How political parties rendered Parliament dysfunctionalIt started with KP Sharma Oli, and the onslaught on the platform of people’s representatives continued with no one showing respect to the hallowed House.
The year 2021 was an unforgettable one in the parliamentary history of the country. It all began with the first dissolution of the House of Representatives 11 days before 2020 ended and continued to snowball into the next year.
The parliament had become a victim of the internal dispute within the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal faction in the party cornered the then prime minister and the party chair KP Sharma Oli who found parliament's dissolution as the only escape from the problems that surrounded him.
Oli on December 20, 2020, dissolved the Lower House while he was still commanding close to a two-thirds majority in the 275-strong parliament. People had showered their support to the left alliance of the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) in 2017’s general election. The two-party alliance later merged in May 2018 to become the NCP and got a five-year mandate to govern the country.
Fed up with the decades of instability, the people had voted the alliance to power for a stable government.
However, Oli trod the path of instability by dissolving the House two years before its tenure ended and announced the elections for April 30 and May 10, 2021. The institution of the people’s representatives came to an end until the Supreme Court on February 23 gave it a new life citing Oli’s move unconstitutional.
Calls for Oli’s resignation on moral grounds following the court’s decision grew louder. But he neither stepped down nor took the vote of confidence after the court’s order to invalidate his decision.
Despite his displeasure, the first meeting of the reinstated House commenced on March 7. Presentation of the ordinances, as per the constitutional obligation, was on the agenda of the day. The constitution makes it mandatory to present all the ordinances at the first meeting of the new session. The Oli administration had issued eight ordinances including the one related to amendment in the Constitutional Council (Function, Duties and Procedures) Act, 2010, issued on December 15, 2020.
But the presentation of the ordinances did not take place on the said date following the obstruction from the opposition. The UML took the limbo the House found itself in as an excuse to not provide business. The party blamed Speaker Agni Sapkota for failing to play a constructive role in presenting the ordinances.
The first meeting of the reinstated Lower House lasted 44 days and held nine meetings without endorsing a single bill.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat say it was probably the first time an entire session ended without endorsing a single bill while the parliament had over 50 bills to discuss and endorse.
“The Oli government didn’t give business to the House to prove that the latter was useless. In doing so, Oli wanted to justify the dissolution,” Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker and a civil society leader, told the Post.
Amid the reluctance to provide business to the House, the Oli government on April 19 abruptly prorogued the House session. The move came amid talks among opposition parties to bring a no-confidence motion against Oli.
The country witnessed several political turns of events after the House prorogation.
The CPN (Maoist Centre), which had continued its support to the government despite frequent challenges from Oli, finally withdrew its support on May 5 pushing the government into a minority.
The withdrawal of the support compelled Oli to take a vote of confidence. He summoned the session of the Lower House on May 10, for a day, to take the vote of confidence. He lost. The CPN-UML had 121 lawmakers in the House and Oli needed 15 more votes to prove the majority in the 271-strong House.
He, however, got only 93 votes as the lawmakers from the then Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal faction of the party abstained from voting.
President Baidya Devi Bhandari called for the parties for a coalition government after Oli lost the vote of confidence. As the opposition parties failed to make a claim, Bhandari reappointed Oli as the prime minister of a minority government. He, as a chairperson of the single largest party, on May 14 became the prime minister as per Article 76 (3) of the constitution.
Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre as per Article 76 (2). But after the merger between his UML and Dahal’s Maoist Centre, his government had attained the status of a government formed under Article 76 (1), as the united Nepal Communist Party (NCP) commanded a comfortable majority in the House.
After his reappointment as prime minister on May 14, as the prime minister of a minority government, Oli was supposed to take a vote of confidence within 30 days—by June 14.
However, on May 20, a week after being appointed prime minister, he decided not to go for the floor test stating there was no chance for him to secure the majority.
A parliament meeting would have been called had Oli decided to go for the floor test.
Based on his recommendation, Bhandari called the parties to make a claim as per Article 76 (5) of the constitution by May 21.
The Nepali Congress-led alliance, backed by the CPN (Maoist Centre), a section of the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Nepal- Khanal faction of the UML, presented the signature of 149 lawmakers, requesting Bhandari to appoint Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new prime minister.
Oli too presented his claim before the President, saying he had the support of 153 lawmakers and that he be appointed the prime minister.
Sheetal Niwas said it could appoint neither Oli, the incumbent prime minister, nor Deuba, as claims made by both to form a new government were insufficient.
The Lower House was dissolved again at midnight on May 21. The Oli government had killed the House for the second time in five months despite the court's order to overturn the earlier dissolution.
After around two months of hearing, the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court on July 12 not just overturned the dissolution but also said the decision of Sheetal Niwas not to appoint Deuba as prime minister was unconstitutional.
Deuba became the prime minister the very next day as per the court order which ousted Oli.
Deuba first called the Lower House session for a day on July 18 for a vote of confidence where he got 165 in the 271-member House. The next session started on September 8. The UML resorted to obstructions the very first day citing Speaker Agni Sapkota’s inaction to strip 14 UML lawmakers of their positions.
The session lasted 51 days but did not endorse a single bill, except for those related to the budget, owing to the continuous obstruction from the lawmakers in the opposition.
The obstruction continues even today.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say the UML has shown undemocratic characteristics by not allowing the House to function.
“Keeping the parliament hostage is an undemocratic practice. Oli dissolved the House twice and now his party has been obstructing it for months,” Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “The parliament has become defunct for over a year now. This is not good even for the UML as a democratic party.”
According to Thapa, by obstructing the House, UML hasn’t just barred lawmakers from bringing the concerns of the public to the forefront but also missed the opportunity to keep the Deuba government in check by underlining the latter’s wrongdoings.
Experts say while the UML is primarily responsible for the present deadlock, Speaker Sapkota and the Deuba government too haven’t taken adequate steps to end the deadlock.
“I don’t see the Speaker and the government taking serious steps to end the deadlock. I see all three parties—UML, the government and Sapkota— responsible for the stalemate,” Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker, told the Post.
The government called an all-party meeting twice while the Speaker did once but the UML decided not to attend.
The main opposition has been saying that the government and Speaker should hold separate meetings with it, which is not happening.
Ranabhat says there should be continuous bilateral and multilateral meetings until the problem is resolved.
Experts say a functional parliament is the basis for a democracy. Democracy cannot flourish with a defunct parliament, they say.
“Keeping the House hostage consequently means barring people from putting their concerns to the government through their representatives,” said Dhungana. “The House has been defunct for different reasons for a year now. This isn't a good sign for democracy.”