Opposition Veering Off The Track?
Ritu Raj Subedi
Deflated by the crushing defeat in last year’s elections, the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) has apparently veered off the genuine parliamentary democratic practice. The NC has been projecting itself as the champion of parliamentary democracy by showing certain disdain for the presidential system of governance. But now it is obstructing the parliamentary proceedings over trivial issues. With the role reversed, the oldest party seems to be faltering to play the constructive opposition. The incumbent communist government has accused it of demonstrating unparliamentary behaviour when a minister tried to table the National Medical Education Bill in the House of Representatives recently. Minister of Education, Science and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokharel blamed the NC lawmakers hit him with their elbows and prevented him from reaching the rostrum. This is a very interesting charge against the NC that never tired of pontificating about the norms of parliamentary democracy and asked the communist parties to follow in its footsteps in order to strengthen the nascent democratic system in the past.
It was true that during the initial years of multiparty system, the communist parties and NC often locked in horns, with its negative bearing on the parliament’s business. Once the then Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist had disrupted the House of Representatives for more than 80 days over differences on national issues. The UML used to deride the NC government as sarbasattabadi (authoritarian) for its communist phobia, political intolerance and lack of accommodative culture. The fragile democratic polity had suffered from political inertia and malaise as the NC refused to be flexible on timely constitution amendment and other issues of public interest.
Moreover, it failed to bring the policies in line with the roadmap of 1990 constitution that envisioned a welfare state with many provisions for ensuring social justice to the underprivileged social groups. Instead, it blindly implemented neo-liberalisation policies and free market economy that undercut the vision and principles of statute. The dichotomy between the constitution provisions and policies of government caused political frustration, economic inequality, social disruption and ethnic movements. All these negative elements prepared the breeding ground for the rise of bellicose Maoist insurgency in the mid-1990s. And what the nation lost and gained in the wake of Maoist insurgency, April Uprising and Madhes agitation is crystal clear before us.
After leading the governments of both majority and coalition for many years, the NC is now saddled with new role to much dismay. It has now become a nagging opposition for the CPN-led government that commands two-thirds majority in the House, with herculean job of implementing federalism and delivering prosperity to the people. Even if it has been taunted as weak opposition, the NC has given the Oli government a bumpy ride. The government finally fulfilled its demand – to bring the two hospitals named after its late leaders- GP Koirala and Sushil Koirala- under the purview of federal government. Earlier, the government had decided to hand them over to the concerned provincial governments. It was widely believed that the NC raised this issue to thwart the passage of National Medical Education Bill in the House.
Nonetheless, one may question the rationality of the NC’s demand. There are many other vital issues that the opposition is supposed to raise vehemently in the House as well as in the streets. Corruption, inflation, unemployment, good governance and impunity are some issues directly concerned with the common people. The parliament is the supreme elected body where the genuine problems of citizens are discussed and resolved. The opposition should whip the government for its better performance and effective service delivery. It should not protest the government for the sake of protest to put a spoke in its wheel.
The opposition is being criticised for being unable to pick up the right issues that require national debate and the majority populace approves of. As it fails to take up substantial subjects, its role has been confined to be reactive or carry other’s agenda for partisan interest. Analyst Puranjan Acharya, who is also close to the NC, notes that the opposition seems to have been tired, exhausted and depressed. He hits the right note when he says that commoners are little concerned whether the hospitals named after the NC leaders are put under federal or provincial government. He states: “They are seriously concerned about corruption infesting from local to the federal government, providing relief to the farmers who make up the largest chunk of population, embezzlement of public funds in the purchase of wide-body aircraft or vehicles for the use of elected representatives, problem of unemployment facing millions of youths, people’s compulsion to buy every imported goods, inordinate delay in the construction of Melamchi drinking water project and entrenched red tape in bureaucracy, among others.”
These burning issues are not on the agenda of the main opposition. The big irony is that it did not realize the necessity to discuss in the House the big corruption scandal that rocked the National Airlines Corporation. Corruption in the purchase of wide-body planes has dragged sitting and former ministers, ex-prime ministers and top government officials. The opposition and ruling parties are accusing each other over the multi-million dollar graft case. The government has already formed a high-level judicial committee to investigate into it but many suspect there is chicanery at the highest political level to quash it.
Now with the fulfillment of NC’s demand and end of Dr Govinda KC’s hunger strike, the House should be allowed to do its business smoothly. It must focus on amending altogether 339 Acts within March 21. Of them, only 161 Bills are in the process of amendment. This requires that the government and opposition work in close cooperation and coordination to formulate the necessary laws within the deadline. These Acts are the key to implementing the new federal governance system. If the opposition continues to create obstacles in the parliament, this will not be seen only as oppositional politics aimed at upsetting the apple cart of Oli government but it will be also considered as opposition’s disservice to the newly installed federal democratic republic.
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues.)