Congress awakening: Too little, too late—and misplaced, analysts sayThe main opposition is organising rallies in all 77 districts, including Kathmandu, in the midst of the pandemic to hold the government to account. But many are questioning why it’s not demanding the House session.
The Nepali Congress seems to have risen from its slumber.
After remaining a mere spectator for months while the KP Sharma Oli government continued to face criticism for its inability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, promoting corruption and its complete failure in governance, the main opposition is organising protests against the government across the country on Monday.
It was the manhandling of Ram Chandra Poudel, the party’s senior leader, by the police in Tanahun on December 2, that spurred it into action to hold mass street demonstrations.
So far there had only been some of its leaders making statements criticising the government, but no organised move from the party to hold the government to account.
Analysts, however, say that the main opposition has chosen a wrong way to hit back at the government as the threat of the coronavirus spread continues to exist.
“It is good to see that the grand old party has woken now,” Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst who follows the Nepali Congress closely, told the Post. “However, mass demonstration isn’t the right move to hold the government to account.”
The Congress party will hit the streets across the country on Monday against “anarchy, failed governance and corruption of the present government”.
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, in a statement on Sunday, appealed to the people to join the demonstration “against the government which is indifferent towards the pain of the people in the Covid-19 pandemic, has failed to maintain law and order and protect the people against the pandemic”.
He has appealed to the people from all 77 districts to gather in mass, maintaining social distancing, to warn the government.
The party will have to take moral responsibility if Covid-19 spreads from the nationwide protests, said Acharya.
As many as 830 new cases were reported on Sunday only as the infection tally reached 248,323. So far, 1,698 people have lost their lives in the pandemic with an additional nine on Sunday.
Although in an effective democracy the opposition is active and responsive when the government turns irresponsible, experts say the Nepali Congress has failed to stand with the people when the government has failed.
“However, while the Congress party seems to have realised its role, it has adopted a wrong way to express that,” Acharya said. “It should have prioritised pressuring the government to resume the House session over holding mass protests.”
The federal parliament has been idle for five months since the government ended the budget session abruptly on July 2 without even consulting the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chair of the National Assembly. There is no indication as to when the government will call the winter session.
According to the constitution, the gap between two sessions cannot be more than six months. Therefore, it is mandatory to call the House session latest by January 1.
There are over 50 bills, including those needed to implement federalism, pending in the federal parliament. Some of the bills like amendment to the Citizenship Act have been pending for around two years now. The budget session endorsed only four bills in addition to endorsing the national budget and an amendment to the Constitution of Nepal to revise the national map.
The government has issued seven ordinances since the House session was prorogued in July.
Political analysts say the Congress should have taken an initiative to demand a session of Parliament through a petition by one-fourth of the total lawmakers.
Chandra Dev Bhatta, a political analyst who writes columns in the Post’s sister publication Kantipur, said though the party lacks one-fourth seats, it could have urged the Janata Samajbadi Party to support.
“It hasn’t taken any initiative for it,” he told the Post. “I don’t see garnering support of one-fourth of the lawmakers would have been a problem if the Nepali Congress wanted to.”
The main opposition with 62 lawmakers in the lower house is seven short to meet the required 25 percent of parliamentarians to demand a House session.
Bhatta claims even the protest on Monday is merely symbolic.
“How can you protest against the government while you are bargaining for power-sharing,” he said, referring to a probable agreement between Oli and Deuba for appointments to constitutional commissions. “This is just an attempt to pacify the party line which is furious over the recent attack on Poudel.”
Oli, after the consultation with Deuba, had called a meeting of the Constitutional Council for Sunday. Deuba, however, refused to participate in the meeting, leading to its postponement, saying that sitting for the meeting a day prior to the party’s anti-government demonstrations would give a negative message.
At the all-party meeting on Tuesday, Ram Chandra Poudel had warned against any understanding on power sharing between Oli and Deuba.
“If you and our president agree and fill up these [vacant constitutional] posts, I will oppose such appointments,” Poudel told Oli at the meeting, an indication of the extent of division within the main opposition party.
While cross-party leaders including those from the ruling party had criticised the government, Deuba didn’t speak during the meeting.
Bhatta said if the Nepali Congress really wants to hold the government accountable, it should make every possible effort for the resumption of the House session.
Political experts say Parliament is a legitimate place where the concerns of people are presented through their representatives.
“You can also raise the issue from the streets but through Parliament you can actually direct the government to implement them,” said Shree Krishna Aniruddha Gautam, a political analyst who writes commentaries for the Post’s sister publication Kantipur.
“While street protests are part of democracy, the present timing is wrong. The Nepali Congress should give up street protests and put pressure for the resumption of House session.”