As Oli finds strong opposition in his own party, Congress yet to realise it is the main oppositionThe leadership’s failure is the reason behind Nepali Congress’ floundering in performing the role of an effective opposition in a democratic dispensation, leaders and analysts say.
When the KP Sharma Oli-led government decided to introduce an ordinance concerning the Constitutional Council on Tuesday, one question that arose was whether the leader of the main opposition, Sher Bahadur Deuba, was aware of what was coming.
Apparently, he was, according to two senior Nepali Congress leaders.
“The ordinance came with Deuba’s backing and in the interest of Oli,” said a senior Nepali Congress leader on condition of anonymity. “As soon as the ordinance was issued, we found out the truth about the role of our party president: that Deuba was fully aware of it.”
This was corroborated by another senior leader.
The Nepali Congress has not stood up to the Oli government despite its failure in governance as exemplified by its inability to fight the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and corruption scandals.
“There are several other decisions made by the Oli government in the past where the opposition party has remained largely silent,” said a Congress Central Working Committee member. “This time, when this ordinance episode was exposed, we could not play the role of a constructive opposition.”
In other words, despite sitting on the other side of the aisle in Parliament for three years, the Nepali Congress has failed to play the role of the main opposition.
It was the police manhandling of senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel in Tanahun on December 2 and his subsequent detention for three hours that spurred the grand old party to protest across the country on December 14, despite the fear that the rallies could spread coronavirus.
Even after Oli’s worst misadventure to go against the fundamental spirit of the constitution of a system of checks and balances to weaken the political system and institutions, Deuba was reluctant to oppose Oli, leaders of his own party claimed.
“Instead, he quietly backed the ordinance,” said one NC central working committee member.
According to two knowledgeable sources, the first draft of the Constitutional Council ordinance was forwarded to the Office of the President last Thursday in which it was explicitly mentioned that the leader of the opposition party would have to participate in the Council’s meeting and that the Council’s recommendations would be based on a majority vote.
But when the text of the ordinance was made public, there was no mention of the mandatory participation of the leader of the opposition party.
As per new provisions, introduced through an ordinance on Tuesday, the meeting does not require the presence of either the Speaker or the leader of the opposition and the presence of a simple majority of the existing members of the council is sufficient quorum.
As the post deputy Speaker is vacant, even in the absence of the two, the council would be able to make the decision if the chief justice and the chair of the National Assembly are present.
After Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota did not attend the council’s meeting on Tuesday morning and the quorum was not fulfilled, the prime minister said he was thinking of bringing a new ordinance to reduce the quorum to take the decision, according to Bishwo Prakash Sharma, the Nepali Congress spokesman.
“Deuba then told the prime minister that he should manage the dispute inside his party but the meeting of the council should not become hostage to your internal party conflict,” Sharma told the Post.
There have been reports that there is a deal between Oli and Deuba over the sharing of seats in constitutional commissions.
According to Nepali Congress leaders, during the Tuesday morning meeting of the Constitutional Council, Deuba recommended the name of former Nepal Police Additional Inspector General Jay Bahadur Chand for a commissioner of the Commission for Investigation for Abuse of Authority and Ganesh Karki, a former joint-secretary, for an election commissioner.
Another meeting of the Council was scheduled for Tuesday evening which Deuba did not attend.
Deuba refused to attend the meeting only after strong opposition to the ordinance from various quarters including his own party, according to party insiders.
“It seems our party’s leadership has failed to realise that we are on the opposition bench and we need to stand up against the anti-democratic move of the Oli government,” senior Nepali Congress leader Dr Shekhar Koirala told the Post.
In the last three years, the main opposition has hit the streets only three times, disrupted only a few House proceedings and has failed to hold regular meetings of the party’s parliamentary committee, Central Working Committee and the shadow government led by party president Deuba.
This failure of the Nepali Congress has helped Oli create a conducive environment to destroy the political system by bringing controversial ordinances one after another, and to limit the scope of civil liberties, party leaders and political commentators said. Despite failing to deliver services to the people, the administration has not been held to account.
“It is true that in these three years, we failed to play the role of the opposition party on the streets and in the House. We do not hold party meetings regularly. We are weak because Oli and Deuba have some tacit understanding,” said Koirala. “We could not deliver as a powerful opposition.”
After opposition from various quarters to the controversial ordinance, Deuba called a meeting of present and former office bearers to discuss the steps that the party is required to take next.
The meeting called on the government to withdraw the ordinance and asked for a special House session, according to a statement issued by the party on Wednesday.
Some lawmakers including Gagan Thapa have been demanding a special House session to discuss various pressing issues but the party leadership did not heed it.
“Several times, many party leaders had urged Deuba to take a lead to demand the special House session but he never listened to them,” a senior leader from the anti-Deuba camp said. “He was always soft on Oli and never uttered any strong statement against his failure from the public forum.”
On December 14, while addressing a public function in Hetauda, Deuba came heavily on pro-monarchy rallies taking place across the country in the recent past but never spoke about the wrongdoings of the Oli administration, according to the leader.
“This shows, ruling and opposition leaders are on the same page,” he said.
The Nepali Congress was not always so inept when it came to political matters, according to Thapa.
“When Girija Prasad Koirala was the party president, we used to have political and organisational activities together. Later when Sushil Koirala became the party president, we had organisational activities at the ground level but now, we neither have political activities nor organisational movement,” said Thapa.
Observers and analysts wonder why the Nepali Congress can’t take to the streets when even the Kamal Thapa-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party can hold nationwide protests.
Professor of political science and former ambassador Lokraj Baral said that the Nepali Congress has spent three years doing nothing but seems a bit active these days and that in itself does not do justice to its role as the main opposition.
“Even if Deuba decides to join the Oli government, I do not think Nepali Congress will support Oli because there is strong opposition to such a move inside the party,” Baral said.
“The only chance of the Congress being in government is to lead the next government by practising politics based on people's issues. Any maneuvering will not work and therefore it has to be careful while playing the role of the opposition.”