Main opposition concept comes into questionCongress leaders say the party has lost moral ground to claim opposition role after giving confidence vote to Dahal.
Two unprecedented things happened in Nepal’s federal parliament on Tuesday. The first was that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal won a vote of trust with unprecedented support from both the ruling and opposition parties. Dahal secured an unlikely 268 votes in the 275-strong parliament. Just two lawmakers voted against. A total of 270 lawmakers were present in Tuesday’s meeting. The prime minister required just 138 votes to show the parliament had confidence in him.
The second was that the parliament was rendered effectively opposition-less, following the decision of the Nepali Congress, the largest party and one outside the government, to give a confidence vote to the Dahal government.
Just two political parties—the Rastriya Janamorcha and the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party that have one member each in the lower house—voted against Dahal’s motion of confidence.
Although the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Unified Socialist), and the Nagarik Unmukti Party have said they will remain in the opposition despite voting in Daha’s favour, experts say the parties have now lost the moral right to stay in the opposition benches.
A senior Nepali Congress leader said its leadership has sensed that distrust could soon emerge between the two ruling parties, the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center), and the Nepali Congress is also eying the country’s presidency, the election for which is likely to be held in mid-February.
“Should any dispute arise between the two ruling parties, the Congress will jump in to fill the void [partner with the Maoist Centre] and then we will easily have the presidency,” the leader said, asking not to be named.
But Prime Minister Dahal said there had been no (power-sharing) agreement with the Nepali Congress in order to get the latter’s support.
CPN-UML Chairman KP Oli, while addressing the Parliament on Tuesday, said the Nepali Congress would be mistaken if it was hoping to reap benefits by supporting the Dahal government.
But Congress is clearly looking for an opportunity to make its move.
“There is still one more month to go for the presidential election, so fissures could appear between the UML and the Maoist Centre, and the Congress is waiting for an opportune moment to strike,” the Nepali Congress leader said.
“After giving the vote of trust to Dahal, it would be difficult for us both morally and politically to sit in the opposition, but that’s our decision,” senior Nepali Congress leader, Shekhar Koirala, told the Post Tuesday, adding, “Now the House is going to be without an opposition.”
Koirala said his party has no formal agreement with Dahal.
“The Nepali Congress’ decision Tuesday to give a vote of confidence to Dahal despite its earlier refusal to back his prime ministerial bid is something unprecedented, and politically, morally and constitutionally wrong,” said Bipin Adhikari, former Dean of Kathmandu School of Law, adding, “Now the Congress should decide whether to sit in the opposition bench.”
“Those who visited the President’s Office on December 25 [with a claim to government] are ruling parties, and those that did not should be considered opposition parties. So the Nepali Congress’ decision is questionable,” said Adhikari.
“It has also raised a serious question as to who is the main opposition and who will represent the main opposition in the Constitutional Council.”
According to experts on law and constitution, the Congress, after giving a confidence vote to the Dahal government, has lost the moral right to call itself the main opposition.
Dahal was appointed prime minister as per the Article 76 (2) of the constitution on December 25 by President Bidya Devi Bhandari. Dahal had presented to the President the support of 169 lawmakers, including 78 from the CPN-UML, 32 from his own Maoist Centre, 20 from the Rastriya Swatantra Party, 14 from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, 12 from the Janata Samajbadi Party, six from the Janamat Party, and four from the Nagarik Unmukti Party. He also secured the backing of independent lawmakers Prabhu Sah, Kiran Kumar Sah and Amresh Kumar Singh.
“Our leaders tried to play on the ambiguity in the constitution and voted for Dahal as there is no clear explanation of the opposition party in the constitution and law. There could be some give and take between Dahal and Deuba,” said the Nepali Congress leader.
Attempting to clarify the party’s decision Tuesday, Congress Vice President Purna Bahadur Khadka said that they decided to vote for Dahal due to some political reasons, but the party will remain in the opposition.
“In 1994 also, we were in the opposition but we gave a confidence vote to the minority government of CPN-UML leader Manmohan Adhikari,” said Khadka. “Tuesday’s decision to support the Dahal government was just a goodwill gesture and in part a continuation of that tradition. But we are certainly the main opposition party.”
Some other legal experts also questioned the Congress’ decision to support Dahal.
“In a parliamentary democracy, the role of the opposition party is to give an alternative government as and when needed,” said senior advocate Bhimarjun Acharya.
“The opposition party should be able to hold the government to account and question its decisions, but the Congress has failed in its constitutional duty by supporting the government.”