New parties in House struggling to make an impactRastriya Swatantra, Janamat and Nagarik Unmukti parties have failed to effectively play their parliamentary roles.
Three parties—the Rastriya Swatantra Party, the Janamat Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party—made it to Parliament last November in their first try at parliamentary politics, winning 20, six, and four seats, respectively. But they have failed to deliver effectively either as ruling parties or as strong opposition raising public voices, say observers.
Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator, said the new parties are struggling to take a clear ideological stance and appear more focussed on negotiations for power. “Either they lack a clear roadmap for their political agenda, or they are unwilling to prepare one.”
The Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and the Janamat Party joined the CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government formed after last November’s elections—the former with three ministries and a minister of state, and the latter with just one minister.
But the RSP’s tenure in the government was short-lived. Its party chair and the then home minister Rabi Lamichhane was stripped of the lawmaker position on January 27 after the Supreme Court invalidated his Nepali citizenship.
Prime Minister Dahal himself took charge of the home ministry. Another coalition partner, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli, pressed him to allocate the ministry to Lamichhane, but Dahal declined. Lamichhane’s personal attempts to regain the position also failed. Eventually the RSP quit the government and recalled its ministers, even as it continued supporting the government.
The party’s decision to recall its ministers but support the government left it in a position whereby it could neither be an effective ruling party nor a strong opposition.
The Nagarik Unmukti Party had said it would join the Dahal-led government if its jailed leaders and cadres, including Resham Chaudhary, were freed. During the first floor test of Prime Minister Dahal, the party decided to support him but remain in the opposition bench until its demands were met. The Nagarik Unmukti kept pushing its demands to the point that the government in Sudurpaschim province collapsed within a month of its formation after the UML chief minister was unable to secure a mandatory vote of confidence.
Uddhab Pyakurel who teaches political sociology at the Kathmandu University said the main problem with the three parties is that their leaderships are essentially authoritarian, coming to decisions without in-party consultations.
“The parties are person-centric. For example the Rastriya Swatantra Party is Rabi Lamichhane-centered, and it impacts its modus operandi and every decision.”
According to Pyakurel, the freedom of Resham Chaudhary is a legal issue, but the Nagarik Unmukti Party has been viewing it solely as a political one.
Likewise, the politics of the Janamat Party has revolved around the ego clash between its chair CK Raut and Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav.
“The new parties appear even worse when it comes to embracing or accommodating differing opinions. If a party is person centric, its leader is always focussed on rewarding his or her confidants with powerful government positions including ministers in order to continue to win their loyalty and support,” Pyakurel said.
Dahal, as the new head of the coalition including the Congress, has not been so accommodative of the new parties—or that is how they feel.
Dahal’s former partner, the UML, decided to pull out of the government on February 27 after the Maoist Centre refused to support a UML nominee for President.
Dahal’s second confidence vote came within two-and-a-half months of his first, as a result of the UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party quitting the government and withdrawing their support.
He took the floor test on March 20 and won with the backing of the new ten-party alliance that also included all three new parties—the RSP, the Janamat Party, and the Nagarik Unmukti Party.
The new alliance set its eyes first on the presidential and vice-presidential elections. The Maoist Centre decided to back a Nepali Congress candidate for President in the election held on March 9.
In the current government, the Nagarik Unmukti Party’s chairperson Ranjita Shrestha, who was tipped to lead the Ministry of Youths and Sports, later agreed to be minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation. But she had been demanding the Urban Development portfolio.
When Dahal finally expanded his Cabinet last Friday, the Janamat Party got riled after it was denied the portfolio of its choice. Just before the President administered the oath of office to four new ministers at the President’s Office, the party’s minister, Abdul Khan, tendered his resignation after the Ministry of Industry his party was hoping to get was given to the Nepali Congress.
Subedi thinks smaller parties in the ruling coalition are under constant pressure to make their presence felt, which, in their reckoning, is possible only by getting hold of a handful of ministries. “Look, our society is also impatient and can hardly wait for five years. Nepali politicians thus promise their voters and cadres that they will soon get positions of power so that ‘we can do your work’.”
The RSP is yet to decide whether to join the government. But leaders claim the party will pick a path soon.
RSP central committee member and press coordinator Ganesh Karki agrees that the party should clarify whether it will be a strong and effective ruling party or a potent opposition in Parliament. But, he said, the party is now fully focused on the by-elections so that it can win all three contested seats and become even more powerful in Parliament—thus the job of taking a clear stand has been postponed.
“But our lawmakers have been strongly raising issues of public concern in Parliament,” he said.