Frequent obstructions sign of parliamentary practice gone wrongUML wants the prime minister’s scalp over remarks that Sardar Pritam Singh had visited Delhi to make Dahal PM.
Since Wednesday, the main opposition CPN-UML and opposition parties Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party have been disrupting proceedings in both the houses over Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s recent controversial remarks.
Dahal, at a book launch on Monday, had said that Sardar Pritam Singh, referred to as Nepal’s pioneer truck entrepreneur, had once made efforts to make him the prime minister and had even travelled to New Delhi multiple times for the same purpose.
Both houses’ meetings have been postponed, twice, since Wednesday. The Business Advisory Committee meeting aimed at resuming the House proceedings couldn’t reach any agreement as neither side budged from their positions. Eventually, the Speaker, issuing a notice, postponed the lower house meeting scheduled for Friday, until Sunday. And, due to the obstruction from the main opposition, UML, the Friday’s National Assembly meeting has also been postponed until Sunday. UML has been demanding the prime minister’s resignation.
UML Whip Mahesh Bartaula said until and unless the prime minister resigns, they will not let the federal parliament to run. Claiming that the government and the prime minister were responsible for all the disruptions, Bartaula said: “His remarks are against the country’s sovereignty. A prime minister should not make random statements without thinking. The government and the prime minister should take responsibility for the bills, ordinances and the businesses that have been affected.”
The obstruction of the legislative business has seriously impacted lawmaking. Due to the ongoing obstructions, an ordinance, introduced on May 3, that criminalises loan sharking, defines loan sharking activities and specifies penalties for the perpetrators, has become ineffective. An ordinance must be replaced by a bill within 60 days of the commencement of the House session. But the legislation failed to be replaced by a bill owing to parliamentary obstruction on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, one of the protesters in the House, has been demanding the prime minister’s clarification over his statement.
“The prime minister should not deliver speeches that attack our values, constitution, rule of law and the country’s sovereignty. But unlike the main opposition UML, we are not demanding the prime minister’s resignation,” said Rastriya Swatantra Party chief whip Santosh Pariyar. “The prime minister should give clarification, realise his blunder, and pledge not to repeat it.”
Pariyar said it was unfortunate that the ordinance became ineffective. “We believe a replacement bill should be brought and the crucial issue [loan-sharking] must be addressed soon.”
Prime Minister Dahal was scheduled to give a clarification over his recent remarks at Friday’s meeting of the lower house.
The prime minister’s secretariat, however, has criticised the opposition for politicising a “sentimental expression.”
Experts denounced the recent obstructions, saying it has weakened Parliament by disrupting its business.
“The recent activities of the UML, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Swatantra Party indicate that they do not want to stay in the opposition,” said Radheshyam Adhikari, former National Assembly member. “The prime minister has already said that he will clarify the matter. They should let him air his views first.”
Political commentator Rajendra Maharjan said the opposition should not have held Parliament hostage, but allowed Dahal to furnish a clarification.
Saga of obstructions
Nepal’s federal parliament seems to have entered a vicious cycle of obstructions. The first House of Representatives reinstated in 2006 after the success of the people’s movement, had a lacklustre performance.
The two tenures of the Constituent Assembly that also worked as the parliament witnessed many scuffles between lawmakers and marshalls. Snatching a budget briefcase from the finance minister, breaking chairs and tables and hurling objects targeting the Speaker in the rostrum were some notorious acts of lawmakers during the period.
In August 2021, the main opposition UML had asked Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota to strip the 14 lawmakers who had split the UML to form the CPN, (Unified Socialist) of their positions. After Sapkota’s refusal, the UML started agitating and disrupting the House, and the lower house could do little in eight months.
Back then, the UML broke its own record for the longest obstruction of the House of Representatives. Previously, in 2001, it had stalled the House for 57 days, demanding the resignation of the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala over the infamous Lauda Air scam.
Similarly, the first session of the House elected from last November’s elections ended without passing even a single bill. In less than a year, it has witnessed multiple disruptions and postponements, putting many crucial law-making processes in limbo.
In May this year, UML obstructed the House, resulting in postponements, after a Maoist lawmaker Lekh Nath Dahal claimed that the then Oli government was neck-deep in corruption. Likewise in June, the UML and the Rastriya Swatantra Party obstructed the meeting of the House of Representatives, protesting a provision in the budget to scrap district election offices, resulting in postponements.
Poor parliamentary practice
The parliament is a platform to formulate laws, discuss crucial issues, bring in issues of public concern, and expose the government’s flaws and misconduct, if any. Another major duty of the legislature is to form a government.
Unfortunately, it has become a victim of the political parties’ vested interests—they have not been keen to let it do its job. Experts term the continuous and repeated obstructions of the House as a substandard parliamentary practice.
Adhikari, the former national assembly member, said although the parliament is a place to discuss and criticise, many vital bills and important issues that require effective law-making have been in limbo due to the parties’ continuous obstruction.
Maharjan said the opposition should not resort to extreme measures of protest frequently as such moves would weaken the legislature. “A better parliamentary practice is for the opposition and ruling bloc to discuss, negotiate and seek clarification through due and peaceful processes. Organising protests to disrupt important businesses is not the way to go about it.”