rule in the country.
“The prime minister is parroting the language of democracy but he is totally heading towards authoritarian rule,” senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel said. “The prime minister aims to capture all the powers of the President.”
“It seems he is both the President and the prime minister. How can a prime minister address the nation on the eve of the budget day and read out the policies and programmes of the government? He is getting authoritarian, we will oppose it with all might,” added Poudel.
Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser, indirectly admitted that the prime minister while addressing the nation laid out the priorities of the government.
“In the absence of Parliament, the President cannot read out the policies and programmes of the government but again the government cannot function without clear policies,” Thapa said. “In such a situation, it is the prime minister who should inform the general public about its policy orientation, its priorities and plans.”