The scrutiny of incoming Swatantra Party lawmakers has already begunWhile some find party’s lack of clear ideology troubling, others reckon its ranks of field experts will serve well.
As the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) prepares to enter the federal parliament, people have started discussing how the party will perform in the legislative. The opinion seems to be divided.
While the party’s wins have given an encouraging message to large sections of society, mainly youths, as all its candidates are young professionals, at the same time its lack of policy-level clarity on vital political issues concerns many. Some fear the party’s lack of clear vision could reflect in its legislative and possibly even executive roles.
The RSP’s commitment to federalism has already come under question after it decided to stay away from provincial elections. And in a move that may further boost doubters, RSP chair Rabi Lamichhane did not vote in the provincial elections on Sunday. Some observers fear this could encourage anti-federal forces that are trying to coalesce across party lines.
The party’s manifesto has proposed a system of governance where chief ministers of provinces are elected directly by the people. Confusingly, it rejects the provincial legislatures even as it simultaneously roots for a system of powerful chief ministers.
The party, which was formed just five months ago, had as of this writing already won four seats in Kathmandu alone and its candidates were leading in a few more seats outside the national capital. As counting continued, on Wednesday evening, the party ranked fourth in terms of its share in proportional representation votes, ahead of the CPN (Maoist Centre).
As a television anchor, its leader Lamichhane had started a very vocal crusade against corrupt government officials, which seems to have gone down well among a large section of the society. His television programme “Sidha Kura Janatasanga” (Straight talk with the people) aired on News24 Television station until a few years ago was highly popular. In the programme, Lamichhane would take public complaints over poor service delivery at government agencies and ‘expose’ corrupt officials. He won the hearts of millions of Nepali migrant workers and their families by taking personal initiatives to rescue those languishing in labour destinations in the Persian Gulf.
Balmukunda Regmi, a political and social commentator who writes for The Post, believes the presence of the RSP in Parliament will help keep traditional parties in the House in check. “In the past, mainstream parties misused parliament on the strength of their majority,” said Regmi.
He cited examples of how the parties used their strength to move or block impeachment motions against top officials to suit their interests.
“Now, if the new forces use their strength in parliament tactfully, they can stop the old parties from indulging in such wrongdoings,” Regmi added.
But some experts see Lamichhane and his party colleagues as unproven individuals with no political capital who only rose to prominence by capitalising on the shortcomings of the mainstream parties.
“By not participating in the election of the provincial assembly, the party has already disowned the existing political system,” complained Pitambar Sharma, a former vice-chair of the National Planning Commission.
“People are also unaware of the party's policies, ideological stance and specific programmes,” Sharma added.
Radheshyam Adhikari, a former Congress member in the National Assembly, says it will be interesting to see how those who earlier criticised the mainstream parties will perform in Parliament.
“You should also not forget that the RSP has been formed by people from different sectors. They will have their own interests when they enter the parliament,” Adhikari said. “Whether such competing interests will allow them to function as a unified party remains to be seen.”
Experts like Adhikari and Sharma find inconsistencies in Lamichhane’s track record. “Lamichhane appears unstable, and he seems to have this tendency to centralise powers,” Adhikari said.
Reacting to apprehensions that the party lacks a clear political ideology, its party's spokesperson, Mukul Dhakal, claimed that they are clear on their position.
“We believe in constitutional federalism and will pursue an incentive-oriented economic policy,” Dhakal told the Post.
Preliminary election results suggest there will be a hung parliament and small parties will play a role in making and unmaking governments. The role of untested parties like the RSP will then be pivotal.
The Lamichhane-led RSP has emerged as a strong alternative political force even as the years-long struggle of Bibeksheel and Sajha parties led by hundreds of youth activists and professionals faltered. Those who were disappointed by the failure of Bibeksheel and Sajha now seem to be encouraged by the rise of the RSP, also led by youths and professionals who would otherwise not have found space in traditional parties.
Pitambar Bhandari, a political analyst, believes the RSP lawmakers’ presence in parliament will give a much-needed impression of change in Nepali politics, which in turn could help improve the public perception of their chosen representatives.
“The lawmakers elected from the RSP are experts in their fields. When they bring their expertise to Parliament, they can help draft better and more effective laws,” Bhandari told the Post.